A close vote will force a runoff election to choose the head of the Washington Teachers' Union, according to results released to candidates this week.
Only six votes separated the two top finishers to succeed Barbara A. Bullock, who ran the organization for nearly a decade before she emerged as a central figure in the theft of $4.6 million in union funds from 1995 to 2002.
_____The Teachers Union_____
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George Parker, a teacher and longtime critic of Bullock's, received 520 votes. Rachel Hicks, a union official and former ally of Bullock's, received 514 votes. Two other teachers, Elizabeth Davis and Cleopatra Lawton, got 288 votes and 36 votes, respectively.
Just 1,358 of 4,440 eligible members cast ballots, which were mailed Nov. 29.
Davis said that the low count is evidence of a troubled election and that she plans to challenge the results. She said many teachers did not receive a ballot and then found it difficult to obtain one through the union. She said she spoke to a lawyer Wednesday to explore legal options.
If only 1,358 of 4,400 teachers voted, "what way do I have of knowing how many received ballots?" Davis said.
Parker said that although he was disappointed in the turnout, it was similar to that of the 1999 election, when 1,541 out of 5,400 eligible voters cast ballots.
"After what happened to us, to have $5 million [taken] from us, it's important for us to be actively engaged," Parker said. "This was, to some degree, the same apathy that allowed Barbara Bullock to run roughshod over us."
The election effectively will end the interim administration imposed on the union in January 2003 by the American Federation of Teachers. Since then, the Washington Teachers' Union has been run by AFT official George C. Springer.
The union's offices were closed this week, and attempts to contact Springer for comment on the election were unsuccessful. Hicks did not return phone calls, and Lawton could not be located.
The election was held under a constitution approved last month by members, which dictates that the winner must receive more than 50 percent of votes cast, Parker said. Union officials told him that the runoff will take place over the next few weeks, Parker said. He added that he was also told that ballots would go out next week and be counted by Jan. 26.
The new constitution also includes measures enforcing more stringent oversight of officials and staff and increasing membership participation in key decisions through a new delegate assembly. One change, for example, requires that any staff member running for a union office take a leave of absence during the campaign.
Bullock pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and other charges in the embezzlement scheme and is serving a nine-year prison sentence. Prosecutors alleged that she and several of her associates spent union money on such personal luxuries as artwork, jewelry, designer clothing and furnishings.
Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, who served as Bullock's executive assistant, and James O. Baxter II, the former union treasurer, were indicted last year and await trial. The case has been slowed by skirmishes among attorneys and by pretrial arguments.
Others who have pleaded guilty include Leroy Holmes, Bullock's former chauffeur, and Michael Martin, Hemphill's son-in-law. Holmes was accused of cashing union checks worth $1.2 million, keeping some of the money and giving the rest to union officials. Martin admitted creating a phony company that was used to launder union money.