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Firefighters Pick Three Incumbents, Shriver

By Jorge Casuso and Olin Ericksen
Staff Writers

September 16 -- For the first time in a decade, the City’s Firefighters Union picked a slate independent of its police counterpart, voting to back three incumbents and a member of the Kennedy family for four open seats on the City Council.

The endorsement of Mayor Richard Bloom, Council members Ken Genser and Herb Katz and challenger Bobby Shriver came two days before the city’s powerful Police Officers Association is expected to announce its slate Friday.

Unlike the police union, which wields heavy clout and a large campaign war chest (by June 30 it had $68,000 in its coffers, according to the latest campaign finance disclosure statement), the firefighters’ endorsement is more symbolic, representing about $5,000 worth of campaign signs and a small army of volunteers, according to union leaders.

“It isn’t really what the police have,” said Ken Polhill president of the Firefighters Association, which includes 102 members. “We won’t do mailers.”

Still, the firefighters’ backing provides a big boost for candidates who will tout the endorsement in their own campaign literature, focusing attention on the popular issue of public safety.

“I’m very pleased,” said Bloom. “Having the endorsement of our firefighters says a lot. Public Safety has always been one of my top priorities.”

"I very much appreciate their support,” Genser said. “I've always prioritized providing resources for their department... (The endorsement) conveys to the voters that I have the support of those who directly protect our community."

In picking its slate, the union’s seven-member Political Action Committee backed candidates from the city’s two key rival factions -- Genser and Bloom are members of the ticket backed by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), while Katz and Shriver are on the Chamber of Commerce slate.

While boosting the SMRR candidates’ prospects, Wednesday’s endorsement may be even more critical for Katz and Shriver.

“We’ll probably be very involved with Bobby and Herb,” Polhill said. “For one reason or another they may need more help.”

Both Katz and Shriver view the endorsement as crucial.

"It means an awful lot for me, this is a big endorsement," Katz said. "Their backing is so valuable because they'll be calling voters, walking the streets talking to people. Their contribution basically is mostly with personnel as opposed to money.

"I'm now looking to pick up the police endorsement and the MEA (Municipal Employees Association) endorsement as well,” Katz said. “I've been a huge supporter of the fire and police here and it’s very gratifying to see they recognize that."

Shriver -- a local homeowner who helped lead a grassroots movement against City Hall’s hedge laws -- said the endorsement was both politically and personally important.

He watched as paramedics rescued a man outside his house, firefighters train daily on the Alta steps outside his home and he is working on a movie about the six firefighters who died trying to rescue a homeless couple in the 1999 Worcester fire.

“Emotionally, I have a real connection to firefighters,” Shriver said. “I don’t know what their reasoning (for the endorsement) was, but I’m personally pleased about it.”

Councilman Michael Feinstein -- who received the union’s backing in 2000, along with Bloom, Genser and Katz -- said he will further his “strong record” supporting the City’s firefighters, despite failing to make the slate.

“I have no hard feelings at all,” Feinstein said. “I understand some firefighters wanted to endorse me, but that the organization was only going to endorse four,” he said, adding that some groups endorse more candidates than there are open seats.

“That being said, I have a strong record of providing the equipment and training our firefighters need,” said Feinstein, who won his first bid for council in 1996 without the union’s backing. “If the residents choose to return me in November, I will continue to do so.”

Polhill said the union tends to back incumbent candidates who are accessible, adding that Feinstein had had a good rack record.

“I think if they are accessible for discussions, you should support them,” he said. “Mike has also supported us.”

November’s hotly contested race marks the first time since 1994 that the firefighters union backs a slate that will likely differ from that supported by the Police Officers Association, which holds joint candidate interviews with the firefighters.

“I don’t have any real disagreement with the police officers,” Polhill said. “After that discussion (with the candidates), I’m not sure they’re going to endorse the same slate.”

Some political observers speculate that the independent endorsement stems in part from the police union’s hard-hitting campaign against VERITAS, an initiative on the 2002 ballot that would have carved the city into political districts, imposed term limits and elected a mayor at large.

Many firefighters also took offense at an unsuccessful police union hit on Councilman Bob Holbrook, who had failed to win the endorsements of both unions. But Polhill said those political differences have been put aside since the last election.

“We had discussions last time about the Holbrook thing,” he said. “We’ve since patched our fences. We also had some issues with VERITAS.”

The last time the police and firefighters backed different slates was in 1994, when the POA backed Holbrook, Council member Pam O’Connor and former Council member Ruth Ebner, while the firefighters backed Matt Kanny instead of Ebner. All three POA candidates won that race.

A day before the firefighters’ endorsement, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party voted to back Bloom and Shriver, as well as Pico Neighborhood activist Maria Loya and former school board president Patricia Hoffman, who are both part of the SMRR ticket.

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