Ed Kelly, who a year ago accused the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters of receiving $1 million in pension-related payments to which he was not yet entitled, has been elected to succeed him, helped by the backing of the IAFF's largest local, the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
Mr. Kelly, who will assume the post next month, is currently the IAFF's secretary-treasurer and previously served as president of Boston Firefighters Local 788. He got 146,727 votes to 114,518 for Mahlon Mitchell, head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin and a delegate for Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential bid.
The vote tallies for the IAFF, which represents 320,000 first-responders in the U.S. and Canada, were certified March 4.
Leader Exiting Under Cloud
Mr. Kelly will succeed Harold Schaitberger, who has held the top post since 2000.
Last September, he announced he would retire from the $371,000-a-year post in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report that the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Labor had subpoenaed IAFF records involving payments to Mr. Schaitberger that reportedly exceeded $1 million. It quoted what it called "a scathing, 100-page report" compiled by Mr. Kelly six months earlier that accused Mr. Schaitberger of receiving those pension payments prematurely. The Journal last June reported that Mr. Schaitberger failed to pay $1 million in taxes on more than $3 million in deferred-compensation payments he received.
At the time Mr. Kelly issued his damaging report, he defended the decision to appoint an outside investigator to probe Mr. Schaitberger's financial transactions.
"The independent counsel retained by my office falls squarely under my authority to audit the IAFF books and accounts and is essential to discharging my duties to execute, maintain, and file reports with federal and state authorities," he wrote in a March 20 union memo.
"In addition to issues related to pension funds, we also found millions of dollars in financial misreporting and millions of dollars in non- discretionary funds that were utilized for purposes unrelated to their designation," Mr. Kelly stated. "It is my duty as the treasurer of this organization to conduct an audit of our books and report the results to the Executive Board and the membership."
Mr. Schaitberger denied any wrongdoing and the IAFF cleared him last September while concluding that Mr. Kelly had improperly hired outside legal counsel to do the probe. But the IAFF president abandoned plans to seek another term this year because of a loss of confidence in his leadership, with the Uniformed Fire Officers Association joining the UFA in criticizing his activities.
"The UFA supported Kelly and we are very happy about the win," union President Andy Ansbro said in a March 9 phone interview. "We're hoping for great things from a better relationship with the International."
Mr. Ansbro said that during his own campaign in 2020, he heard multiple complaints from UFA members about the IAFF "because we are paying them $1.2 million a year in per-capita dues] and we just don't believe we are receiving the services" to justify that expense.
Kelly Made Mark Here
President-Elect Kelly was one of hundreds of out-of-state firefighters and first-responders who rushed to lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks. He is also a long-time supporter and close political ally of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, the former head of that city's Building Trades Council, who is awaiting confirmation as President Biden's Secretary of Labor.
Mr. Ansbro said he felt that the UFA would benefit from having a President in the Oval Office and a Secretary of Labor who both have a deep affinity for the nation's fire unions.
"The analogy I've been giving to my members is the Super Bowl has been won and we are on our way to Disneyland--enjoy the ride," Mr. Ansbro said.
In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Schaitberger encountered opposition to his decision in April 2019 to have the IAFF be the first labor union to endorse Mr. Biden. Donald Trump had strong firefighters support during both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
"I have sadly watched as division has been sown within our ranks," the IAFF leader—who had often led the union to support Democrats for President until a potential mutiny in 2015 prevented an endorsement of Hillary Clinton—wrote in an email blast to union members following the protests over the Biden endorsement. "I see much of the anger and politics of personal destruction that have spread on social media...I cannot stand by and allow our union to become even more divided."
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