It may not win him the election, but on Thursday long-shot candidate T. Milton Street got a shot in the arm with the endorsement of the city's firefighters' union.

In a move that's sure to stir controversy, Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters -- with about 2000 active members -- chose Street as their candidate over Mayor Nutter. The union has feuded with Nutter since he first cut seven companies as the recession hit in January 2009. Nutter appealed a contract arbitration award last year, saying it was too expensive and did not give the city enough control over health costs. That appeal is pending.

Street met with the union's executive board Wednesday morning for an hour, said Michael Bresnan, the union's recording secretary. At the meeting, Street promised to restore the seven companies, reactivate all medic units around the clock, and end the temporary deactivation of companies in single shifts -- called rolling brownouts.

As for Street's past misdemeanor conviction on federal tax evasion charges, for which he recently finished a 30 months federal sentence, Bresnan said: "What's the difference? We look at it as criminal what Nutter did to the fire department and the citizens of the city."

The initial response from the Nutter campaign: "Okay. Wow. Unbelievable," said campaign spokeswoman Sheila Simmons.

Simmons called back to say: "The mayor has been a strong supporter of firefighters throughout his career, and he deeply respects the life-saving work they do. Whether as mayor or as city council member, he has enjoyed the support and respect of many firefighters for a long period of time. We have to think that the driving force behind this decision had to have been the appeal of the arbitration award. Philadelphia is still in an economically challenging position, and the mayor of course wanted an award that was respectful to the firefighters and also one the city could afford.

"But this will have no impact on the admiration and support the mayor has for firefighters in Philadelphia and the brave work that they do."

Asked about the mayor's reaction to the endorsement, Simmons said: "I don't know if I could quite say surprised, but I don't think he expected it."

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