Hoffa opponent concedes defeat in Teamsters' ballot
Web posted at: 5:08 p.m. EST (2208 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chief challenger to James P. Hoffa for the presidency of the Teamsters union conceded defeat Saturday, as a preliminary vote count showed Hoffa well ahead.
Tom Leedham said it was difficult to compete against Hoffa's name recognition, financing and more than four years of campaigning for the top post of the nation's largest private sector union.
"But in six short months, we came from nowhere to build a grassroots campaign for rank-and-file power that made union reform the key issue in this election," Leedham said in a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Hoffa. Earlier, his camp had said he wouldn't comment until the vote count was completed.
However, Hoffa's deputy campaign manager, David Lyle, welcomed Leedham's concession.
"We await further election results with interest and confidence," Lyle said in a statement.
Hoffa leads with 55 percent of vote
As of Saturday morning, with ballots counted from union members in the Teamsters' southern and eastern regions, Hoffa, a Detroit labor lawyer, had 55 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Leedham, an Oregonian who heads the union's 400,000-member warehouse workers division.
The remaining 6 percent of the vote went to John Metz of St. Louis, who oversees the union's 125,000-member public employees division.
Ballots from the western region were being counted Saturday, and votes from the central region will be counted Sunday, after which an official winner will be declared.
Hoffa, 57, has never held an elected position in the Teamsters. He is the son of Jimmy Hoffa, who had a legendary run as president of the union in the 1950s and 1960s before being sent to prison for jury-tampering and fraud. The elder Hoffa disappeared in 1975 and is presumed dead.
A rerun of 1996 race
The younger Hoffa narrowly lost in his bid for the union's presidency in December 1996 to Ron Carey, who represented a anti-corruption faction within the Teamsters. But Carey's win was nullified in August 1997 because of questionable fund-raising practices in his campaign, and three of his aides later pled guilty to felony charges.
A new election was ordered. With Carey disqualified, Hoffa became the leading candidate, though many in the reform faction backed Leedham in an effort to stop Hoffa.
In his concession statement, Leedham said he will "take Mr. Hoffa at his word that he will work for real union reform, protect members' right to vote for top union officers and fight solely for the interest of Teamsters and our families."
"If he does, he will have my support," Leedham said.
The Teamsters election is being supervised by a federal monitor as a result of a 1989 settlement of a racketeering lawsuit in which the Justice Department accused the union of having ties to organized crime.
The election cost $6.3 million. The Teamsters are contributing $2 million, with the federal government paying the rest.
About 400,000 of the union's 1.4 million members voted in the ballot.
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