Philly firefighters are getting a do-over for a controversial Trump endorsement

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TIM TAI/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s firefighters union is calling a do-over of its controversial endorsement of President Donald Trump last week that set off a series of protests by its members.

Many members of Local 22 of the International Fire Fighters and Paramedics Union see the endorsement process as flawed and inflammatory. Some are calling for the union’s leaders to resign. And the endorsement may be yanked away from Trump just before Election Day.

Local 22 president Mike Bresnan canceled a union meeting Tuesday and then told his 4,700 members they will be mailed a ballot asking if they support Trump or Democratic Nominee Joe Biden. That vote, conducted by a neutral arbiter, will be completed by Oct. 28.

Bresnan told Clout that Local 22 will rescind its endorsement if that’s what a majority of the members want. The union’s executive board voted six to four to endorse Trump last week.

“It’s a very polarizing, emotional issue,” Bresnan said. “I knew that was going to happen.”

That’s not enough for Lisa Forrest, president of Club Valiants, a 400-member group of Black firefighters. She wants the endorsement rescinded immediately and is furious the union mailing will cost about $14,000 in print and postage.

Bresnan said the Trump campaign was eager for the local’s endorsement, which surprised members when it landed Sept. 29 — the same day as the first presidential debate.

Trump was set to visit the union’s headquarters last Sunday but canceled after disclosing he had contracted COVID-19.

While many of the union members outraged about the endorsement aren’t fans of Trump, their complaints focused on the process.

A “Presidential Election 2020 Survey” was emailed to members on Sept. 3, but made no mention that it would lead to an endorsement. Chuck McQuilkin, the union’s vice president and political director, said about half its members aren’t not signed up to get union emails so they knew nothing about it.

Ultimately, 577 members voted — about 12% of the union — with Trump getting a little over 400 votes and Biden getting a little over 100 votes.

McQuilkin said about 75 union members submitted a petition Thursday for a special meeting to discuss revoking the endorsement. But that will take weeks to organize. He’s hoping the mail survey will take care of that.

“I think it will have more weight if it happens just before the election, to have that endorsement rescinded,” McQuilkin said.

The union’s international endorsed Biden in April 2019, becoming the first large labor group to back a presidential candidate. Local 22 is the fourth largest outpost for the IAFF, Bresnan said.

Bresnan is still hoping to lure Trump to Philly, though the president’s campaign offered no guarantees.

“He’s going to circle back to us one way or another,” Bresnan said. “He really appreciates us stepping up.”

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