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Pittsburgh firefighters endorse Ravenstahl

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

The politically powerful Pittsburgh firefighters union is endorsing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for re-election, giving him an early boost in next year's mayoral race.

Joe King, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1, and Darrin Kelly, who chairs its political action committee, said the 590-member union will back Ravenstahl “100 percent.”

“Tell us what he's done wrong over the last six years in running this city?” King said.

Political observers said the endorsement makes sense, considering the union contract expires in 2013 and Democrat Ravenstahl is lobbying for the city's release from state fiscal oversight, which has limited employee salaries and benefits since 2004.

“I am incredibly proud to have earned the endorsement of the courageous and hardworking men and women of Pittsburgh firefighters Local 1 for next year's race,” Ravenstahl said in a statement.

Union officials denied a quid pro quo, saying Ravenstahl has done more for firefighters since he took office than any other mayor in recent memory. They vowed to turn 1,600 members, retirees and survivors of deceased firefighters out for the election.

“Our whole fleet was updated since he's been in office,” Kelly said.

Political observers said the firefighters' endorsement is important, but not an impossible obstacle to overcome.

“They can't guarantee votes like they did 30 years ago, but it's certainly better to have them on your side than against you,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “The best you can do as a challenge to that is suggest that the mayor has figuratively gotten in bed with the firefighters if (contract) negotiations are imminent and that was the rationale for supporting the mayor.”

Firefighters' power came to play in the 2001 election won by former Mayor Tom Murphy. The union, which then had 650 members, had supported then-City Council President Bob O'Connor for mayor. But Murphy cut an 11th-hour deal to swing an endorsement and won the election by 699 votes. The deal triggered a federal grand jury investigation into allegations that Murphy promised $12 million in contract benefits for the endorsement.

Murphy, who admitted the endorsement helped him politically, avoided prosecution by agreeing to cooperate, among other things, in efforts to change Pennsylvania's collective-bargaining law.

The firefighters union also endorsed Ravenstahl when he won election four years ago and in his successful run for City Council, Kelly said.

City Councilman Bill Peduto, Controller Michael Lamb and Auditor General Jack Wagner all have confirmed they are seriously considering a run for mayor in 2013.

Peduto and Lamb did not return phone calls. Wagner said he's always had a good relationship with firefighters.

“I truly believe if I run for mayor I will have a lot of support from firefighters,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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