- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Refusing to cross a union picket line, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry bowed out of a speech yesterday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston.

“I don’t cross picket lines,” the Massachusetts Democrat told reporters Sunday night. “I never have.”

Though applauded by protesting members of the police and firefighters union, the decision was condemned by some Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s not a leadership move,” said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a Democrat who hails from a city accustomed to labor disputes.

The union has spent four days picketing the conference as part of its dispute with the Boston mayor.

Mr. Kerry’s decision to acquiesce to union demands sets the stage for a showdown at the Democratic convention next month where the same police and firefighters unions have vowed to protest unless the city agrees to a pay raise.

The police union is demanding a 16 percent pay raise over four years and has refused to accept the 11.9 percent offered by the city. When the police contract expired in July 2002, officers earned an average of $79,000 per year. Union members want “what every other union has,” said Jim Barry, legislative agent for the 1,400-member Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association.

The city’s police union is a largely Republican organization and has a tradition of creating havoc for Democratic politicians who traditionally enjoy cozy relations with labor.

In 1988, the last time a Democrat from Massachusetts ran against a President Bush, the association endorsed Mr. Bush’s father against then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. The message was clear: Boston police thought their hometown boy was soft on crime.

That’s not to say the union is out to ruin Mr. Kerry. Though it has endorsed Republican challengers in the past, the union endorsed Mr. Kerry in his tight 1996 Senate race against then-Gov. William F. Weld, who was scorned for privatizing thousands of jobs during his term.

At this week’s gathering of 200 mayors from around the country, Mr. Kerry was replaced by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican and nettlesome foe who recently called on Mr. Kerry to relinquish his Senate seat for missing so many votes during the past year.

Mr. Romney took the opportunity to tweak Mr. Kerry for the bind he was in.

“Executive leadership requires tough decision-making, and that’s true whether you’re a mayor, a governor or the president of the United States,” said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

Mr. Kerry’s withdrawal also caused headaches for Democrats, namely Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat who had urged Mr. Kerry to stick with his scheduled appearance.

“I would think that he would come and talk to the mayors who are making a difference in America every day, who are on the front lines of the issues that face working people,” said Mr. Menino, who also blamed the union pickets.

“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “They should open the picket lines and let John Kerry in so that he can make the speech.”

Mr. Kilpatrick told the Boston Globe he was “extremely disappointed” and “leaning toward being angry” over the decision.

“Mayors are here from all over the country,” Mr. Kilpatrick said. “If we don’t get that message [from Kerry], how are we going to take it back to our constituents? We can’t just be anti-Bush. I would hope that he’d reconsider. To mobilize voters in our city, we have to hear directly from Kerry.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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