On the day Ron Carey was elected president of the Teamsters in 1991, I rode with him in a cab interviewing him all the way from downtown Washington to the airport. After we were dropped off, we realized we were in the wrong terminal. Carey picked up his two heavy bags--refusing my offer to carry one of them—and we ran (literally) to the right terminal.
That scene sums up Carey: self-effacing and ambitious. Most individuals having been elected to head the most powerful union in the nation would have had flunkies carry them (remember Jackie Presser) along with his baggage to the right terminal. And, one has to be enormously ambitious to run for General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
To illustrate another facet of Carey’s character: Sometime in the early 80s, two mob families were struggling to control the Eastern Conference of Teamsters. I called up conference head Joe T (Joseph Trerotola) to advise him that I planned to cover the Eastern Conference convention at Myrtle Beach, S.C., which no reporter had ever done before. Joe T told me that I wasn’t welcome. I went anyhow. Carey called to suggest that I stay at the motel where he would be—in case I needed protecting, which in those days could be a valid concern. I have always been impressed by Carey’s willingness to expose himself to an unnecessary danger to assure that I would be safe.
The story had a happy ending. I had breakfast one morning with Carey, I managed to sneak past the sergeants at arms to attend the sessions, and Joe T was reelected head of the Eastern Conference in a deal settling the dispute between the New Jersey and New York mob families involved.
Ken Crowe is the author of Collision: How the Rank and File Took Back the Teamsters and The Vindication of Ron Carey and was a labor reporter for Newsday.