Yesterday, the San Diego Police Officers Association (POA) posted a video attacking mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio for voting against survivor benefits for families of police officers killed in the line of duty.
DeMaio retained a lawyer, and at least one TV station received a letter from attorney Ryan Darby threatening legal action if the station ran the ad. Here's an excerpt from the letter (the name of the station has been redacted), which was posted to Twitter by Rachel Laing, communications director for Public Policy Strategies, which counts the POA among its clients:
"The advertisement's narrator states: 'Carl DeMaio voted against healthcare benefits for widows and children of fallen officers.' This is simply untrue. Mr. DeMaio never cast such a vote."
Here's the video.
POA president Brian Marvel tweeted that the vote the video refers to took place on June 27, 2011 (find a link to the video, caption transcript and minutes here). It was a vote related to amending retiree healthcare benefits for city workers, the product of negotiations between city labor unions and Mayor Jerry Sanders that will result in an estimated $714 million in savings over 25 years. In 1982, then-Mayor Pete Wilson promised city workers healthcare for life if they'd agree to opt out of Social Security and Medicare. But the city failed to set up a funding mechanism for those benefits; prior to the new agreement, the city's unfunded healthcare liability was $1.1 billion.
DeMaio opposed this agreement, arguing that it could have gone further. Though, the largest savings claim in his "Roadmap to Recovery" plan—the cornerstone of his mayoral campaign—is changes to the retiree healthcare system which, obviously, already happened and without his support.
But did DeMaio vote against benefits for widows of fallen police officers? The June 27 vote was the first of two required to codify changes to retiree healthcare in the city's municipal code. Scott Chadwick, the city's human-relations director, explained this and then noted: "There is one addition and it includes an amendment to eligible health benefits coverage for police officers killed in the line of duty...."
Councilmember Marti Emerald asked Chadwick for clarification: "Those killed in line of duty, you're talking about the survivors?"
Chadwick: "That's correct."
The amendment Chadwick referred to, Article 67 in this document, says this:
The City will pay for the reasonable burial and interment expenses for the family of any officer killed in the line of duty, not to exceed $5,000. The City will also provide an additional $5,000 to an officer’s family to use at their discretion. The City will pay for the highest cost HMO health plan for the surviving spouse and eligible dependents of any officer killed in the line of duty by external violence or physical force, or as a result of an accident or injury caused by external violence or physical force and suffered in the line of duty.
DeMaio, along with City Councilmember Lorie Zapf, voted no on this item.
Addendum: After I posted the above information this morning, I got a call from Lorie Zapf's spokesperson Alex Bell. Bell said that Zapf had voted in favor of a new contract for police officers that included healthcare benefits for spouses and dependents of officers killed in the line of duty.
The POA and Chadwick said that the language above—the part that's in bold—was indeed added to the POA's most recent labor contract, which the City Council approved on July 12, 2010. DeMaio was the lone "no" vote on that contract. The June 27, 2011, vote was to harmonize the survivor-benefits language in the labor contract and the retiree healthcare agreement. Zapf, like DeMaio, thought that the retiree-healthcare agreement should have included additional savings and, so, she was being consistent in her votes on those items. As for whether DeMaio voted against healthcare benefits for police widows: based on his July 12, 2010, vote, the answer would appear to be yes.