National firefighters convention could be embarrassing for Nutter

Posted: July 13, 2012

MAYOR NUTTER has two very different political profiles: Here, he's heckled and booed during City Hall budget speeches; nationally, he leads the U.S. Conference of Mayors and serves as a surrogate for President Obama's campaign.

Those two worlds will collide next week in a way that may make Nutter uncomfortable.

The International Association of Fire Fighters will start a weeklong convention here just as Nutter's dealings with the local union are coming to a boil again.

An arbitration panel last week sided with Philadelphia's firefighters by largely upholding terms of a 2010 ruling and giving them retroactive pay raises, more money for health care and protection from furloughs. Nutter has until the end of the month to appeal.

Bill Gault, leader of the local firefighters union, says he's been trying to get Nutter to accept the arbitration panel's plan. So far, he said, Nutter's not responding.

"I'm trying to be diplomatic," Gault said. "I'm trying to not use this convention as leverage. I even invited him to speak there."

We hear firefighters are organizing protests of Nutter's policies. We wondered what would happen if Nutter shows up.

Gault predicts a lot of booing. And not just for Nutter.

Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to address the convention, Gault said, and may take some of the heat with Nutter.

Nutter shrugs off the potential boos as "life in the big city" and points out that he lobbied for the union convention to be held here. He's not sure if he'll attend.

"I respect them a great deal for the very tough jobs that they have," Nutter said of the firefighters. "I think many Philadelphians recognize that the mayor's job is kind of tough from time to time as well. You have to often make decisions that could upset one group of people while we try to serve the interests of all Philadelphians."

This wouldn't be the first time firefighters used a meeting as leverage in a contract dispute.

Biden was scheduled to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Providence, R.I., in June 2009 until the IAFF said its local members would picket the event because of a contract dispute with the mayor.

Biden canceled his speech at the IAFF's request. Nutter attended despite the picket line.

Gault will plan a pre-convention news conference for next week if he doesn't hear from Nutter.

"It seems the only way to embarrass him is nationwide," Gault said of the mayor's profile.

Speaking of angry unions ...

National union leaders plan to pack Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Aug. 11 with 20,000 to 30,000 people in what they are calling a rally for a "2nd Bill of Rights."

The idea: Ask politicians to sign the document as they seek office. Then tell union members which politicians are on board.

Ed Hill, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, first spoke about the event in March while noting that union leaders were mad that the Democratic National Convention in September is being held in union-unfriendly Charlotte, N.C.

Hill, who is boycotting the Charlotte convention, claimed Thursday that the Aug. 11 rally was never meant to be "a slap at" the Democratic convention.

Union anger about Charlotte and plans for the Philly rally were both discussed at the AFL-CIO meeting in March, Hill said, but that doesn't mean they're related issues.

"One didn't germinate the other one," Hill said. "When it came out, people put them together and said X led to Y. That's simply not the case."

The office of what?

PhillyClout loves a good mystery. This week we worked on the "Case of the Mysterious Government Office."

We learned this week that a branch had recently been added to the mayor's office — with the unusual title "Office of New Urban Mechanics." We also learned the office has hired a staffer, a woman named Story Bellows.

But our attempts to learn more were met with resistance. The Nutter administration first said we could speak with Bellows and another staffer, Jeff Friedman, also associated with the office. Then they rescinded the offer.

We submitted a list of questions asking about the office's creation, its goals and the staffing budget, but got few answers. All we can tell you for sure is that Bellows has a salary of $95,000, according to the mayor's press office.

Our guess is this office is modeled on a similar one in Boston that purports to find innovative ways to provide city services.

Another mystery maybe they can solve: What's going on with that 3-1-1 app?

Quotable

"I finally came to the realization that if I want to change things in the country, I have to have something to do with electoral politics."

— Philadelphia activist Cheri Honkala, a formerly homeless mother who works with the poor, selected by the Green Party this week to run for vice president. She ran for sheriff last year on the party's ticket. n

— Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report. Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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