Tampa Tribune takes on Tampa Police Union

As we reported on Tuesday, Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena's official campaign declaration ceremony took place while approximately 20 members of the Tampa Police Department stood outside Union Station carrying signs that in some cases read, "Linda Saul-Sena. The Criminals Best Friend."

The Police Benevolent Association is steamed at the Council, who voted 5-1 late last year to approve a budget that did not include step raise increases for Tampa Police Department officials.

It wasn't an easy decision for those lawmakers, who realize that the PBA is one of few local unions around who carry some clout when it comes to helping organize for or against a candidate.  But it was a virtual unanimous decision, with only Joseph Caetano disagreeing with Mayor Iorio's stance on the matter.

The Tampa Tribune this morning weighs in on the controversy today in an editorial entitled, "Voters won't fall for police union's tactics."

The editorial points out some salient facts:  The union has received raises in recent years ("robust," the paper calls them), some as high as 9.2 percent, "even as revenue decreases forced the city to eliminate 500 positions in other departments."

That point needs to be emphasized.  Although it's true that politicians are loath to cut public safety positions (they only like to threaten to do so when budgetary concerns grow serious), it's important to note that the TPD has not lost any positions in recent years.  (Recently Police Chief Jane Castor mentioned the fact at a recent speech which CL caught).

And the fact that crime is down dramatically in Tampa  over the past 6 years (46%), and especially in a hot spot like Ybor City (over 70%), is an outstanding fact that cannot be overemphasized.  The TPD, under Steve Hogue and now Jane Castor, has been doing an extremely effective job.

But the Trib calls the union "insatiable", and accuses the PBA of refusing to sacrifice during these tough times.

The editorial concludes by writing:

The union, of course, is entitled to engage in whatever political shenanigans it wants. But it risks embarrassing itself and losing the support of everyday people who support the police.

We suspect most voters will see through the union's bullying tactics. They need candidates who will be the taxpayer's best friend and not run scared when public workers make unreasonable demands.

As a political reporter, the question I have is if the protests A) continue against Saul-Sena, as well as the rest of the Council members who voted against the step increase this year (which would include Council Chair Thomas Scott, who has already announced his run for Mayor), and B) Could they possibly have an impact on those races?

Having lived in town for just under a decade, I can't recall any one particular group having too severe of an impact in deciding  an election.  That's why I appreciated Mike Salinero's piece on the protest in Wednesday's Trib.

In his story, he referenced two campaigns from the 1990's: Sandy Freedman's run against Jim Davis for Congress in 1996, and UT professor Scott Payne's run against Rose Ferlita for City Council in 1999, as being examples where not getting the PBA's endorsement hurt both candidates.  Payne told the Tribune:

"If you are presumed to be against law enforcement, then you are often presumed to be against public safety," Paine said. "Whether that's fair or not, that's the card the PBA and other law enforcement unions play."

Below their editorial, the Trib published 3 letters to the editor that do not take up the union's side, including one from Mark Shelton of Tampa, who writes:

Thousands of us are unemployed. Thousands of us are earning less than before. Most of us have tightened our belts. Those intellectually honest city council members who, in this precarious economy, voted against step raises for officers should be applauded for exercising sound fiscal judgment and preserving the public trust.

It's an interesting dilemma.  Police Officers are generally given the most respect of any public agency anywhere.  But in Tampa, and in Florida, unions, even those supporting police and firefighters, sometimes don't get the respect that they are accorded in many other parts of the country.  As Mr. Shelton writes, in today's withering economy (where nationally unemployment continues to remain in the double digits) the reality is much of the public won't weep for those who aren't getting raises this year. 

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