Keefe denies charges of intimidating behavior over lack of endorsement
By Barbara Taormina
Acting Mayor Patrick Keefe stirred up an otherwise quiet election summer last week at a meeting with members of a Department of Public Works Municipal Employees Union Local 880 that ended with employees filing a complaint against Keefe with the Department of Labor. The mayor and several assistants were there for a regular meeting to discuss department issues with the union, which had endorsed Dan Rizzo for mayor the day before. The discussion became heated when one union member raised a staffing issue and the problems that it was causing within the department.
According to an account from union members who were present at the meeting, Keefe responded that there would not be a problem if the union hadn’t endorsed the guy, who kept him from hiring new DPW staff. According to written accounts filed by union members, the meeting became uncomfortable because of Keefe’s tone and demeanor. Some accounts report Keefe allegedly yelling and swearing. And, they recalled, that as Keefe was leaving the meeting, he had allegedly stated something comparable to, “I will burn every last one of you that did not vote for me if I get elected.”
The union’s complaint against Keefe claims he violated the law that gives them the right to endorse a political candidate.
Keefe, however, is not having it. He vehemently denies the accounts of the meeting and the comment attributed to him. He said there are public records showing his attempt to hire more workers and expand the department. Keefe said the move to postpone hiring new workers until a new mayor is elected was made to ensure that no jobs were offered in exchange for political support. He said the union’s complaint is being taken seriously and will be handled properly.
As for the description of how the meeting unfolded, Keefe said none of it is accurate and all of it is politically motivated. “This report is a fabricated exaggeration of my frustration and exposes the ugly underbelly of dirty politics and it will be handled professionally through the proper channels and protocols for any complaint of this nature,” he said in a statement to The Advocate. He described the incident as petty politics fueled by his opponents in the mayoral race and added that his focus has been and will continue to be doing the job as acting mayor.
Dan Rizzo, who, along with Councillors Steven Morabito and Gerry Visconti, is a candidate for mayor, called the incident with Keefe disgraceful. “When you have that kind of leverage as an elected official and you use it in this way, it’s deplorable,” said Rizzo, who added that he stands behind the DPW employees.
“Nobody should use their position to bully and threaten employees,” he said. “I can assure you, if I am elected, they will not be subjected to this type of behavior.”
Rizzo said he plans to follow the ongoing investigation into the incident. As for the suggestion that the complaint against Keefe is just dirty politics, Rizzo said the employees “don’t make this stuff up, they saw what they saw. What else is [Keefe] going to say?”
Visconti also said city employees should never feel bullied over politics. “It’s crucial for our elected officials to set a higher standard, one that prioritizes respect, fairness, and unwavering commitment to serving the public. The employees of our city should never feel threatened or in fear of losing their job because of a political affiliation. We must protect our hard-working city employees and ensure a safe and welcoming work-place for all,” said Visconti.
Morabito said he was aware an incident had occurred but he doesn’t know much more than that. “I really can’t comment,” he said. “I don’t have all the facts, I wasn’t there and all I have is just hearsay,” he said.