Cincinnati mayoral race: Firefighters' union endorses John Cranley for mayor

9 others get council endorsement

CINCINNATI -- A labor union representing Cincinnati’s firefighters has endorsed John Cranley in the mayoral race.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 48 announced the endorsement Friday, capping off a week that saw Cranley take the top spot in Tuesday’s mayoral primary election .

“When Local 48 endorses a candidate for office, we keep the basic principle of ‘support those who support us’ in mind,” said Matt Alter, Local 48 president.

A major factor behind the endorsement is recent city budgets that initially called for firefighter layoffs, although the layoffs were avoided by the time City Council passed the final spending plans.

Firefighter and police layoffs have been proposed every year from 2009 to 2013. City Council ultimately avoided layoffs each time by finding other cuts to avoid looming deficits.

For example, the budget plan released by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. in March proposed laying off 189 police officers and 80 firefighters.

City Council made changes to the plan throughout spring. In late May, layoff notices were mailed to 66 police officers and 71 firefighters. But about a week later, a budget was approved that included no layoffs.

Police and firefighters have criticized the tactic, stating the threat of layoffs has been used to achieve political goals like getting public support for the city’s controversial parking lease plan.

“It’s definitely a factor,” Alter said, referring to the role periodic layoff notices played in the endorsement.

An ex-city councilman, Cranley is running against Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Both are Democrats, and both have helped shape city budgets during the past decade.

Qualls has chaired City Council’s budget and finance committee since 2010. Cranley chaired the committee from December 2001 to January 2009.

“When I was head of the finance committee for eight budget cycles, it was unthinkable to threaten layoffs of police and firefighters,” Cranley said. “In fact, we added them.”

Cranley referred to the hiring of 115 police officers in the years shortly after the 2001 riots. The hirings have become an issue in this year’s mayoral campaign because, at the time, then-Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. said he hadn’t requested them.

“We went through a recession while I was on council, but we didn’t consider those departments for layoffs because that was at odds with our value system,” Cranley said.

Jens Sutmoller, Qualls’ campaign manager, is puzzled by the union’s support for Cranley. It was Qualls who worked to find alternate cuts to avoid firefighter layoffs this year, he said.

“Roxanne has a track record of results creating clean and safe neighborhoods,” Sutmoller said. “In the latest budget, Roxanne saved firefighters and police officers from layoffs and is proud of her long list of endorsements.”

In recent years, the Cincinnati Fire Department has seen staffing shortages that have caused “brownouts.” A brownout is when one truck in a firehouse is idled.

Cincinnati has experienced between one and five brownouts daily, Alter said. The department’s ranks are stretched too thin, which jeopardizes public safety, he added.

The Cincinnati Fire Department currently has 786 personnel. But the number needed to end brownouts and become fully staffed is 879.

A recruit class will graduate in February that should bring the ranks up to 826 people, Alter said. Still, 35 people likely will retire in 2014, offsetting some of the increase.

“We’re still about 50 short of our goal,” Alter said.

Some of Qualls’ supporters took to the Internet to downplay the endorsement.

“They endorsed Pepper in 2005, Wenstrup in 2009,” tweeted Craig Hochscheid, the blogger known as Cincy Cappel.

Hochscheid referred to mayoral candidates David Pepper and Brad Wenstrup, each of whom lost their respective races.

The IAFF also endorsed a slate of candidates for City Council.

The slate included incumbents Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Pam Thomas, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn; and challengers Kevin Flynn and Greg Landsman.

 Qualls and Laure Quinlivan are the only incumbents who weren’t endorsed.

The Fraternal Order of Police is scheduled to announce its endorsements Sept. 26, said union President Kathy Harrell.

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