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Keys to Tacoma firefighters’ influence: cash, signs, bodies

Post by David Wickert on Oct. 7, 2009 at 11:44 am |
October 8, 2009 4:34 pm

Tacoma politicians tell us the Tacoma Professional Firefighters Union is very influential in city politics. The reasons: cash, signs and bodies.

As I reported yesterday, the firefighters union is the top contributor to City of Tacoma candidates since 2003. The union’s political action committee – Active in Democracy – has contributed nearly $30,000 to candidates in recent elections. And that doesn’t count contributions by individual firefighters.

The PAC gets its money from small contributions by union members. Documents on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission indicate union members currently contribute about $6 several times a year to Active in Democracy. (Here’s a copy of the committee’s latest C3 report).

It adds up. Last year the committee raised nearly $34,000 in contributions. Through August this year it’s raised about $28,000.

But elected officials say it’s not just cash that makes the firefighters influential. The union operates a sign shop that candidates find invaluable. And it has enough bodies – the union represents nearly 400 employees – to provide a substantial labor force to any campaign.

Former City Councilman Kevin Phelps, who won the union’s endorsement in his first council run, said the firefighters will make and post campaign signs for candidates. “When you’re a candidate trying to get yard signs up, that’s a pretty strong influence,” he said.

Mayor Bill Baarsma served as former Councilman Bob Evans’ campaign manager in the 1990s. Evans won the police union’s endorsement, but lost the support of the firefighters union. That meant the Evans’ campaign had to muster volunteers to put together his signs.

“I remember spending one cold day in Steve Kirby’s garage, as Bob’s son and I were putting together signs,” Baarsma said.

“It was bitterly cold,” he said. “Man, how cold it was. And all I can remember thinking was, if only that fire (endorsement) had come through.”

I’ve been trying to reach union officials to talk about these issues, but they haven’t responded yet.

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