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Columbia Missourian

Fifth Ward candidates debate endorsement of firefighters

By Katrina Ball
April 4, 2011 | 9:12 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The two candidates for the Fifth Ward  continued to disagree Monday over the role of city firefighters in the campaign.

Members of the Columbia Professional Firefighters association have campaigned on behalf of Fifth Ward hopeful Glen Ehrhardt since the union endorsed him on March 10. 

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Brad Fraizer, president of the firefighters association, said the union purchased red and yellow “Vote for Ehrhardt” signs and T-shirts that showcased their support. Members of the union also attended a campaign fundraiser.

“We basically offered our help to his campaign,” Fraizer said. “We participated in the door-to-door effort. We attended his fish fry, and I did a radio commercial for him.”

Helen Anthony, the other Fifth Ward candidate on the ballot Tuesday, mailed out fliers late last week that take aim at the campaign role of the firefighters association. “What has Ehrhardt promised the firefighters?” the flier asks. “Political deals have no place between City Council members and city employees.”

Anthony said those questions are fair. “Fifth Ward residents have been approaching me about this for weeks," she said. "These are questions that are being asked, and I wanted to acknowledge that I am aware of their concerns.”

She said she thinks the campaigning by firefighters "go beyond what is appropriate for a city employee group."

"A verbal endorsement is fine,” she said. “When you start actively campaigning on behalf of a candidate — signs, taking center stage at fundraising events and the whole nine yards — you get to a point where you have to ask whether or not that kind of support crosses the line.”

Anthony’s fliers prompted a sharp response from Frazier.

In an e-mail to Anthony, Fraizer called the implication that city firefighters have been promised favors offensive and demeaning. He demanded an apology and a retraction.

Fraizer also contacted Anthony by phone Friday night, and Anthony said she found his tone “offensive and bullying. I told him I will not be apologizing because I believe their behavior during this campaign has been inappropriate.”

Ehrhardt said the association has not done anything unethical by volunteering for his campaign. 

“They volunteered during their time off — just like many of my other volunteers not affiliated with a group,” Ehrhardt said. “They aren’t asking for anything in return. Everything they have done they have paid for themselves. The firefighters have nothing but the best interest of Columbia at heart.”

The union chose to endorse Ehrhardt because of his commitment to public safety, particularly his support for the downtown security cameras, Fraizer said.

Ehrhardt has also gained the endorsement of the Columbia Police Officers Association.

“Our reason to be involved in this election, and actually the last two City Council races, is for one reason and one only — it's public safety,” Fraizer said.  “It is important to us that the decision makers in our community keep public safety a priority."

Anthony said she has no issues with the process the firefighters association used to make an endorsement in the Fifth Ward. “They went through a process where I believe they interviewed each individual,” Anthony said. “They gave every candidate an opportunity to answer their questions.”