By Scott MacKay, Katherine Gregg and Russell Garland
State House Bureau
Arthur A. Coia, the Rhode Islander who is
the embattled president of the Laborers' International Union of
North America, has become a lighting rod in the unusually nasty
early campaign sparring in New York between Republican U.S. Sen.
Alphonse D'Amato and Geraldine A. Ferraro, a candidate for the
Democratic Senate nomination.
Last Monday, the day Ferraro announced her
candidacy, D'Amato aides told reporters that she was linked to
the Laborers, a union federal investigators have described as
mob-influenced. Ferraro's campaign fired back, saying that D'Amato
has received campaign contributions from the same union.
D'Amato's aides also accused Ferraro of having
a "social relationship" with Coia. The D'Amato camp
cited a 1996 birthday bash Coia threw for Ferraro at the Democratic
National Convention in Chicago.
In a brief interview at the elegant birthday
party, which was held at Chicago's Field Museum, Ferraro said:
"I'm delighted to see Arthur." And she dismissed the
allegations that Coia was influenced by organized crime figures,
saying: "It seems any time there is an Italian-American in
a position of prominence there are these allegations."
The Mafia attack line is nothing new for
Ferraro, the only woman who has been a major party vice-presidential
nominee (dust off your old 1984 Mondale-Ferrao buttons). During
both her vice-presidential candidacy and a 1992 Senate campaign,
Ferraro was dogged by allegations that her husband, John A. Zaccaro,
had organized-crime ties.
For his part, Coia last week suggested that
D'Amato, who is of Italo- American descent, was using Ferraro's
Italo-Americn descent to unfairly tar her. D'Amato, Coia wrote,
owes "all Italian-Americans" an apology.
Coia faces federal charges that he associated
with mobsters and allowed mob-influenced union officers to hold
key union positions. If the charges are proved, Coia would be
ousted from the presidency of the 750,000-member union.
Last July, D'Amato returned $5,000 in Laborers' Union contributions.