by Chris Potter
This morning, mayoral candidate Jack Wagner racked up a set of key labor endorsements. The Fraternal Order of Police and firefighters union joined Teamsters Local 249 and Operating Engineers Local 66 to back Wagner on the steps of the City County Building.
Wagner called the support a "very important day in the campaign for Pittsburgh," and taken together, the unions represent the bulk of city union workers. (Though Bill Peduto previously garnered the paramedics union, which has often been the odd man out in the city's public-safety sector.) Also notable was the backing of state Sen. Jim Ferlo, who was briefly a candidate himself after the surprise withdrawal of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, an ally who
had put Ferlo on the Urban Redevelopment Authority board. (See editor's note below.)
Ferlo and Wagner both served on council for a time beginning in the late 1980s — not always amicably. And while on council, Ferlo was a leading advocate for increased oversight of the police — a position that often put him at odds with the FOP. But he was unfazed to find the union backing the same candidate today: "I wouldn't take the union endorsement as meaning that Jack isn't going to take on the issue" of reforming the department," Ferlo said. If anything, he added, "The fact that he has the respect [of police] means he has the ability to engage with police" on reform.
For his part, FOP President Michael LaPorte told reporters that the union backed Wagner due to his "impeccable reputation for integrity." He also praised Wagner for wanting to remove the city from Act 47 oversight — which has governed city spending on labor contracts and other expenses — and Wagner's openness on other issues. Wagner has, for example, suggested that the next police chief in the scandal-rocked bureau should be hired from within: And while LaPorte said overhauling the system "may require somebody from the outside," he added "You never want to be an organization that doesn't provide an opportunity to climb up the ladder ... We have a lot of qualified people in our department." LaPorte also said Wagner was "not opposed to" lifting a residency requirement that requires police to live in the city — something LaPorte said would make it easier to attract and retain new recruits to the department.
In fact, Ferlo claims Wagner is the only candidate in the field with the ability to reach out across various city constituencies. "There's a vacuum here in the city, and there's only 7 weeks [until the election] ... I think we need to emerge with a mayor that has some consensus" for governing. (One reason Ferlo says he dropped out was the likelihood that if he won, he'd still only have a minority of the vote.) PArt of Wagner's appeal, says Ferlo, is that Wagner has been out of city politics and thus can rise above factional disputes ... and he praised Wagner for not discounting "the positive contributions of the Ravenstahl administration."
Which raises a question: Given that Ferlo was a Ravenstahl backer — as were some of the unions who also endorsed Wagner today — is Wagner now the "Ravenstahl candidate" in a Ravenstahl-less field? Ferlo said he couldn't speak for who Ravenstahl was backing, but added that as the state's auditor general, Wagner had earned respect across the aisle for being "an equal-opportunity critic" of government lapses. He said he didn't expect that to change.
"I think [Wagner] is going to be his own man," Ferlo said.
Editor's note: Originally, this story indicated that Ravenstahl put Ferlo on the URA board: In fact, Ferlo was originally installed on the board during the brief term of Ravenstahl's predecessor, Bob O'Connor. Ravenstahl has twice reappointed Ferlo to the URA since then. Also, originally I wrote that the unions that endorsed Wagner today represented the bulk of city workers; in fact, I should have qualified that to say they represented the bulk of UNIONIZED workers. Apologies for those mistakes.