By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh mayoral candidate James Calnon received an endorsement Sunday from a major city union.
Calnon, an independent who is running as the Republican and Independence Party candidate, was endorsed by the Plattsburgh Police Local 812, representing city officers.
FIRST TIME SINCE ‘99
Union Vice President Sgt. Kevin Riley said the union normally does not get involved in political battles and has not endorsed a mayoral candidate since 1999, when they endorsed Councilor Daniel Stewart, who went on to defeat incumbent Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
Riley said union members felt it was crucial, however, for them to get involved this year as Calnon, the Ward 4 councilor; Democrat Mark Tiffer, the Ward 2 councilor; and independent Chris Rosenquest run for the top elected position in the city.
“The members of the union feel it is important to have a mayor who has a strong understanding of the city and public-safety issues,” Riley said at a news conference Sunday afternoon outside the Police Station on Pine Street.
“Councilor Calnon has been a resident of the city for more than 30 years and is very experienced in city issues, businesses and public safety.”
Calnon, 64, has served as the council liaison to the Police Department since 2007 and is head of the city’s Public Safety Committee.
The police support is the second union endorsement Calnon has received in the race. The American Federation of State County Municipal Employees Local 788, the city’s largest union, endorsed him Oct. 17.
“I am grateful for this expression of confidence in me,” Calnon said Sunday.
“Like AFSCME, an overwhelming majority of the police live inside the city, and I know that they understand the need for a proven and balanced leader at the helm.
“My relationships with the City Police as a business owner in the 1970s through these last seven years on the City Council have been respectful and productive.”
Police Chief Desmond Racicot said the union is normally discouraged from getting involved in political races.
“But they felt very strongly about this, so they did,” he said.
Calnon said he believes the police endorsement sends a strong message.
“When you are trying to be a leader, what you really are doing is trying to inspire people to follow, and this is an expression of that,” he said.
Riley said the union endorsement was “nearly unanimous” among the rank and file.
The AFSCME endorsement was not without some controversy. Former union President Denise Nephew, who often battled with current Mayor Donald Kasprzak over contracts and other issues, was outraged when the union endorsed Calnon, who has served as Kasprzak’s mayor pro tem since 2007.
Union President Chris Bleaux said the union’s Executive Committee made the decision to endorse Calnon. He said they felt Calnon could be trusted.
The Fire Department union, which has often fought publicly with Kasprzak, backed Rosenquest last week, saying they felt he would communicate better with them.
Rosenquest, 38, who moved to Plattsburgh this spring after being away for 14 years, said he respects the police union’s decision, but, regardless of the gesture, he feels he is surging forward in the race.
“Up until last week, many thought that Jim Calnon was the frontrunner, but we’ve changed the dynamic of this race,” Rosenquest said.
When asked if he had conducted a poll, Rosenquest said, “My poll is my volunteers calling people and talking to people, and it has become crystal clear that what we need is change.”
Tiffer, 29, who has served on the council since 2011, said he understood why the union might want to endorse Calnon.
“I spoke to some officers, and the issues they are concerned with are the same issues the rest of the community is concerned with,” he said.
“They want to know about the economic viability of the city and what the plan is and what the sustainability of the department is. I understand that, for them, they felt it was safer to go with the status quo than with uncertainty. My whole way is about changing the way we function, and sometimes it is not easy to accept that.”
Tiffer said he will treat every city worker fairly and in good faith if elected, regardless of any endorsement.
As for Rosenquest claiming he is now the frontrunner, Tiffer said that was laughable.
“He can think whatever he wants. That just further shows his ego and the type of person he is. As far as I know, Calnon was never the frontrunner.
“I respect Jim, and I respect Chris, and I respect myself. As far as I am concerned, this is a three-way race and there is no frontrunner, and we will find out Tuesday.”
Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican