The battle over St. Louis Fire Department firefighter pensions is now raging over television airwaves.
Firefighters have enlisted widows Angela Martin and Laura Morrison to vilify Slay and his proposed changes to the existing pension system. Their late husbands were killed May 3, 2002.
Mayor Francis Slay has countered with his own ad, saying that the city can’t afford to keep the status quo. He also implies the commercial isn’t telling the truth and recalls the fact that a firefighter once saved his mother.
While many of you might have heard him tell this story before, I covered the mayor for years on an almost daily basis, and this is the first time I’ve heard him say it.
It doesn’t bother me that the widows are part of the public-relations blitz to fight Slay’s proposals to cut firefighter pensions. While they received compensation of millions of dollars in settlements and judgements following their husbands' deaths, it is fair for them to speak on behalf of other firefighter families who rely on pensions to survive.
Slay is right to try and change the existing system, though. Something is drastically wrong if you can retire at an early age on disability and then hold a job as strenuous as a firefighters’ while receiving a healthy pension. The city can’t afford to finance this laughable situation.
Still, I do not think that Slay should have countered with a television ad. Who is the ad aimed at? City residents have no say in the matter. Most viewers don’t even live in the city. Many don’t live in the state. Members of the Board of Aldermen will ultimately have the last word, but then it will most likely head to court.
Slay’s campaign financed the ad. It seems to be the first punch in the fight for the mayor’s office in spring 2013, between the incumbent and his most likely challenger, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Reed stood with firefighters on the City Hall rotunda steps when a plan to challenge Slay’s was released.
Firefighters should be reminded that some of them cheered the day that Slay demoted Sherman George in fall 2007 for failing to recognize a promotion test that was allegedly bias toward African-American firefighters. Slay then promoted someone he is quite familiar with, Dennis Jenkerson.
You can bet that George would have backed the firefighters in this pension battle. Jenkerson owes his job to Slay, and I doubt he would do anything to change that relationship.
The firefighters had a chief who would stand up to the mayor: It cost him his job as chief and led to his retirement.
Firefighters lost a valuable ally and could ultimately pay the price if pensions are cut.
Commentary by Alvin Reid