The two unions representing rank-and-file police officers and firefighters decided they'd ratgher have some skin in next month's mayoral primary than not—announcing, this morning, a joint endorsement for State Representative Jefferson Smith. The decision comes months after the leadership of both the Portland Police Association and the Portland Fire Fighters Association both pointedly decided not to back a candidate in the race.

The pick continues to cement Smith as (mostly) labor's preferred candidate, adding to endorsements from AFSCME, the Portland Association of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America, and current City Commissioner Randy Leonard, a labor ally and former PFFA president. It means he can use cops and firefighters in campaign ads (that union contributions will help fund.)

The endorsement also comes a few weeks after PPA President Daryl Turner promised his members, in the union's monthly newsletter, that his organization ought to get more political in hopes of backing candidates who will remember their issues once elected.

What's interesting is where Smith lines up on policy matters important to the PPA, compared to his two leading rivals: businesswoman Eileen Brady and former city commissioner Charlie Hales, who butted heads with the PFFA back when he was on the council. Neither candidate perfectly aligns with the PPA on public safety policy, but president Daryl Turner says that wasn't the only factor and talked about Smith's "political record" of supporting workers and schools.

"We're looking for a candidate who will be a leader and at least listen," Turner told the Mercury, saying he's met with each candidate at least twice personally and that each major candidate has visited the union's executive board.

The O spoke with PFFA president Jim Forquer, who offered his thoughts on why the two unions got behind Smith, echoing Turner.

Jim Forquer, president of the powerful Portland Firefighters Association Local 43, said Smith's record of working with labor in Salem tilted the unions in his favor.

"We're just a lot more confident with his agenda and where he's going to take the city," he said.

Forquer also said police and firefighters had problems with Brady and Hales. In Hales' case, Forquer said firefighters worried about the candidate's willingness to reduce middle management, a move that the unions says would put front-line firefighters in harm's way. "We have some real concerns about safety," Forquer said.

But policy ought not be ignored and could become an issue if Smith does make it to the mayor's office. At an Albina Ministerial Alliance forum on police accountability in March, Smith very vocally supported Occupy Portland and vowed he'd insist on sending city commissioners to all police contract talks next year to ensure they're open as promised, and not secret, as I exclusively reported last year.

Smith has said—just like Brady and Hales—that he supports Mayor Sam Adams' decision to challenge the reinstatement of Ron Frashour, the officer who shot and killed an unarmed Aaron Campbell in 2010. And he has also talked about a "culture change" regarding training and firearms. But he has deferred on some specific changes while a federal investigation of the bureau is under way.

The O reported, citing Forquer, that the PPA was concerned specifically about Brady's stance on the Frashour reinstatement. She was the first to announce her support for Adams, including it in an email that spelled out other policy items (many of which already are rolling under Adams' watch): working with a community task force on gangs, recruiting more minority and women cops, and creating a mental health unit within the police bureau.

But Turner tells me "that wasn't accurate," especially since all three candidates agree on the Frashour case. "There was no specific concern about Eileen Brady," Turner added. The endorsement "was based on a number of things."

He even said he doesn't think Smith's idea of recruiting city commissioners to attend contract talks—ensuring they become public meetings—is a bad one. Turner complained about Commissioner Dan Saltzman's thundering about a gimme fitness testing premium that the city insisted on sticking into the PPA's most recent contract.

Turner said city commissioners too often delegate the hard work of contract talks to the human resources bureau and the mayor's office, staying out of negotiations, and then, when the contract "doesn't turn out like they thought, they make the union look like the bad guy."