As I was preparing to take office in 2003, I had one-on-one meetings with each of the city department managers. When it was her turn to stop by my transition office, Fire Chief Debra Amesqua didn't mince words.
"The buzz around my fire stations is that you're going to force me out," she said. I had had the support of the firefighters union and, at the time, she had, to put it mildly, a rocky relationship with it.
I told her that I wasn't hell bent to get rid of her, that I had heard some criticisms, sure, but I would give her a fair shot. (And, of course, the truth is that the mayor does not directly hire and fire the police and fire chiefs anyway; that's done by the Police & Fire Commission.)
There were some more rocky times ahead, but we navigated through them. The more I worked with the chief, the more I liked and trusted her. At the same time, I continued to work on my relationship with the union, which also had its ups and downs. But after a few years, I made it clear that I would stand behind the chief, but would also listen to union leaders.
We developed a strong working relationship, and created an atmosphere of mutual respect to the point that my friend and union leader Joe Conway, a straight shooter if there ever was one, actually asked Chief Amesqua to stay on a little longer. That would have been unthinkable eight years ago.
There's a lot more to Debra Amesqua then being a fire chief. She's a maker of high quality mandolins and a musician in her own right. She's got a lot of life ahead and she's going off to explore where that might lead. I'm happy for her, and I'm happy for the city for all she contributed during her long tenure.