He didn’t mean to do it, but Chris Matthews on July 29 exposed the partisan political agenda of the International Association of Firefighters, which is backing John Kerry for president against the wishes of its members. Remember this is the union that accused President Bush of exploiting 9/11 by using images of the disaster in a campaign commercial. The union claims to be bi-partisan but 83 percent of the $1.8 million it spent in 2002 went to Democrats.
“Welcome to Hardball,” said Matthews, as he went to the union’s president, Harold Schaitberger, asking him what percentage of his union was Democrat. “About 40 percent Democrat, 44 percent Republican,” he said. “Really?” Matthews said in surprise. So Matthews asked, “?how do you get to endorse the Democratic candidate, if you’re mostly Republican?”
Finally, Matthews was on the track of a good story exposing how unions headed by liberals ignore their members. How did Schaitberger decide to endorse Kerry? Schaitberger replied that, “We did a lot of polling throughout our country?” Matthews still didn’t understand. “But if most people [in your union] are Republicans,” he said, “how do you decide to vote for Democrat?”
Schaitberger claimed that, “We wanted to know what they thought the strengths, the skills, the principles, the characteristics of a candidate was that should be leading this country, and it came to one clear conclusion, John Kerry. That’s why we stepped out [and] endorsed him when he was 9 percent last September.” The bottom line seemed to be that the union president decided who the members should support and decided for them. He seemed to indicate that a survey of members was conducted but they were never asked whether to endorse Kerry or Bush.
Dan Schrader of Firefighters for Bush confirms this is the case. He explains, “Many in the public would believe that the members were given the opportunity to voice their opinion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Seattle Times wrote ‘The [IAFF’s] Kerry endorsement came after a survey of union members.’ I have yet to talk to one member that received any such survey. I thought that maybe it was just sent to officials of the locals, but I was just told by a local president that he had received nothing from the [national headquarters] in the form of a survey prior to the endorsement. So, who were the individuals filling out these ‘surveys?’ I have heard there were 800 participants, but I have not found one.”
Schrader said that what happened was that a survey was sent to a few elusive members in which they were asked about what “attributes” they would like to see in a President. Then Schaitberger decided that Kerry fulfilled those attributes. Firefighters for Bush doesn’t want Schaitberger or the media to define them as Kerry supporters simply because they are members of the union. The group wonders if Schaitberger, who was named as the head of a new AFL-CIO political strategy group, gets paid for that function on top of his $211,000 salary as union president. That salary was a 12.5 percent increase from 2001, Schrader points out. So he asks, “Who is cashing in on 9/11?”