I’ve long felt wakes were wasted on the dead, especially if the deceased was a mule-stubborn Irisher. So when I heard that President Obama is gonna give a Presidential Medal of Freedom to John Sweeney, I decided my friend and guidepost shouldn’t have to wait until his big toe is in the Styx to hear what people really think of him. So every day until December 1st, I’ll be posting a Sweeney Story and inviting any and all to add comments, reflections, and stories to this blog, or send longer pieces to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s another Sweeney/Teamster story. I get a call one night from a woman lawyer in NYC whom I don’t know. She invokes the name of a highly-trusted mutual friend and asks if I’ll make a trip up at my own expense to meet with a prospective client whose name she can’t divulge. Since the mutual friend still has Polaroids of me being initiated into the Junior Chamber of Commerce (I thought it was a good idea at the time, but have since regretted my decision), I say yes and the next morning I catch the 7 A.M. Metroliner, as it was then called, and speed through a driving snowstorm to the Big Apple, as it is still called. Who is this female barrister and why has she contacted me? Who is this mystery client, and will he/she/it have money for a cash advance? What the hell, I think, all of my clients are mysteries and none of the them pay up front, and some don’t even pay in back.
The lawyer’s office is next door to the Port Authority bus terminal, so it’s only a short walk from Penn Station in the driving snowstorm, which by now has turned into a driven drizzle. She cracks opens the ancient walnut-paneled door to her office, looks to see if anyone is behind me, then let’s me slip inside. As I shake the drizzle from my ancient trench coat, she identifies herself as Susan Davis, a labor lawyer, a handsome young woman, certainly not glamorous in a movie-star sense, but handsome, wearing a black skirt, black blouse, black stockings and black shoes. Her reception area contains one steel desk and two steel chairs. I conclude this will not be a transaction involving any meaningful amount of cash.
Ms. Davis escorts me into a small conference room equipped with a steel conference table and steel conference chairs. I wait, not long, but long enough to create an edge of anticipation. A trickle of sweat runs down my armpit. The door opens and a slender, dark-eyed man in a nondescript black suit enters. I surmise he is the executive assistant to my prospective client. He extends his hand and introduces himself, “I’m Ron Carey and I’m running for president of the Teamsters Union.”
Get out I say to myself and then to him. We sit and talk for a few minutes, sharing who-do-we-knows and I tell him I know John Sweeney and he says yes, he knows, and then says he wants me to run his campaign for president of the Teamsters union, and I say get out again to myself and then to him. Being a quick study, I say yes, but tell him I have to check in with John Sweeney, who at the time is my only non-mysterious client.
Back in DC, I call Sweeney and tell him what has happened and ask him if I should take the job. I tell him Ron Carey says he knows him, and Sweeney says yes, he’s met Carey, but he doesn’t think he has much of a chance at winning, just a UPS driver from a NYC local. I say that doesn’t really matter to me, since I specialize in losing elections, and I ask again if I should sign on with Carey. Sweeney says let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.
Two weeks later, I haven’t heard back from Sweeney and Susan Davis has called me twice. I call Sweeney and ask him if he thinks I should take on the Carey campaign. He grows silent and I can visualize him scratching his chin as he says let me get back to you on that.
Another week goes by and Susan Davis calls and then Ron Carey calls and is very nice but says what’s up and I tell him I’m waiting for Sweeney to get back to me and he says I should call Sweeney again and then get back to him, meaning him, Ron Carey. I call Sweeney back and tell him I need to give Carey an answer. Sweeney grows silent and I say, let me put it this way, will you fire me of I take on Carey’s case? Sweeney grows silent again, and then says I will if I have to.
So I turn down Carey and tell him he needs a field general and not a campaign manager and I give him Eddie Burke’s phone number. Carey wins without me. Go figure.