Monday, November 07, 2005 | Part Two: Whose Side Are You On Anyway? (Read Part One.)

Candidates competing for the two vacant City Council seats may not have been household names when the election season began in August, but throughout the last two months they have been using the selling power that comes with the endorsements of individuals and organizations that are big names in town.

Endorsements are a way for candidates to gain a favorable identity with voters because they benefit from their associations with groups and people who casual voters identify with or hold in a favorable light, campaign experts say.

Political parties, elected officials, environmental organizations, trade groups and unions are plugging candidates from Districts 2 and 8, where residents have been without a City Council representative since Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza resigned in July amid their convictions on federal corruption charges.

In an election like Tuesday’s, where the overwhelming amount of media attention and advertising has been directed toward the mayor’s race and the eight statewide ballot initiatives, campaign analysts said voters will be looking to the names of supporters listed in candidates’ mail advertisements, ballot statements and Web sites.

“Whenever there are ballot initiatives in an election, the first thing I look at it is who is for and against the proposition. Because so little is known about a lot of these council candidates, voters will likely do the same there,” said Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College.

The local chapters of both major political parties have endorsed candidates and spent money in “member communications” on their behalf. The San Diego County Republican Party is officially backing public relations executive Kevin Faulconer in District 2 and school board president Luis Acle in District 8. The San Diego County Democratic Party has endorsed environmental attorney Lorena Gonzalez in District 2 and teacher Remy Bermudez in District 8.

Besides the candidates’ ability to tout their endorsement in public, the parties are also allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to communicate with their voters who are registered with their political affiliation. These party expenditures, which are often used on campaign mail sent or telephone calls made to members, often add a significant boost to what the candidates spend trying to get their message out.

The Republicans have spent $97,688 for Faulconer and $30,394 for Acle through last Wednesday, according to figures obtained from the City Clerk’s Office. The Democrats have spent $10,698 on Gonzalez and $8,366 for Bermudez, the clerk’s figures show.

The candidates have also been showing off their backing from elected officials. In Distrct 2:

– Kathy Blavatt, who owns a graphic communications business, said that she is being endorsed by San Diego City Schools board trustee Sheila Jackson.

– Faulconer has garnered the endorsements of District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, county Sheriff Bill Kolender and Republican Assemblyman George Plescia.

– Gonzalez has been endorsed by various Democratic lawmakers. South Bay Congressman Bob Filner, state Sen. Denise Ducheny and Assemblyman Juan Vargas and Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña.

In District 8:

– Bermudez enjoys the support of San Diego City Schools board trustee Sheila Jackson.

– Dan Coffey, a real estate executive and attorney, is backed by San Ysidro School Board members Paul Randolph, Jean Romero and Yolanda Hernandez and Imperial Beach Mayor Diane Rose.

– Ben Hueso, an organizational consultant, is being endorsed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Democratic Assemblyman Juan Vargas and San Ysidro School Board member Raquel Marquez.

Many of the candidates’ Web sites have also included long lists of supporters’ names. Analysts say that by including everyone who has donated money or has agreed to allow the candidate to use his or her name, the campaign appears to voters as having broad support and valuing everybody.

For the campaigns lucky enough to win them, a lot of political clout comes from the endorsements of political groups, trade associations and unions. The members of these groups are likely voters and a candidates’ affiliation with a group that is viewed favorably can also result in more votes, analysts say.

The City Firefighters Local 145, for example, has been a perennial player in local elections. They have endorsed Faulconer for the District 2 seat and Hueso for District 8. The firefighters union has made and posted signs around town for both candidates, spending $2,964 on each. An outside group like Local 145 can spend money on an election, but cannot communicate its strategy or give directly to the candidate’s committee.

For the council races, groups can only spend $250 for every person registered with the organization as a member. The groups can make independent expenditures at the $300 per member level for citywide elections for mayor and city attorney.

Other than the firefighters, the public employee unions have remained silent during the City Council races. Observers say the sentiment for unions in the city is largely negative because of the city’s pension troubles, for which union leaders have been derided by officials such as City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Two labor leaders, City Firefighters president Ron Saathoff and white-collar worker union vice president John Torres, have been charged by the District Attorney’s Office for their role as retirement board members in the city’s pension dealings.

In District 8, Bermudez and Coffey have been endorsed by the city’s blue-collar union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 127, but the group has not made any independent expenditures in the election. Coffey said he did not think the voters would think less of his candidacy because of the endorsement by a municipal employee union.

“For me, it’s more of a statement about how blue-collar workers feel about me,” Coffey said. “I seek to represent these people in the district who are good people, hardworking and frankly don’t make a lot of money. I’m not concerned that people are going to say I’m being supported by the fats cats at 127.”

At least one candidate has rejected the offer to be considered for endorsements. District 2 candidate Ian Trowbridge, a retired professor, turned down the firefighter union’s offer to be interviewed as well as the invitation extended by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, who wound up not making any endorsement in the council primaries.

“I think it is presumptuous of the Board to assume I would be interested in their endorsement when they are a major part of the fiscal problem in San Diego,” Trowbridge wrote to the chamber’s public policy director. “I would be happy to meet with the board for a discussion as an equal, but not as the latest politician the Chamber wishes to control.”

Several other groups and individuals have made independent expenditures on behalf of council candidates:

– Hotelier C. Terry Brown, who owns the Town & Country Resort, has spent $37,985 to promote Faulconer and $10,826 to support Acle.

– The Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a conservative pro-business organization, has made independent expenditures totaling $12,427 for Faulconer and $12,154 for Acle.

– The San Diego County Apartment Association, which represents rental housing owners, has spent $4,323 each to support Faulconer in District 2 and Hueso in District 8.

– The California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, or C.O.P.S., is supporting community college trustee Rich Grosch in District 2 and attorney Douglas Holbrook in District 8. C.O.P.S., which is comprised of police union members throughout the state, included their council endorsements on slate mailers sent out last week, although the cost of the mailers has not yet been reported.

Other groups have supported council candidates in name only. They have not made independent expenditures as of last Wednesday:

– The Sierra Club’s local chapter is backing planning commissioner Carolyn Chase, who was formerly the group’s chairwoman, for the District 2 council seat.

– The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council endorses Gonzalez in District 2 and is splitting its District 8 endorsement between Bermudez and Hueso.

– A slew of Democratic-affiliated and left-leaning clubs are backing Gonzalez.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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