Seacoast Online: Candidates, Firefighters Meet in City
By Michael Mccord
After giving a personal campaign speech, Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden said "I love you" to delegates at a national firefighter's convention Friday.
But the longtime senator from Delaware like the five other presidential hopefuls who addressed the union leaders Thursday and Friday will have to wait until later this summer to find out if his affection will be returned in the form of an all-important endorsement, and major organizational support, by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
* Video: Dodd speaks at convention
* Video: Hillary speaks at convention
In addition to Biden, the other Democratic hopefuls showing their appreciation and courting the support of the firefighters Friday were Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who called in from a campaign stop in Iowa. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico touted his pro-union credentials Thursday in a keynote address to the convention.
All of the candidates speaking Friday to about 75 delegates from 32 states talked about their own experiences with the firefighting fraternity and made tough attacks on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration, including the war in Iraq and federal budget cutbacks for first-responder equipment purchases for better communication systems, training and personnel increases.
Biden talked of how first responders saved his two sons after a horrific car crash that killed a daughter and his first wife and then later saved his life when he suffered a brain aneurysm by driving through a snowstorm from Delaware to Washington, D.C.
"I'm tired of it," he said of the current White House occupant. "It's time to elect a president who can say the word union."
Greg Markley, a union leader from Washington State, said the endorsement from the national union would be "a tough choice" because the candidates all had a positive history with the firefighters.
"We are absolutely energized," Markley said about the coming election. The IAFF endorsement in 2003 of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was considered crucial for the eventual Democrat nominee.
Clinton talked somberly about the days following 9/11 and said there should be "no excuses" for the training and equipment shortages that have hampered first responder preparedness for disasters.
"American people can handle the tough messages and handle the truth," Dodd said about the hard choices the country faces no matter who becomes president in January 2009.
Edwards came out in support of unions. He said workers everywhere must organize so they will receive good wages, health benefits and pensions. Referring to his childhood as the son of a mill worker, Edwards said the only reason his parents and his brother, an electrical worker, have health care is because of unions.
"Joining a union should be as easy as signing a card to be a Democrat or Republican," he said. "We need a president willing to go out on the White House lawn and talk about how important it is."
Calling our current health care system dysfunctional, Edwards said he is the only candidate with a true universal health care plan, and he said he'd fund it by taking away Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.
Edwards joined his counterparts in bashing Bush about the Iraq war. He said the president doesn't care what the people want.
"That bill he just vetoed funded the troops but set a timeline for withdrawal," said Edwards. "Well, Congress should stand firm and keep sending that bill back until he withdraws troops."
IAFF spokesman Jeff Zack said they will support a candidate who supports their causes things such as the collective bargaining bill now in Congress and funding for homeland security.
"We need a change of direction in the country," said Jack Reed, the state president of the Iowa Professional Fire Fighters. "The Bush administration flunked the test for us."