Firefighters issue four Council endorsements
Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Jo Clifton
The Austin Firefighters Association began announcing its endorsements for City Council Tuesday, beginning with two of its own, Council Member Mike Martinez, who is running for mayor, and District 2 candidate Delia Garza. The group also chose Council Member Chris Riley for District 9 over fellow incumbent Kathie Tovo and Ora Houston, the apparent front-runner for District 1.
AFA President Bob Nicks said his union is looking at all the candidates very carefully because so much is at stake. “We’re really committed to seating a good Council,” he said. “This new Council will set the pace for the next 10 years. We are looking at it (the new Council) as the salvation of the firefighters.”
Firefighters have been in a tough spot since the Justice Department filed suit against the city alleging discrimination in hiring of new firefighters. The association agrees with the city that the 2012 hiring process was flawed. However, union officials contend the 2013 effort was a vast improvement, and produced its most diverse potential class of Austin firefighters in at least a decade. The Justice Department apparently did not agree.
Council voted 5-2 in mid-May to settle that lawsuit, with Martinez and Riley objecting strongly. They wanted to ask the Justice Department to look at 2012 and 2013 separately, but they were on the losing end of that vote.
Nicks said about 100 firefighters showed up Tuesday morning to cheer the endorsements and immediately go block walking in Districts 1, 2 and 9, showing they are strongly committed to the candidates they endorsed.
Nicks said firefighters have budgeted $200,000 for Council campaigns. However, he did not say they actually had that much money, and in past years the firefighters’ expenditures have not come near that amount.
There has been a rumor floating around Austin political circles for some time that trial attorney Steve Mostyn would be supporting Martinez through an independent expenditure. The rumor also had Mostyn giving money to the firefighters. However, although he said he had heard the same rumor, Nicks said he had not heard from Mostyn.
Nicks said the firefighters would be willing to accept money from outside sources, but only if those people agreed with the firefighters’ endorsements and goals.
Martinez was president of the firefighters union when he was elected to Council eight years ago. His campaign released the following statement: “It is such an honor to receive the endorsement of the Austin Firefighters Association. As mayor, I will fight to represent middle class families and all of the hardworking men and women of Austin.”
Garza, who was an Austin firefighter from 2001 to 2007 before going to law school, was the first female chair of the firefighters political action committee. “That was my introduction to city politics,” Garza said.
“I’ve been very honored and humbled at all of the endorsements, but this one is very special to me because of my work as a firefighter,” she continued. “I have an intimate knowledge of the struggles (of Austin Firefighters) … Above all, they want to know their city administration supports them.”
Houston said, “It was a very humbling experience since I wasn’t a firefighter.” When asked why she thought she got the endorsement, Houston said, “I have a heart for working people, and I think they were able to discern that. My son is a law enforcement person up in the D.C. area.”
Nicks called Riley “a true champion on public safety and labor issues, and a courageous leader that has proven that he will stand up and make the hard decisions. The firefighters believe that once Chris Riley is seated among the other great 10-1 candidates, he will be even more effective and provide the necessary leadership to ensure that the new Council will act with one voice for the betterment of the Austin community.”
The Riley campaign released the following statement: “I am honored to have the support of the Austin Firefighters Association. Firefighters risk their lives to keep Austinites safe every day, and they deserve to have a City Council that stands with them.”
Nicks said the firefighters would be making more endorsements in a couple of weeks, but might not decide on their final choices until October.
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