District firefighters and police union support Vincent Gray over Mayor Fenty

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

District firefighters and police officers were emphatic Thursday: They support Vincent C. Gray in the mayor's race because incumbent Adrian M. Fenty has poisoned relations between the city and its first responders.

In a move that further solidifies organized labor behind the council chairman, the leaders of the local Fraternal Order of Police and the D.C. Firefighters Association said Fenty disrespects city workers and lacks the temperament to effectively oversee public safety.

"Mayor Fenty has done nothing to warrant the endorsement and support of D.C. firefighters," said Ray Sneed, president of the firefighters' Local 36. "From a labor standpoint, he is unreachable, unapproachable and our correspondence goes unanswered."

A Fenty spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Although unions had limited impact in the 2006 mayoral race, Gray's success in securing support from firefighters and police officers could help him go toe-to-toe with Fenty on public safety.

Sneed, who represents 1,800 city firefighters, and Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the 3,600-member city Fraternal Order of Police lodge, vowed their organizations will work hard through the Sept. 14 Democratic primary to deny Fenty a second term.

"Vince can see all needs of the city and how they interconnect," Baumann said. "He understands there are a million moving parts to the District of Columbia, and, if you go in and solely focus on one part, and ignore the other parts, it's going to fall apart. And once it falls apart, we are all going to fall apart."

Since Fenty took office in 2007, he has battled the police and fire unions over contract provisions, overtime pay and the composition of the city's Public Employee Relations Board.

Baumann and other union officials have also criticized Fenty and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier's crime-fighting strategies, including their well-publicized "all hands on deck" program that many officers view as ineffective. Police and fire union officials also questioned Fenty's leadership in the aftermath of the twin February snowstorms, saying he failed to treat them as a security threat.

Labor leaders, most of whom supported former council chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) in the 2006 mayor's race, added that Fenty hasn't made city employees feel like partners. Sneed said he has tried unsuccessfully for 18 months to meet with the mayor.

Gray, who attended the endorsement ceremony, said he will embrace "an approach in which we all work together." He also has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees.

Some observers said Gray's union support could backfire by sending a signal that he would be less likely to trim the government or stand up against lucrative labor contracts. But city police and firefighters will likely help Gray counter Fenty on the campaign trail on public safety and crime.

On Monday, the FBI released preliminary figures showing violent crime in the District was down by 7.2 percent last year. The city also logged 143 homicides last year, the lowest one-year tally since the 1960s. Gray acknowledged Thursday that homicides in the District are down but said this is part of a nationwide trend.

As for other violent crimes, Baumann said the Fenty administration "cannot be trusted" to supply accurate statistics.

He said Lanier was unable to tell the D.C. Council in December 2007 whether crime was "up or down" due to inconsistent record-keeping. Last year, the Washington Examiner reported that final FBI statistics for 2008 showed a 2.3 percent increase in violent crime, even though Lanier had told the council there had been a 5 percent reduction in crime.

"The police department has no credibility when it comes to crime numbers," Baumann said. "We probably won't know the real numbers [for 2009] until after the election."

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