A candidate for public office told me today that he is a "centrist union Democrat" who stands with the municipal unions and suggested that Mayor Jon Mitchell does not. I'm not going to identify the candidate or the position that he is seeking because it doesn't really matter to the point of all of this.

Public employees are our neighbors, our kids, our Uncle Henry or Aunt Betsey or maybe even you work for the people as a teacher, a police officer or a filler of potholes. Public employees are essential to the proper functioning of a municipality. Where would we be without our firefighters?

Public employees are a necessary part of who we are as a community. But so are our private sector employees. Our medical professionals, waitpersons, bus drivers and dog groomers are just as important to our functionality as a society. Some are represented by labor unions while others are not. Together we are the community. Together we pay the bills.

My friend the politician is just a bit naive in suggesting that a mayor, any mayor, is not supportive of municipal employee unions because he or she is unwilling or unable to give those unions all that they demand. Again, all of our public employees are important to the overall success of our community but there are limits to what those who foot the bills can afford to give.

It is the job of municipal union leaders to fight for everything they can get for their membership and to raise a specter of a municipal leader who is indifferent to the needs of union workers if they are unable to get all of what they want. But it is the job of that municipal leader to hold the line on behalf of the taxpayer.

Almost every mayor for as far back as I can remember has battled municipal employee unions. It's not because they disrespect union workers, but because they have a larger commitment to the community not to break the bank and to keep the bill manageable for the taxpayers who foot the cost. Our municipal employees do well when compared to private-sector employees in similar positions. Just compare health coverage plans.

A candidate for public office can declare himself a centrist union Democrat all day long and will probably win some union votes as a result. But an elected leader has to represent the interests of all of the citizens when negotiating contracts and not just those who carry union cards.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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