Head of largest public employee union to step down

By SAM HANANEL | November 3, 2011 | 12:57 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the nation's largest public employee union plans to step down, setting up a heated contest to guide a political powerhouse that has been among the biggest spenders in Democratic campaigns.

Gerald McEntee has guided the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees since 1981. An e-mail obtained by The Associated Press shows he's informed senior union officials of his plans.

McEntee's decision comes amid a titanic public employee union battle against efforts to curb its clout in state legislatures around the country.

It's not clear exactly when he will step down. If McEntee leaves before the union's 2012 convention, secretary-treasurer Lee Saunders would become interim president. But Saunders is expected to face a strong challenge from the union's New York leader, Danny Donohue.