August 25, 2004

Families of fallen make plea


Widows of police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty rallied yesterday for a better pay raise for their spouses' colleagues.

It was the latest tactic by the police and fire unions in a bitter public fight for a new contract - a fight that has not been helped by the Bronx firehouse sex scandal.

More than 70 family members of the fallen officers and firefighters gathered at City Hall in support of the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Judy Hansen of Mill Basin said three of her sons became police officers, and one of them, Kenneth, a member of the police Harbor Unit, drowned during a training exercise on June 11, 1991.

"I see how my kids struggle. They all hold two jobs and they can't make ends meet," she said.

She and other family members urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to provide a better raise than the 4 to 5 percent over three years that the mayor has set as the pattern for all city workers.

"Bloomberg can be a tough man, but I believe we're tougher than he is," Marie Anaya of Suffern said. Her firefighter husband, Calixto, was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The mayor, however, gave no hint yesterday that his bargaining position had changed.

Firefighters and police officers have been holding loud - even boisterous - street protests for several weeks in an effort to sway public opinion and bring pressure on Bloomberg.

But the barrage of bad publicity about firefighters may have derailed the momentum that tactic was meant to create.

"If I was advising them, I'd tell them to back off," Richard Starkey, who runs the consulting firm Perfect Pitch Communications, said yesterday. "It's very difficult right now for the public to rally to their support when they have so many black eyes, self-inflicted black eyes."

Those eyes will be seen by many people across the nation next week when the Republican National Convention opens at Madison Square Garden Monday.

The unions have promised spirited protests at the Garden, and national media attention will almost certainly focus on the heroes of Sept. 11, when 343 members of the fire service died.

But now the nation will see angry workers, not the sweat- and grime-soaked heroes of three years ago.

"You can't be out there yelling at people at a time like this," said another political consultant, who did not want to be identified.

"The image they had is gone, or at least it's almost gone. They're going to have to rebuild and this isn't the way to do it," said the consultant, who has worked on union elections in the past.

Staff writer Bryan Virasami contributed to this story.