I just got off the phone with Jennifer Tierney, the political consultant for the city of San Diego firefighters union. She confirmed for me that the union and others have formed a new committee: Police and Firefighters Against Proposition C. And they plan to spend some money.

Tierney said the group will be making a rather large television advertising buy today. She declined to say exactly how much the committee plans to raise and spend because the funds aren’t guaranteed. I asked her how the expenditure would compare to the firefighters late ad purchase in 2004 in support of incumbent Mayor Dick Murphy – a move which many observers say put the nail in the coffin of County Supervisor Ron Roberts’ run for the post.

That advertising campaign, which was highly critical of Roberts, cost $100,000.

“I can confidently say that this will hit that mark,” Tierney said.

She said the firefighters, for a long period, had decided to sit on the sidelines.

But then …

“We started to see that Prop C was vulnerable,” Tierney said.

How?

Tierney said that it was “ironic,” actually. Proposition C, if passed, would allow the city to outsource some of its services and it would force city employees to bid against private contractors to keep their jobs in some cases. But, whether through oversight or design, it appears that the measure would allow private companies to bid to perform pubic safety services as well. When opponents of the measure seized on this point and highlighted it in a ballot statement that accompanies materials sent to voters by the county, Sanders’ supporters and Proposition C backers sued to try to force them to take it back.

They failed.

“At that point, with their quick reaction to that argument, we realized that point had touched a nerve and we had an opportunity here. We started to see that Proposition C was vulnerable – that it was teetering on the edge and some campaigning might push it over,” Tierney said.

I had, of course, earlier in the week, cynically made the argument that the firefighters’ opposition to Proposition C was more of an effort to reassert their political power in town and not a sincere opposition to a measure they found threatening to public safety.

Tierney disagreed, saying there were specific concerns firefighters had with Proposition C and they now see an opportunity to kill the measure.

She said the firefighters were sincerely concerned about the possibility that private companies could make a profit off of public safety work and that the city could find itself attached to contracts with those companies that may not be in the best interests of the city.

“What happens if they write a bad contract to do public safety work? If you’ve written a bad contract, you can’t dump the contractor. If it’s a public employee system, however, and six months into an operation you realize it isn’t working, you can change it immediately,” Tierney said.

And the argument goes on. Tierney said she would provide the info on the firefighters ad buy when it was done.

SCOTT LEWIS

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