The mayoral candidacy of City Councilmember Helene Schneider this week received the endorsement of the city firefighters union as well as that of the city Police Officers Association. In years past, these endorsements packed considerable political punch, but in this year’s council campaign – marked by high anxiety over chronic budget deficits – public employee unions have become the subject of some controversy. Both unions had initially and emphatically endorsed Councilmember Iya Falcone for mayor, but were forced to look elsewhere after Falcone failed to garner the 100 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
Tony Pighetti, head of the firefighters’ political action committee said Schneider had pushed for an independent study comparing the responsibilities and pay of the City Fire Department with 16 others prior to the last round of negotiations. “She’s always been a supporter of public safety and she’s always done what she said,” he explained. During recent budget talks, Schneider has been outspoken in arguing that public employee unions – as well as the general employees union – had to make contract concessions. Pighetti said none of the other mayoral candidates – Chamber of Commerce president Steve Cushman, Councilmember Dale Francisco, realtor Isaac Garrett, and homeless advocate Bob Hansen – sought the firefighter union endorsement. Francisco stated he would take no campaign contributions from public employee unions or developers. Cushman has criticized what he termed the undue influence of public employee unions, as well. The firefighters and police unions will announce their picks for council candidates later this week.