By Leigh Strope, AP Labor Writer
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is the first Democrat to get a national union endorsement other than Dick Gephardt, who now has 14.
The International Association of Fire Fighters planned to endorse Kerry on Wednesday after a vote of union leaders.
The union, which reported 214,000 dues-paying members last year, likes Kerry's record as a decorated Vietnam War veteran; his political, legal and legislative experience; his sense of humor; and his personal interests in athletics and Harley-Davidsons, union President Harold Schaitberger said.
"He is a proven leader," Schaitberger said in prepared remarks Wednesday. "He knows how to navigate Washington. He learned the hard way in Vietnam, in the courtroom and in the halls of the U.S. Senate."
Late entrant Wesley Clark has four-star credentials, but lacks political and legislative experience, said Schaitberger, who spent a couple of hours at breakfast with the retired general several weeks ago, along with other union presidents.
"You've got to know how to navigate and operate in Washington, D.C., to be a good president and to be an effective executive," he said. "I question Wesley Clark's experience, and John Kerry clearly has that experience."
Gephardt is a longtime ally of organized labor, yet some public and service sector unions are hesitant to embrace his second run for the White House.
The firefighters union wanted to support a candidate who can beat President Bush next year. "Our view is that Dick Gephardt is not the candidate who has that best chance," Schaitberger said.