The Christmas spirit apparently hasn't infected some D.C. firefighters, who are staging a boycott of the city's 30th annual One Fund Drive in an effort to embarrass Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman.
The firefighters' tight-fisted tactic has apparently dampened the holiday cheer of Mayor Marion Barry, who sent off a letter last week to firefighters "to express my sincere disappointment and dismay" in the attempted boycott.
The annual fund collects donations, either a one-time contribution or a pledged portion of salary, from city employes and distributes the money to local charities, such as the D.C. Special Olympics and Deafpride.
"It is my understanding that the attempted One Fund boycott is technically not aimed at the drive itself but, rather, represents an effort by some in the leadership positions to discredit and embarrass the leadership of the District's Fire Department," the mayor wrote in his letter, dated Dec. 7.
Last year, 69 percent of the fire department's employes participated in the campaign. This year, however, 40 percent -- about 630 firefighters -- have contributed to the campaign since it began Oct. 5, according to Gwen Hemphill, the mayor's special assistant for labor relations and his representative to the One Fund. By contrast, she said, 83 percent of police department employes have contributed this year, while the Department of Corrections is running at 68 percent.
It is unclear how successful the boycott has been. Yesterday, Hemphill said the fire department has surpassed its goal of $31,200 by $1,000 despite the low level of giving, an indication that many in the department are donating larger sums to make up for the boycott efforts.
However, firefighters participating in the boycott said that the level of One Fund participation is a source of great pride among the heads of other government agencies, and that they hope the low level of participation in the fire department -- 42 percent less than last year -- will embarrass Coleman in front of the mayor and other department heads.
Coleman said yesterday, "It's a disgusting tactic. The One Fund Drive is designed to help people . . . . I'm black, and a lot of things that are happening in the department [including the boycott] are because of my race."
"I know who gave," Coleman said by phone. "I have a list right here on my desk." He said the list shows that the boycott is being staged primarily by white firefighters.
He also said the boycott is being sponsored by the International Association of Firefighters, Local 36, and to support his claim he read the minutes of three recent union meetings that, he said, showed the union was behind the boycott.
Hemphill said that the "leadership" of the boycott that the mayor referred to was "leadership in the union." She stopped short, however, of accusing the union of sponsoring the boycott.
William E. Mould, president of Local 36, said yesterday, "The union fully endorses the One Fund and all the agencies it represents."
Firefighters in the union were particularly irked by Coleman's attempt earlier this year to eliminate 44 firefighting positions in the department and by a recent round of promotions in which a number of white firefighters were "passed over" by three black firefighters.
"We wanted the money to go to the One Fund, but we didn't want to let the chief and the fire department get the credit," one union source said.
As a result, he said, some firefighters have made private donations. Others have sent donations to Local 36, which sent a notice to District firehouses offering to collect and pass along donations from firefighters who didn't want to go through the department.
Mould said, "All we did was provide another vehicle for contributing besides the fire department." He said, however, that, considering the low level of giving through the department, he was disappointed that more people hadn't contributed through the union. "We encourage people to give and give as much as they can," he said.
Hemphill said that the One Fund Drive, which ends Dec. 31, had a goal of $700,000 this year, but topped $1 million yesterday