Nobody wants to start a job like Daniel A. Mica did.

The former Florida congressman sustained what he described as "a couple of nuclear hits" soon after becoming chief executive officer of the Credit Union National Association last summer: a staggering court loss to the banking industry and the botched sale of a money-losing subsidiary.

Within a month of Mr. Mica's July 1 arrival, a federal appeals court judge ruled that occupation-based credit unions could not add members from companies other than their sponsors.

Meanwhile the planned sale of the organization's hemorrhaging credit card processing unit was collapsing and threatened the viability of the whole organization. News that CUNA had no contingency plan and that the unit might miss payroll "sent me into orbit," Mr. Mica said.

"The potential to bring it all down was there," he said.

CUNA's outlook has since brightened. The troubled subsidiary was sold in November to Atlanta-based Equifax Inc., and the Supreme Court agreed to review the appeals court decision. After losing $7.2 million in 1995, CUNA made about $3 million last year - thanks mainly to the sale of the card processing unit.

Now Mr. Mica wants to move on to the task he was hired to accomplish: strengthening CUNA's influence in Washington. In a recent interview, he set a clear vision for CUNA as a populist lobbying organization in the mold of the American Association of Retired Persons.

"We boast that we are 70 million members strong," Mr. Mica said. "The AARP is only 35 million members strong. ... We are and should be a recognized economical, political force in this country."

He showed that he has quickly honed his anti-bank rhetoric.

"We are under a massive attack on all fronts from the bankers," Mr. Mica said. "The No. 1 priority is to turn back the bankers' attack."

For too long credit unions have ducked assaults from banks and failed to take the offensive, he said. "My goal is to never again have us in this position."

Mr. Mica wants CUNA to create a national data base to rally credit union members on short notice for letter-writing campaigns or other shows of force against the bank lobby.

Since he took over, CUNA has been raising its Washington profile. The organization is moving four top jobs here from its historic headquarters in Madison, Wis., including the chief economist and general counsel. Mr. Mica spends just 25% of his time in Madison.

He expressed regret that the crises have slowed him from meeting the CUNA rank and file during his first 10 months on the job. "They still don't know me," Mr. Mica said after a credit union meeting in Boston in early April.

His new constituents will get to know him in time, he insisted. Besides, Mr. Mica, a House Democrat for 10 years and a dead ringer for his brother Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., is accustomed to mistaken identity.

President Bush asked Dan Mica at least once: 'Are you you, or are you the other one?"

Mr. Mica was born in Binghamton, N.Y., 53 years ago and says he grew up "very poor" in Miami. After college graduation, he worked 12 years for Rep. Paul G. Rogers, a Democrat from Florida, and was elected to represent the same House district in 1979. He rose to deputy whip and served on committees that investigated Medicare fraud and the bugging of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

In 1989, after losing a Senate primary race, Mr. Mica joined the American Council of Life Insurance in Washington as an executive vice president and focused on turning around several troubled departments within the group's federal affairs division. When he lost a bid for ACLI president to former South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell, Mr. Mica began looking for a top job elsewhere.

Nancy L. Pierce, president of Federal Employees Credit Union in Kansas City and leader of the search committee that hired Mr. Mica, said he was exactly who CUNA wanted: an outsider with Washington know-how to focus the organization on lobbying and educating.

Selecting him proved prescient once the credit union movement has to turn to Congress for refuge from the appeals court decision.

Bipartisan legislation to ease limits on credit union membership was introduced in March, but not without some rancor.

In January, when the new Congress convened, many credit unions demanded a bill be introduced immediately. Mr. Mica balked, arguing that credit unions should hold out for a bill with broad support.

"I got a lot of heat for that," Mr. Mica said, who explained he felt it was important to get a bill that wasn't labeled liberal or conservative.

After several false starts, legislation to allow occupation-based credit unions to serve employees from companies other than their original sponsors was introduced March 20. Led by Reps. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Paul E. Kanjorski, D-Pa., HR 1151 now has 52 co-sponsors, including House leaders such as Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon, R-N.Y., and Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La.

No bill has been introduced in the Senate. The credit union lobby concentrated on the House first because it saw the House Banking Committee as the biggest potential obstacle, Mr. Mica said. CUNA is talking with "key senators" now, but Mr. Mica said he could not say when a bill would be introduced.

Maneuvering the internal politics of CUNA may rival serving in Congress.

Mr. Mica's predecessor, Ralph Swoboda, was ousted in November 1995 over a variety of conflicts including the balance of power within the organization.

Historically, CUNA has been controlled by the state credit union trade associations, known as leagues. But in October, succumbing to pressure from individual credit unions who sought more direct influence, CUNA altered its membership structure so individual credit unions could join directly.

As part of CUNA's reorganization, individual credit unions will elect three-fourths of the CUNA board this summer.

"If I am here 100 years, I will always be learning the politics of credit unions," Mr. Mica said. "They are as political or more political than any entity I have ever been involved in."

Industry leaders give him good marks.

"I have been impressed with his work so far, and I think other credit unions feel the same way," said Brian L. McDonnell, president of Navy Federal Credit Union, which temporarily withdrew from CUNA two years ago in a dispute.

Mr. Mica is "easier to work with" than any of his predecessors, said Kenneth L. Robinson, longtime president of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. Traditional rivals, CUNA and NAFCU have put their differences aside to coordinate a campaign against banks, Mr. Robinson said.

But CUNA members have high expectations of victory in the courts and Congress.

"I think they are going to give him a chance because he is new," said Geoff Bacino, a Washington lobbyist and former CUNA employee, "but he's not going to get the honeymoon that somebody else in that position would have gotten four to five years ago."

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