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L.A. city leaders denounce firefighter union mailer using images of Metrolink disaster

August 14, 2009 |  9:27 am


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called a news conference this morning to denounce L.A.'s firefighter union for using images of last year's Metrolink train disaster in Chatsworth in a mailer promoting its fight against planned budget cuts, calling such a move "offensive."

United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, which has been locked in heated contract talks with Villaraigosa and the council, ratcheted up its campaign this week by sending voters a mailer that features photographs from last year's commuter train derailment, which left 25 dead.

The mailer points out that 250 firefighters responded to the disaster and urges voters to call or e-mail their representative on the council.

"The Los Angeles City Council is considering cutbacks to your fire departments that will be devastating for public and firefighter safety," reads the mailer, featuring images of the train disaster. "Budget cuts mean less firefighters to respond to emergencies and catastrophes."

"If a catastrophic emergency were to happen today, there would be 87 fewer firefighters, 15 less fire trucks, 9 less ambulances available to respond," it read. The mailer includes a tear-off postcard that can be sent to the lobbying firm Dakota Communications, which represents the union.

Villaraigosa's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment but called the mailer "offensive, tasteless and misleading" in an e-mail advisory promoting the 1 p.m. news conference.

Union President Pat McOsker disagreed, saying it contained information the public needs to hear.

"It actually understates the current situation, to be honest with you," McOsker said.

Today's developments have heightened the tensions between the mayor and the union.

On Thursday, Villaraigosa called the firefighters irresponsible for posting warning signs in neighborhoods where rescue units and ambulances have been temporarily shut down as part of the city’s cost-cutting measures.

McOsker said the public has a right to know about the closure of fire companies and ambulances and warned that such actions will lead to needless deaths.

"The mayor's been calling me irresponsible, but he's projecting," McOsker said.

The mailer was created by Dakota Communications, which has mounted other campaigns for public safety funding. In 2002, Dakota lobbyist Rick Taylor worked on the successful campaign for Measure B, the countywide tax to pay for funding to keep trauma centers open.

Two years later, Taylor was involved in the campaign for Proposition A, a half-cent county sales tax measure to pay for police services. That proposition failed.

Councilman Greig Smith, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley, released his own angry statement about the Metrolink mailer, saying the union had engaged in a "shameful campaign that exploits one of the worst tragedies that our community has ever experienced."

-- David Zahniser

Photo: One side of mailer sent by L.A. firefighters union. Credit: United Firefighters of L.A.