In a first prompted by a slumping economy, the county firefighters union will endorse candidates in the Nov. 6 general election.
The endorsement of incumbent Elizabeth Bobo for county executive marks the first time that the Howard County Professional Firefighters Association has taken a side in a political race.
"We've had a good working relationship with the current administration, and we didn't like some of the things we were hearing from (Republican candidate) Charles Ecker," said Sean Kelly, president of the association.
"We had been hearing the word 'layoffs' used, and that's not a good word to hear right now."
The union, which represents about 150 full-time firefighters and rescue workers, expects to lobby for the hiring of more people during upcoming contract negotiations, Kelly said.
"With the economic slowdown and the deficit the way it is, it's going to be tight for all of us," Kelly said. "But I'm optimistic with our chances with Elizabeth Bobo."
Also endorsed by the firefighters union were James Kraft and Lloyd Knowles, Democratic House of Delegates candidates in District 14B. Both were cited because of their support for "labor on the state level," Kelly said.
Kraft, Knowles, Bobo and Ecker each had asked the union for its endorsement.
The county firefighters opted to promote candidates this year at the suggestion of Kelly, who took over recently as president of the local union. The International Association of Firefighters, its parent union, also suggested that it endorse candidates.
Kelly said most firefighters unions in the Baltimore area make endorsements, although the practice was met with some apprehension in the Howard County local.
"Our guys are a little intimidated because we're so small, but I think this will help us get into the public eye a little more," he said. "We need to increase our visibility. We still have a lot of people in Howard County who think we're still a volunteer department."