A close protege of powerful labor leader Gerry McEntee was elected Thursday to second-in-command at his union.

Lee Saunders, executive assistant to McEntee at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), won election as Secretary-Treasurer for the nation's largest public sector employee union. Many see the no. 2 spot as a stepping stone towards the union's presidency, now controlled by McEntee.

Saunders won a close race against Danny Donohue, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, New York's biggest government worker union. Donohue was pledging to support more primary challengers of Democrats and focus more of the union's resources outside of Washington. Donohue also had the backing of the retiring AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy.

AFSCME is one of the most politically powerful unions in the country. They have been jumped into several campaigns already this year, including the primary challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). In addition, McEntee is the head of the AFL-CIO's political committee where he has plenty say in what election races the nation's biggest labor federation involves itself in.

Saunders is to be sworn in Friday to the position, which is the last day of AFSCME's annual convention in Boston.