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Firefighters fund nixes Emanuel’s ideas on disability pay, gun stocks

Updated: March 23, 2013 6:42AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t used to being told “no,” but that’s the answer he has gotten from the firefighters pension fund this week on two major issues: duty disability reform and his call for the fund to dump its stock with assault weapons manufacturers.

Two motions were made at Wednesday’s meeting of the Chicago Firefighters Annuity and Benefits Fund — one to divest $173,000 in Smith & Wesson stock, the other to ride herd over the 390 firefighters and paramedics who together collect $27 million a year in taxpayer-funded duty disability pay.

Both motions failed — by 5-2 on guns and 4-3 on duty disability reform — prompting City Comptroller Amer Ahmad to storm out of the meeting in disgust.

Contacted Thursday, Ahmad refused to discuss the vote. His spokeswoman, Kathleen Strand, responded in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The Mayor remains committed to standing up against gun companies that stand in the way of commonsense reform and will continue [to] seek out necessary reforms that protect taxpayer dollars from fraud and abuse in the disability program,” Strand wrote.

“While we are disturbed by the fire pension fund’s decision, we are more so encouraged by the those funds — including laborers, police, municipal, and teachers — that have chosen to stand with us against these gun companies.”

A mayoral confidant, who asked to remain anonymous, denounced the back-to-back votes as “shameful” and politically motivated by Emanuel’s demand for contract and pension fund concessions from Chicago firefighters.

“It’s a consistent pattern of behavior. They’re just not dealing in reality. There’s a whole attitude of fight and resist everything,” the Emanuel confidant said. “Just to say, ‘We’re against it’ because the mayor is for it — it’s not embarrassing to the mayor. They embarrassed themselves. That’s not an ideology. There’s no principle there.”

Tony Martin, secretary of the firefighters pension fund, said the fund has “a very nominal amount considering the $1 billion size of our portfolio” invested in Smith & Wesson.

“There was no motion to adopt a broad divestment policy from assault weapons manufacturers. It was one specific manufacturer,” Martin said. “There was no intent to embarrass anybody. My trustees are always trying to do the right thing for the right reason. We’re concerned about our fiduciary duty to our participants. The goal is to put them first.”

Among other things, the disability reforms would have required firefighters and paramedics who receive disability pay to get more frequent medical checkups and provide the pension fund with more information about their second jobs.

Emanuel proposed the reforms in response to a series of Chicago Sun-Times stories about alleged disability abuses.

The newspaper reported that the police disability system includes 347 officers, covering a range of conditions, from the most severely disabled to others who are able to work, who have gone on to new careers while on disability and, in some cases, moved away while continuing to collect a city check and other benefits. The series highlighted two officers who never served a single day on the street. They went on disability after sustaining injuries during training at the police academy.

The Chicago Fire Department is less than half the size, but it has 390 people on disability leave at an annual cost of $27 million. Only eight disabled firefighters have returned to work since 2003.

After the Connecticut school massacre, Emanuel made national headlines by broadening his push for an assault weapons ban.

He argued that it was time to hit gun manufacturers in the pocketbook — by pressuring government pension funds in Chicago and around the nation to dump their weapons stock.

Ahmad likened the political pressure tactic to the movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Despite lingering bitterness after the seven-day strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers, the teachers pension fund announced a plan to get rid of the $260,000 in stock with three manufacturers of assault weapons.

The teachers pension fund insisted that the divestiture started before Emanuel launched his campaign.

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