By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — Ed Kelly, a Boston firefighter and labor leader who has tangled with City Hall, is now seeking leadership in an international union, going up against a former district chief in Toronto and an Olympia, Washington fire lieutenant.
The three are running for what will be an open position of general secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which will take place at the organization’s convention in Las Vegas next August.
The IAFF says it represents “more than 300,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics in more than 3,100 affiliates” in the United States and Canada. The election is decided by delegates elected from the local affiliates.
IAFF General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Miller announced in recent months that he would not seek re-election to the post, creating an opening.
Jim Lee, one of the candidates for the post, spent a career in and around Toronto, before working for the IAFF, first in Ottawa, and then moving to Washington D.C. in 2010 where he is operations director for the office.
Lee was endorsed by Miller, who called him “a tremendous resource,” and Lee told the News Service the responsibilities of the secretary-treasurer are overseeing the union’s $63.5 million budget, managing human resources, members and administrative tasks. The position does not include lobbying, Lee said.
Also seeking the international post is Kelly Fox, who rose to the rank of captain in Olympia, but “voluntarily forfeited” the post to continue working in the labor movement, according to the website of the Washington State Council of Firefighters, where Fox is president.
In an email to the News Service, Fox said he had been elected president of the Olympia local three decades ago at the age of 23. Fox campaigned for the office of secretary-treasurer previously, but dropped out ahead of the 2012 election, he said.
“I have stood for re-election 9 times and have been the longest serving president in the 76 year history of the [state council],” Fox wrote, describing his own department in Olympia as about 90 members, which he said comports with the roughly 80 percent of IAFF locals with less than 100 members.
Kelly works on Ladder 17 in Boston’s South End, in the firehouse where his father worked, and he has been president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts since 2011, a few years after a bruising battle with the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino over his local’s contract.
“We had a very toxic relationship with City Hall,” Kelly said in an online video touting his biography and candidacy. Kelly joined the U.S. Air Force in 1994 and went to the U.S. Department of Defense fire academy, before joining the Boston Fire Department in 1997. Kelly was elected president of Local 718 in 2005, and he has touted his relative youth and the fact that he is still a working firefighter – which contrasts with Lee.
“I think it would be positive for the labor movement to have a person in Washington D.C. that can identify with the younger generation of working people,” Kelly told the News Service. Kelly, who also has the lowest departmental rank among the three candidates, worked at the tragic scenes of the Boston Marathon bombing, the 2001 World Trade Center attack and the 1999 Worcester warehouse fire, he said.
Kelly took some credit for the electoral victories of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, saying in the video, “We literally made a labor leader the mayor.”
Kelly has also amassed endorsements from major U.S. city fire unions, including Seattle, in Fox’s home state, Chicago and New York City.
Lee said he has the full support of Canada and its 23,000 members, and he said experience is important for the role of secretary-treasurer.
“This is not a position that you should be learning on the job. You should work your way up to that position,” Lee told the News Service. He said, “I like Ed Kelly. Ed Kelly’s a good guy, but I’d put my resume up against anybody’s.”
“Jim is as connected to the fire services and its needs as much as anyone else,” said Mark McKinnon, Lee’s campaign manager.
Lee started working for the North York Fire Department in 1972, and the Toronto suburb was absorbed into the city around 1998. In 2002, Lee retired from the fire department to work for the firefighters’ advocacy organization.
Fox began his career as a firefighter in Olympia in 1982, and was elected to the state council executive board about eight years later.
“I think the delegates will vote for the candidate that showed the courage and independence to run for the position in 2012,” Fox wrote in his email. He said, “I was able to meet with over 2/3s of the states and two Canadian provinces during that election cycle and the members got an opportunity to know me.”
IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger is running for re-election next year, Lee said.
The organization itself does not appear to welcome press attention on the upcoming contest, meanwhile. Spokesman Tim Burn told the News Service, “We tend to not talk about these internal election matters,” before saying he doesn’t know who the candidates are or when the election will take place.