Police, fire unions pull endorsements for Jefferson Smith

Police, fire unions pull endorsements for Jefferson Smith »Play Video
Jefferson Smith speaks during a news conference about a college party in 1993 where he ended up hitting a woman. Smith said the woman charged at him after wrongly thinking he pushed her off a couch.

PORTLAND, Ore. – After previously endorsing Jefferson Smith in the Portland mayoral race, both the police and fire unions abruptly on Thursday pulled their support for the candidate.

“Our members count on us to make recommendations and, at this point in the campaign, we cannot make a strong recommendation for either candidate,” Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner said in a statement.

The Portland Police Association and Portland Firefighters Association first endorsed Smith in April. At the time, the campaign called it a “potentially game-changing endorsement.”

But the unions apparently reconsidered their support after a series of recent stories recounting a college party in 1993 where Jefferson Smith ended up in an altercation with a woman.

According to a police report written at the time, Smith told officers that he hit a woman who was charging at him. After the story broke, Smith claimed self-defense and apologized for his actions.

The incident has become a major campaign issue since the Willamette Week first broke the story last week.

Alan Ferschweiler, vice president of the firefighters union, said the descision to pull the endorsement was "tough," but said it came down to "a lot of angst about the activity going on."

"Members don't want his name associated with the Portland firefighters at this time," Ferschweiler, said. "That doesn't mean we don't want him to win. We would be honored to work with him, if elected."

"Our commitment to necessary support and improvement to smart public safety remains unwavering," said Henry Kraemer, Smith's campaign manager. "We deeply value the work our front-line city workers do and are grateful for the support they've given us."

"We're obviously disappointed to lose any support, but our strong base of grassroots support will remain our focus during the next 27 days," he added.

Kraemer also said the campaign would also adjust a brand new television commercial touting the support from the police and fire unions.

According to a Survey USA poll conducted for KATU News after the news of the altercation first came to light, Smith's competitor Charlie Hales has a seven point lead. Still, 33 percent of voters said they were undecided.

Full letter sent to members of the Portland Fire Fighters Association:

To the Membership of PFFA,
It is with great consideration that we write to inform you of the decision by Local 43’s Political Committee to withdraw the endorsement of Jefferson Smith for Portland Mayor. 
As you have likely seen unfolding in the press recently, there have been numerous events in Mr. Smith’s personal life that raise serious questions about his integrity, honesty, and fitness for office.  To be clear, we support Mr. Smith’s platform, and were we looking solely at candidates’ positions on fire fighter issues, the endorsement would stand. 
In this situation, however, the candidate’s character clearly runs counter to our values.  Quite simply, we do not take lightly the respect we all share as fire fighters in this community and cannot stand alongside someone with questionable ethics and decision-making skills.
Therefore, the Portland Fire Fighters’ Association will not be endorsing a mayoral candidate from this point forward in this race.  We wanted you, the membership, to hear that directly from us before it hit the press.
Lastly, we continue to stand proudly with Mary Nolan for City Council.  Nolan is a thoroughly vetted, experienced leader and champion of fire fighter and working class issues.  Her long track record of advocacy for us at the state level, her ethics, and her ability to lead effectively is strong.  As we proceed in this complex political season, all support for Nolan is thoroughly appreciated.

PFFA Political Committee
Jim Forquer, Alan Ferschweiler, Sean Fogarty