Monday, March 4, 2019

Firefighters endorse challenger John Pitchford in mayor's race

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 12:09 PM

click to enlarge John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race. - JONATHAN BETZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Jonathan Betz Photography
  • John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race.
The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters has endorsed challenger John Pitchford for mayor, a dramatic move in an election in which Mayor John Suthers signed a fundraising letter on behalf of a political action committee that opposes the firefighters' collective bargaining measure, which also is on the ballot.

The April 2 election will decide the bargaining question, known as Issue 1, which bars firefighters from striking, and seat a mayor and three at-large City Council members.

Seeking his second term, Suthers is campaigning against Issue 1, which was submitted to voters after firefighters collected thousands of signatures to force it onto the ballot.

The "vote no" committee, called Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, was co-founded by Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC. The PAC has raised $219,215, including $30,500 from the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, and spent $39,699, according to the most recent finance report filed Feb. 27.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs has raised $316,025, mostly from firefighters via the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and spent $234,772, including petitioning costs.

Firefighters have said they want a seat at the table to secure funding for equipment and staffing, which hasn't caught up since the 2008 recession. There are fewer front line firefighters in Colorado Springs today than before the recession. As the Independent has reported, firefighters have seen response times suffer and its fleet of fire apparatus age, including an incident in which firefighters were gassed with exhaust, although Suthers has added several new engines and trucks in the last year and plans to add more.

click to enlarge 2019cityelectionbug-01.png
Pitchford, a retired dentist and career Army officer, said he is "proud" to received the firefighters' endorsement. In a statement, he said:
I have visited with many of our city employees and heard the same story over and over. Mayor Suthers “will not listen to our concerns,” “our voices are not heard” and “Mayor Suthers will not negotiate in good faith.” When it comes to public safety it is absolutely vital that this city be led by a mayor who will listen to the public safety concerns of our firefighters, police officers and be available to work in good faith with all of our employees.

With the strong mayor form of government, the mayor is the CEO of a large business and no business can long endure with a poisonous relationship between management and its employees.
Pitchford also notes that firefighters' concerns don't focus on compensation but rather staffing, equipment and workload.

"Try to imagine your home on fire and the fire truck breaks down on the way to save your home and your life," Pitchford says. "Our firefighters have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of using firefighting apparatus that is well beyond its replacement age."

Asked about the endorsement, Suthers says via email, "The reality is I’ve worked very hard in the interests of all city employees and that’s reflected in increased compensation. Police and fire in particular have benefited by being brought to market level compensation. But I am steadfastly opposed to unionization of the fire department and that puts me at odds with Local 5."

In a statement, the IAFF Local 5 said:
John Pitchford understands the top priority for government, from federal to local, is guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. His commitment to work with the professionals who provide that safety is non-wavering. He believes that the protection of our community should be immune from political influences. Public safety is not a partisan issue, and impacts each and every one of us equally. Mr. Pitchford supports true collaboration and a team based approach to improving the lives of our citizens. For that reason, the Colorado Springs Professional Fire Fighters proudly endorse the candidacy of John Pitchford for Mayor of Colorado Springs. 
The endorsement, announced March 4, comes without a campaign contribution.

Dave Noblitt, Local 5 spokesman, says via email: "If both sides stand along side each other without exchanging funds, we have not provided anyone any point to make an accusation of donating to expect favors. We both believe that is part of the current problem."

On Feb. 20, Pitchford's campaign gave $2,500 to the Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs campaign, records show, but the PAC refused it, Noblitt says.

Suthers has raised $180,236 for his mayoral run, while Pitchford has brought in $104,314, most of it in a loan from the candidate.

Local 5 also endorsed Terry Martinez and incumbent Bill Murray in the Council race. Those endorsements come with $500 each in campaign money.

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click to enlarge Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1. - GIOIA CAMPAIGN
  • Gioia campaign
  • Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1.
Tony Gioia was the man of the hour on March 1 at a reception hosted by Walker Schooler District Managers, Steve Schuck, Sen. Bob Gardner, Rep. Larry Liston, political consultants William Mutch and Sarah Jack, and City Councilor Merv Bennett.

Gioia has been endorsed by the HBA and Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. Disclosure: Gioia worked at the Indy for a short time several years ago.

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Forum reminder:

March 7: Council hopefuls discuss environmental issues, hosted by the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement, 6:30 p.m., Packard Hall, Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St.

March 9: Candidates forum, hosted by El Pomar Foundation Forum for Civic Advancement, 5:30-7 p.m. followed by a reception, Penrose House Pavilion, 1661 Mesa Ave.

March 21: Council candidates forum, hosted by voters in Precinct 729 (Broadmoor Bluffs), 7-9 p.m., Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, 5250 Farthing Drive.

March 14: Council Candidate Forum, hosted by the Southeast Express and Citizens Project, 6-7:30 p.m., Sierra High School, 2250 Jet Wing Drive.

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