Two days after he announced his gubernatorial campaign, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras collected the endorsement on Wednesday of the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters outside a Cranston fire house.
The move wasn't surprising, considering how unionized firefighters have been among the sharpest critics of the pension overhaul championed in 2011 by Taveras' expected Democratic rival, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo. The association's president, Paul Reed, nonetheless called Taveras and his leadership style a better fit for firefighters and taxpayers in general. Reed invoked both improvements in Providence's budget outlook and negotiated cuts to the city's pension plan led by Taveras.
"If you look at the Providence pension, which was severely underfunded and I believe cutting into their principal, he met with groups that were involved in it, the local union down there, the retirees," Reed said, "and he negotiated a settlement that certainly seemed much more beneficial than a pension system going bankrupt .... I think he's shown the expertise to take our state forward."
By contrast, Reed characterized Raimondo as someone who forced pension cuts on firefighters in the state retirement system. (Collin Berglund, spokesman for Friends of Gina Raimondo, offered this response to the firefighters' endorsement: "Gina Raimondo is not a candidate for governor right now and doesn't have a comment on endorsements in that race. She will make a decision on whether to run between now and the end of the year. In the meantime, she wishes Mayor Taveras the best." Raimondo has previously described the pension overhaul of 2011 as a collaborative process that followed months of meeting, public discussion, and a vote by the General Assembly.)
Taveras welcomed the endorsement from the State Association of Fire Fighters, which represents three-dozen locals and close to 2000 firefighters, calling it part of his effort to build broad support. Union president Paul Reed, the brother of US Senator Jack Reed, said Taveras asked the association for its support.
Providence firefighters are not part of the state association and plan to conduct their own endorsement process at a later date.
Taveras said that when it comes to seeking concessions from unionized employees, "Process matters ... You need to sit down and talk to people. We did that in Providence and we were able to address our issues. We were able to do it while maybe not everyone agreed; we were able to do it in a way that everyone was involved and had an opportunity to be heard and be part of the process."
Taveras joined Reed and a handful of other firefighters outside Cranston's Engine Company 1 before getting set to travel to Washington, DC. Campaign spokesman Peter Baptista declined to outline the mayor's itinerary, but he said it includes a fundraiser.
Republican candidate for governor Ken Block, who came over to the GOP from his own Moderate Party on Monday, took to Twitter to characterize the firefighters' endorsement as premature.
In response, Reed said his executive board unanimously considers Taveras the best choice and saw no reason to delay. "Not that I know anything about politics," Reed added, "but Mr. Block seemed to get out of the starting gate pretty quickly, approximately, I would say between six months and a year ago. Believe me, my number's in the phone book, and I haven't heard him calling me to see what his policies are or program. So I think his assertion is a little shallow, to say the least."
This post has been updated.