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The Mayor and the firefighters

Despite the tone of this, I wouldn’t make too much of it.

While looking for tens of millions of dollars through a combination of cuts, deferrals, savings and fee hikes, Mayor Annise Parker repeatedly has identified the Houston Fire Department as one of the largest of budget bogeymen.

Whether describing an intransigent pension board, a union rejecting attempts to reduce overtime or the department’s overspending, Parker frequently has criticized the representatives of men and women who generally enjoy a public image as heroes and lifesavers.

Last week, her ongoing public sparring with firefighters culminated in a series of statements that painted the union and pension board as impediments to solving the city’s budget problems. When announcing a deal with the union to defer termination pay to save 238 firefighters’ jobs in fiscal year 2012, she told the media that she had been “stood up” by the union president who had been expected to show and play nice for the cameras.

The next day, she announced a deal with the police pension board to defer $17 million in pension payments. She contrasted their cooperation with the firefighters’ pension board’s rejection — and “not very politely” — of a similar deal. Last Thursday, even as she gloated a bit about the labor deal she had struck with the firefighters just 10 minutes before she was to send out layoff notices, she lashed the department for busting its budget year after year.

She made a point of mentioning that the only person calling for a tax increase this year was firefighter union chief Jeff Caynon.

“The mayor’s administration has been hostile to firefighters from Day One,” Caynon said. “There’s no question that if you asked the average firefighter on the street, they would tell you that they think the mayor hates firefighters.”

Now, the mayor needs those firefighters to ratify the labor agreement. If they reject it, they blow a $12 million hole in her budget just as her $1.8 billion plan goes before City Council for adoption.

It’s true that the Mayor and the firefighters, who of course endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, don’t exactly see eye to eye. It’s just that it’s not particularly remarkable that this is the case. The story notes that Kathy Whitmire had a contentious relationship with the firefighters, but there’s still more than that. The firefighters endorsed Orlando Sanchez over Lee Brown in 2001, and while I don’t recall them butting heads with Bill White, they endorsed Rick Perry for Governor last year, so draw your own conclusions. Seems to me this is pretty much par for the course. As for the deal that the union will have to vote on, the question is simple: Do they think they can do better if they turn this one down? I have no idea. Everything else is a political calculation. Neil has more.

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