White-collar union backs Fattah

Mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah (right) received the endorsement of AFSCME District Council 47 yesterday. Speaking into microphones at left is district council president Thomas P. Cronin.

The union for the city's white-collar employees endorsed Chaka Fattah in the Democratic mayoral primary yesterday, citing his experience in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, where he served for 12 years, and in Congress, where he's now in his seventh term.

"We certainly have other friends out there," said Thomas P. Cronin, president of AFSCME District Council 47, referring to some of Fattah's rivals in the May 15 race. "In this case, we decided we needed the best."

The endorsement is among the more significant ones because the vast majority of the union's 6,000 members live in Philadelphia. The union's political fund is in a position to bolster Fattah's campaign finances, and some of its members can reinforce his ground troops on election day.

The council, which includes 3,500 city workers, is the third of the four major municipal employee unions to endorse a candidate. Both the police and firefighters' unions are backing U.S. Rep. Bob Brady. The only one not to endorse a candidate yet is the biggest of the bunch: District Council 33, which represents 11,000 blue-collar city workers.

Contracts with all four unions are set to expire next summer, six months into the next mayor's first term. Fattah said he promised District Council 47 nothing in exchange for its support.

With his front-runner status in the polls eclipsed weeks ago by businessman Tom Knox, Fattah sought to use the event to showcase the strength of his campaign.

"You can start now to envision that headline on May 16: 'Fattah Breaks Through Over Knox,' " he said yesterday. Speaking with District Council 47 leaders at his side, he predicted that political strategists would look back and credit the council's endorsement.

"I can tell you the tide has turned toward victory in this race," said Fattah, whose fund-raising has been lagging. Between now and primary day, Fattah said, he has planned about 30 fund-raising events.

Cronin said the union settled on the congressman because Fattah is campaigning on broader themes - "He's not just talking about hiring 1,000 cops" - that reflect the union's wider concerns. The decision was made after the council's nine locals heard from each of the five candidates.

It wasn't unanimous - one of the locals, the union for parole and probation officers, has endorsed Brady, who has promised to hire more of these officers if elected.

Cronin wouldn't say if the council's endorsement was a close call, but did say one candidate garnered no support: Tom Knox. The union's brief relationship with Knox was rocky, dating to the candidate's days as a deputy mayor in the Rendell administration. At that time, in 1992, the union opposed some of Knox's proposals for cutting the cost of city workers' health insurance.

District Council 47's backing of Fattah comes despite his desire to privatize Philadelphia International Airport, where about 80 union members work.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.