Biden, others pull out of conference as firefighters threaten to picket

PROVIDENCE MAYOR DAVID N. CICILLINE'S ongoing battle with the city's fire fighters union has caused Vice President Joseph Biden and other members of the Obama administration to cancel planned appearances at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting scheduled for next week.
Posted 6/5/09

PROVIDENCE – Vice President Joseph Biden and several members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet have canceled plans to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Providence next week because of Mayor David N. Cicilline’s long-running contract dispute with city firefighters.

Cicilline announced the developments in a press conference at City Hall today.

Biden, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and eight other Cabinet members – all of whom had already confirmed that they’d be attending – will not coming to Providence because the firefighters plan to picket at the conference.

News of the canceled visits put a blemish on the four-day event that organizers hope will generate a positive buzz about the city on a national level.

As of today, 183 mayors – including some from the country’s largest cities – had registered to attend the conference, which officially kicks off next Friday.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Providence to shine on the national stage, highlighting all the good things about our city, and all the accomplishments of community,” Cicilline said in a statement today. “But this opportunity is now in jeopardy, because the union bosses have decided to picket next week’s meeting.

At today’s press conference, Cicilline said he was determined to hold his ground in the labor impasse.

“The union thinks this will force me to agree to a bloated, unaffordable contract,” he said in a statement today. “They are expecting me to cave in and allow the taxpayers to pay the price. I will not give in to this political extortion.”

It’s not the first time the six-year impasse with Local 799 of the International Association of Fire Fighters has caused difficulty for the mayor.

In 2004, then Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards cancelled a fundraising appearance in Providence. Both in 2007 and 2008, Hillary Clinton asked Cicilline, Clinton backer, to stay away from Clinton events because the firefighters union had threatened to picket.

Cicilline also was forced to resign as Clinton’s statewide campaign co-chairman in 2007 because of the labor dispute.

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