Concord Firefighter Union Backs Fennessy, Kleiner, McNamara, And Nyhan

CONCORD, NH — One of the city’s largest municipal unions has given a mix of endorsements, backing both incumbents and newcomers, while leaving some behind, in the waning days of the 2023 municipal election.

Local 1045 IAFF has endorsed Byron Champlin for mayor, Nathan Fennessy in the at-large race, Rob Kleiner for the open Ward 2 seat, incumbent Ward 4 City Councilor Karen McNamara, and incumbent Keith Nyhan in Ward 7. Both Ward 1 City Councilor Brent Todd and Jennifer Kretovic in Ward 3 were also endorsed even though they are running unopposed.

Justin Kantar, the president of the union, said the city’s firefighters were not only grateful to the councilors of the past, present, and future but all who run for public office. He said firefighters held “the utmost respect and admiration for anyone” who would want to serve the community in such a capacity.

“It takes a certain type of selflessness to step up and sacrifice days, nights, and everything in between to commit themselves as a public servant for the sole purpose to continue the asymptotic process of nurturing and growing a great community,” he said.

During the process of considering candidates, firefighters had to strike a balance between what was best for firefighters and what was best for the community as a whole, Kanter said. Often, those things are the same — like resources to save people’s lives. Other times, higher wages and better benefits can lead to increased property taxes at a time when the city’s property owners and renters, indirectly, were paying the highest property taxes in history.

During his time as union president, Kanter worked hard not just to be a worker bee for the firefighters but also to build trust in the city. With the exit of a long-term mayor and at least four city councilors, having a stable and “balanced council” was important to ensure what was best for the community would be accomplished, Kanter said. There was some worry, too, with some of the newcomers and whether they would know how to build relationships with others. Kanter also said he and other firefighters were concerned about things they had seen at the council table — the lack of consensus, personal agendas, and other issues. He also found the “anger and frustration” of some candidates in 2023 to be a potential problem in the future.

The union did not endorse Zandra Rice Hawkins in Ward 10, even though she received support from the union in her special election race in 2019. Stacey Brown, another incumbent, who represents Ward 5, was also not endorsed. Neither Brown nor Mark Coen, who challenged Brown for the open seat in 2021, were endorsed by firefighters. Kanter said Brown was clearly a supporter of public safety but had to consistently recuse herself from some of the most important votes before the council, due to her husband being a police officer.

Kanter chose not to offer specific comments about Rice Hawkins.

“No matter the results,” he said, “we look forward to working with all of the elected councilors.”

Due to scheduling conflicts and vacations, a pause was placed on candidate interviews. The union is still speaking with the last round of candidates and may offer more support.

“We have more candidates to meet,” he said, “but we comfortably support these candidates for office as they’ve shown appreciation and dedication to ensuring your Concord firefighters have the vehicles, resources, and support we need to provide the best fire and medical services to this great community.”

Brown, when asked, said she had not “dug into why” she was not endorsed, but said she thought she had a good response from the union. Kanter, she said, was not in attendance for her presentation, but did say, “that I was the only councilor who took notes on what they had to say.”

Rice Hawkins, when asked about not receiving the endorsement, said she always supported first responders and had voted for critical public safety equipment for police and firefighters.

She was one of four councilors, including Todd, outgoing Ward 2 Councilor Erle Pierce, and Brown, to vote in March 2022 for the new ambulance unit “because I had done my homework around emergency call increases” and “listened to the concerns of our firefighters,” she said. Rice Hawkins said, had the city listened to those councilors, there would have been no need to move the ambulance from the Manor Station in Penacook. For “more rural parts of our community like Ward 10, response time is critical,” she noted.

Seven months later, the ambulance in Penacook was restored.

Rice Hawkins also pointed to the AFL-CIO endorsement she received, noting Judith Kurtz, an at-large candidate, Michele Horne in Ward 2, Kris Schultz in Ward 9, and Jessica Campbell, who is running for the Zone A school board seat, were also endorsed. The union represents several city employees via AFSCME and UAW, she said.

A quick check with several mayoral and city council candidates — including Champlin, Fennessy, at-large candidate Taylor Hall, Kleiner, Ward 5 candidate Noemi Wierwille, and Ward 9 candidate Andrew Georgevits, however, found the AFL-CIO did not even invite them into the process before endorsing their opponents. Historically, unions have or at least tried to invite all candidates to participate in the endorsement process, especially in nonpartisan races like Concord’s municipal process.

Glenn Brackett, the union president, did not return an email seeking comment about their limited endorsement process.

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