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IAFF: The Odd Couple

What is Ed Kelly Up To?

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The Odd Couple


Months ago, Ed Kelly, IAFF secretary-treasurer, hurled a thunderbolt at his partner, president-for-life Harold Schaitberger.

He released a lengthy document asserting financial irregularities with Schaitberger at the epicenter.

The IAFF executive board, comprised of the 16 vice presidents, Schaitberger and Kelly, decided to consider the matter a case of “he said/he said” and created committees to investigate.

(Many boards, at that point, would have swiftly moved to hire independent counsel to thoroughly investigate the claims and report the results; that was much to straightforward for the IAFF.)

One committee, operating using the IAFF ethics policy, is looking into dozens of potential issues under Schaitberger’s watch and the other, a “claims committee” will decide if Schaitberger will walk away scot-free with his improper pension payments of around $1,000,000.

Kelly for General President?

There have been persistent suggestions that Kelly, IAFF secretary-treasurer, wants to run against 74-year-old Harold Schaitberger, president since 2000.

Some IAFF members call for Kelly to run yet he remains publicly silent, all but invisible.

Kelly doesn’t seem to have a lot of support on the board though it’s not clear he needs it to run for the top spot; after all, in 2016 he ran against Schaitberger’s hand-picked candidate for secretary-treasurer as an outsider and non-board member and won handily.

And, vice-presidents do not necessarily control or speak for their districts; just ask California’s Frank Lima about that.

At one point there was apparently an Ed Kelly/Frank Lima ticket, with Lima slated to take Kelly’s current job.

Lima is from L.A. City and operates under the watchful eye of California Professional Firefighters (CPF) president Brian Rice. Rice, a Schaitberger protege, was brought back from retirement; an IAFF Frankenstein minus the charm.

Lima has since ducked for cover and seems more interested in keeping his current spot than going for the brass ring.

Too late to treat the rot at the top?

With the IAFF convention postponed from August until January, Kelly bought some time to dither but that hour glass is running out.

Some IAFF affiliate leaders clearly want an alternative to Schaitberger but does Kelly have the tenacity required? The jury remains out on that question.

The other pressing question is how different is Kelly from Schaitberger, really?

(I propose vice president Walsh get first crack at answering that question.)

In twenty years Schaitberger has never faced an opponent; he may well interpret Kelly’s silence and half-measures as weakness and act accordingly.

If Schaitberger is confident of his support, he will loath the prospect of Kelly even running for re-election as secretary-treasurer with the prospect of four more years of Kelly combing through Schaitberger’s flabby expense reports.

The classic move would be to give Kelly a strong opponent for his current secretary-treasurer position and what stronger one than a Schaitberger endorsed candidate such as CPF’s Brian Rice or … Frank Lima, with their 50,000 or so votes. Stranger things have happened.

Kelly would be forced to make a move; could he beat a Schaitberger endorsed opponent for his current position? The odds are in his favor as he did it before.

Schaitberger’s many troubles

But Schaitberger may be distracted as he has many balls in the air.

First, the current national administration has to be reading the recent revelations in the Wall Street Journal describing Schaitberger’s plunder of the IAFF; we can assume the FBI and IRS have also taken notice.

The ethics committee, chaired by vice president Andrew Pantelis, is a very dark cloud on the horizon; a professional investigative firm has been retained to look into the many allegations, but with a crucial caveat.

Schaitberger operates by keeping all information confidential and at the board level. The investigative firm will be thorough and professional with Ed Kelly happy to provide open books but it’s not that simple.

When the report, or parts of it are ready, watch as Schaitberger and his fellow-felons on the board try to lock down the details to hide their wrongdoing.

Schaitberger could have as many as nine vice presidents who would back his play to block the release of the report.

The ethics policy is actually written to allow them to do that, which makes it toothless, useless and a sad joke.

If we, as members, find out the truth, it will be despite Harold Schaitberger’s best efforts.

Make no mistake: we deserve to see the full report immediately.

Schaitberger also faces a committee decision regarding whether or not he will have to repay the million or so dollars from his improper pension; if they vote in his favor, that matter will likely wind up in court.

Lastly, the IAFF is crumbling under Schaitberger’s watch; our largest local, FDNY firefighters, are poised to consider dis-affiliation; other members and locals are discussing the same issue.

With the convention, an ethics report, FDNY dis-affiliation, and the MDA scandal looming on the horizon, not to mention a split board, Schaitberger has much to fret about.

Perhaps that’s why Ed Kelly is giving him a big break; either that or Kelly’s heart just isn’t in it.

A little time will tell.

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