Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The Service Employees International Union Nevada endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday night, a tortured decision after a series of fumbles and internal strife that continued to the end.
The chaotic selection process and deep division within the union’s ranks will likely diminish the endorsement’s weight.
The decision came after a teleconference among 34 of the union’s 44-member executive board Tuesday.
The union’s political director, Morgan Levi, told them Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton had the money and organization to compete in Nevada, but former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ viability was in question.
In a straw vote, 23 board members supported Obama and 11 backed Edwards. Some said they preferred Edwards but voted for Obama to spite Clinton. They didn’t explain their enmity for her.
Executive Director Jane McAlevey emphasized to the board that Edwards wasn’t an option: “I think there’s a broad assessment that his candidacy is not viable. His entire strategy was, he had to get a bump out of Iowa. It really is going to be a decision between Clinton and Obama.”
Obama ended up winning the endorsement easily.
The union represents 17,500 health care and public-sector workers and has been regarded in recent years as politically powerful.
Nonetheless, it has suffered a series of blows to its reputation throughout its endorsement process, revealing deeper chaos in the union.
Two internal union elections last year pitted a vocal and politically active faction of the union, said to include SEIU Nevada President Vicky Hedderman, against paid staffers led by McAlevey.
Feelings of distrust were exacerbated by concerns about bias in the presidential endorsement process. The international union kicked the decision to state SEIU councils in October, but many suspected that international leadership supported Edwards. The international’s secretary-treasurer, Anna Burger, bolstered those suspicions when she called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office to complain about his son, Rory Reid, chairman of both the Clark County commission and Clinton’s Nevada campaign.
The union’s local staff also botched a polling of membership, leaving executive board members without a good sense of whom members supported.
Worries about the process lasted right up to Tuesday night’s action. The conference call format excluded rank-and-file members from the decision-making process, drawing criticism from some members.
“I thought that was pretty awful,” said Craig McNair, a county planning technician and SEIU steward. He said the decision should have been made at a meeting open to all members.