Officials at the powerful SEIU labor union say that the campaign to find a replacement for departing president Andy Stern remains undecided, despite reports that Executive VP Mary Kay Henry had secured a majority of the votes.
In an interview Monday morning with the Huffington Post, Stern said that the contest shaping up between Henry and his more natural successor, Change to Win President Anna Burger, has been amicable and constructive. There was not, however, a clear winner yet.
"No votes have been cast," Stern said. "And it has been a pretty, I'd say, healthy conversation. It doesn't look like America's political campaigns, where you spend a lot of time telling people what's wrong with other people as opposed to what's right about them. So I think that we've had as appropriate a process that we can have in a very short period of time that will reach a conclusion in a way that will keep the union unified."
Late last week, Politico's Ben Smith reported that Henry had secured the necessary bloc of votes to take over Stern's mantel in what would seem to be a fairly conspicuous change of course for the powerful union. Henry, as Smith noted, was "a largely unknown quantity on the national political scene" and would likely "allow power to return from the Washington headquarters."
Aides at SEIU didn't dispute that Henry, owing to support of local affiliates in New York, Los Angeles, Oregon, and Washington State finds herself in a strong position to take over for Stern. But they quibbled with two aspects of the story line. For starters, the SEIU's 73-member Executive Council has yet to vote on the matter (a vote will likely occur in the middle of the month), meaning that dynamics could change. More importantly, they disputed that notion that Henry, who oversees the union's healthcare division, would tone down the political focus that was a trademark of Stern's leadership.
While based in California, Henry has heavy experience in Washington and is described as politically astute by more than one SEIU official.