SAN JOSE -- Former San Jose cop turned City Councilman Pete Constant late Wednesday abruptly resigned from the powerful San Jose Police Officers' Association, which was challenging his continued membership, saying the union's board of directors is hypocritical in its political endorsements of candidates.
Constant on Monday attended a private union board hearing called to determine whether he could remain a dues-paying union member after other members labeled him a traitor for supporting cutbacks to generous pensions and other perks Constant says are bankrupting the city.
The councilman takes issue not only with the union endorsing candidates who share his support of the city's Measure B, but according to Constant, the union knowingly endorsing people who were not being honest with voters about their true position on the controversial pension reform measure.
In resigning from the union, Constant cited comments from that hearing where a union board member acknowledged that during endorsement interviews, candidates told the union board in private that they opposed the city's pension reform Measure B, but then told the public the opposite in order to get elected. Measure B was overwhelmingly passed by voters in June, after a bitter battle between City Hall and its employee unions, particularly the police and firefighter unions.
"It's a complicated issue,'' Police Sgt. Damian Bortolotti, a board member and POA board spokesman, says in an audiotape of the meeting.
"Pretty much every, um, candidate that we interviewed, um, stated that ... even though personally they may be against Measure B, they had to publicly say they were for Measure B, otherwise they thought they could not get elected,'' Bortolotti said. "What they said publicly and what they told us privately were sometimes two different things.''
The tape never names specific candidates who misrepresented their views to the public.
The police union has endorsed sportscaster Robert Braunstein for the District 10 City Council seat being vacated at year's end by Councilwoman Nancy Pyle because of terms limits.
This newspaper obtained a tape of the private meeting in which Constant questions how the union board could try to expel him for supporting Measure B when it endorses candidates who support the same measure.
"While I know the men and women of the San Jose Police Department have a very high level of integrity, it's unfortunate that the current board of the POA does not,'' Constant said Wednesday night before he submitted his resignation.
POA spokesman Jim Unland said he had "no idea where'' Bortolotti's comments came from.
"All I can think is that he misspoke ... I honestly don't know what he was thinking when he said that. I really don't.''
Unland also said he tried to convince Braunstein to drop his support of Measure B but was never successful.
In the audiotape, Constant asks whether the union endorsed planning commissioner Edesa Bitbadal for the District 10 race in the June primary, which included six candidates and is now moving to a November runoff between Braunstein and financial planner Johnny Khamis.
Bortolotti said the union endorsed Bitbadal, but he did not remember where she stood on Measure B. She supported the measure.
Constant asked whether the police union is now endorsing Braunstein, and whether he supports Measure B. Bortolotti said yes.
Constant asked Bortolotti if he recognized the irony of the union's position, that even as some union members are seeking to oust him for similar views, they embrace candidates who feel the same way Constant does.
"I don't see how that's relevant,'' Bortolotti tells Constant. "They're not POA members; you're a POA member.''
During the primary campaign, Braunstein, who has supported Measure B all along, publicly questioned Bitbadal's credibility of her support for Measure B, because she had been endorsed by the San Jose police and firefighters' unions and the union representing retired police and firefighters.
Now, Braunstein has received the endorsement of the police officers' union and is pushing to restore their 10 percent pay cut as a way of preventing officers from leaving the city because of their distaste for Measure B. Braunstein's opponent Khamis is questioning Braunstein's police union endorsement just as Braunstein questioned Bitbadal's.
But Braunstein said his stand on Measure B has led him to receive only one San Jose employee union endorsement, and no others. Meanwhile, he said, he has been upfront with both voters and the police union that he strongly supports Measure B and if elected, he would work to implement it, once the case is resolved in the courts. (The police union is among those who have sued to stop it from going into effect, saying the measure is illegal.)
"The reason I have the POA endorsement and the reason I wanted it is because we have a serious crime problem in this city, and I want to bring together all these groups to help and try to solve these problems,'' said Braunstein.
Constant, who is the council's only registered Republican, has endorsed Khamis, a fellow Republican, in the council race for District 10, which includes the Almaden and Blossom Valleys and the Vista Park area.
The councilman said he is "not saying Robert Braunstein is lying -- I have no way of knowing that,'' said Constant. "What I'm saying is that the public should carefully consider the weight of a San Jose Police Officers' Association endorsement given their official spokesperson's comment.''
Bitbadal could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.