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Publication Date: Friday, October 05, 2001

Firefighters burn Lieber and Stasek Firefighters burn Lieber and Stasek (October 05, 2001)

Mountain View firefighters union hands endorsement to Rod Diridon Jr. For State Assembly amidst controversy about women in the department

By Bill D'Agostino

The Mountain View Professional Firefighters union has decided to eschew two Mountain View politicians and support the candidacy of Rod Diridon Jr., a Santa Clara City Council member, in his run against Sally Lieber and Rosemary Stasek, both Mountain View City Council members, in the Democratic primary for State Assembly.

The union decided not to support Lieber after an argument between the candidate and Union President Dale Kuersten regarding the number of female police officers on the force, according to Greg Cooper, the union's political action committee director.

Although Cooper said he was unsure what exactly transpired between the two, he said the interaction left the union feeling "attacked" by Lieber and doubtful of her commitment to the union's issues.

"We were caught way off guard with the way she handled it," Cooper said. "We felt let down by whole process."

Kuersten said that he felt "slammed personally" by Lieber, especially after she delivered a letter about the conversation they had to local newspapers without his knowledge.

In the letter, Lieber wrote: "I must tell you that I am deeply trouble by some of your comments about problems you have with me. Specifically, I find it unacceptable to be told that my efforts to see that women are recruited into the Fire Department is a 'problem' when it comes to endorsing my candidacy."

Kuersten added that he was disappointed that Lieber tried to use the issue of women in the force for personal political gains.

"It's a reality of political life," Lieber responded, "that people will always think anything you do - even something unpopular - is done for political reasons."

"I think it's always good to have an open, honest discussion," Lieber said, adding that she will "continue to be [the firefighters'] advocate on the city council. I'm very concerned about public safety issues."

Democratic pollster Doug Winslow, owner of American Data Management and a consultant to Lieber's campaign, said that he was disappointed with the union's failure to endorse Lieber, but was not surprised. "Firefighters tend to go for the male candidates a lot of the time anyway," Winslow said.

According to Cooper, the union decided to endorse Diridon after interviewing him and hearing about his family and personal history. Cooper said that he was particularly impressed by Diridon's statement that he was available to talk to the union "24 hours a day."

As for Stasek, Cooper said that because she did not approach them seeking an endorsement, they did not interview her for one.

Cooper noted that the union hadn't planned to get involved in the race until Lieber and Diridon approached them seeking endorsements. Since Stasek didn't contact them, they assumed she was not interested.

Stasek responded that she was waiting for the firefighters to contact her, especially in light of a letter sent by Kuersten to Mountain View Mayor Mario Ambra. In the letter, according to Stasek, Kuersten objected to Lieber phoning them for an endorsement during office hours. The letter also mentioned that the union was planning to hold interviews with the candidates at a later date.

"I didn't contact them because they objected to Vice Mayor Lieber contacting them during business hours," Stasek said. "I was trying to respect what seemed to be their wishes to not be contacted. As it turned out, that didn't happen and wasn't going to happen ... I got caught in a catch-22."

When Stasek was mayor, Cooper said, she was also outspoken about her wishes to have more female firefighters on the Mountain View force.

Mountain View Firefighters, Cooper said, don't have a problem with hiring more women. "The issue that the firefighters have had is the lowering of the standards by which we hire people by," Cooper said. "It's not even a gendered issue, it's just a hiring issue."

"The problem is when we get into a situation where there's a life risk," Cooper said, "we've got to know that we can get those people out. If for some reason - it doesn't matter who they are: male, female, black, white, Asian, it doesn't matter - if they can't do the job, then people's lives are at risk."

"We don't look around at each other and say we don't have enough blacks or Asians or women," Cooper said.

The real issue is recruitment practices, not the lowering of standards, Kuersten said.

Lieber said her priority is still to have more women in the department. "We see that in almost every other force in the area," Lieber said.

There are currently two women firefighters in the Mountain View Fire Department.


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