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Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007 | City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s road to reelection got bumpier this week after he failed to lock up an early endorsement from the local Democratic Party and a Republican candidate prepared to join the race.

The Democratic Party chose not to offer the incumbent city attorney its early endorsement late Tuesday night, even though it endorsed nearly ever other Democratic office holder up for reelection in 2008 in races ranging from the state legislature to local school boards.

The decision serves as a hint to other potential candidates that the right candidate could woo Democrats away from Aguirre. If the right Democratic lawyer jumps in, it could complicate Aguirre’s ability to secure the prestige and expanded fundraising capability that comes with the party’s endorsement.

The endorsement struggle also highlights the difficulties the city attorney faces in reuniting with those who backed his 2004 campaign, even in a city where incumbents are a virtual lock.

But, to date, no other high-profile Democratic candidate has emerged to threaten Aguirre for the endorsement that is now likely to be handed out early next year.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party’s field got a bit more crowded Wednesday when a former Republican assemblyman who has been courted by conservative activists took an important step toward candidacy.

Judge Jan Goldsmith said he notified the Superior Court that he will take an unpaid leave of absence beginning in November in order to begin exploring his campaign options. He would become the third candidate to run against Aguirre if he declares.

Aguirre still enjoys a majority of support on the party’s endorsing committee, as activists said they enjoy his candid approach, environmental record and the tenacity with which he fights for honest government.

“I want a city attorney who is responsive who does his job, and I think Mike Aguirre does his job better than many of the city attorneys I’ve seen,” said Miriam Kanter Plotkin, a La Mesa resident who sits on the Central Committee.

For all of the support, Aguirre fell two votes short of the 60 percent that was needed to cement his endorsement seven months before the election. If Aguirre ends up winning the party’s blessing, it will happen closer to the candidate filing deadline in March. He did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Aguirre’s inability to wrap up the party’s backing threatens his ability to tap a lucrative vein in campaign fundraising. The unlimited financial support a political party can provide a candidate is significant because election rules limit the amount a candidate’s campaign can raise to $320 per donor. Parties face no such limit.

In the past four municipal elections, local Democratic and Republican parties have spent about $1.6 million on the expenditures, which are called member communications.

After spending $565,000 of his own money during the 2004 election and six-figure amounts on previous races he ran in unsuccessfully, Aguirre would benefit from the party’s financial assistance.

Republicans have made it clear recently they are gunning for him. “Mike Aguirre is a detriment to our city at this point, and removing him is now a priority for a significant majority of San Diegans, independent of affiliation,” said Tony Krvaric, the chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party.

Democratic Central Committee members said they aren’t certain they will end up spending a lot of the party’s money on the city attorney’s race, instead pointing to the various City Council races that are up for grabs in 2008. If another Democrat jumps in, it appears that financial support for its endorsed city attorney contender will be even more meager, they said.

The party isn’t the only traditional kingmaker to shop for another champion after backing Aguirre’s first city attorney campaign in 2004.

Among those is organized labor, an important Democratic constituency that has grimaced as Aguirre labeled union leaders as corrupt, tried to strip pension benefits from city workers, and endorsed a Republican-led initiative that allows City Hall to outsource work to private contractors.

The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council bypassed Aguirre when it met recently to consider its early candidate endorsements for the 2008 races. None of the labor council’s 118 unions nominated Aguirre for an early endorsement at the meeting, said Lorena Gonzalez, the group’s political director.

The editorial page of The San Diego Union-Tribune also endorsed Aguirre in 2004, but it has grown increasingly aggressive in trying to force his ouster.

Some in the Democratic camp who backed Aguirre’s first term are disappointed in his penchant for skewering the Democrats on the City Council and the labor unions. They also wince at his office’s record in the courtroom.

The committee’s decision to hold off opens the door to other Democrats who have expressed some interest in running against Aguirre. Dan Coffey, who also-ran in the 2005 race for Council District 8, is the only lawyer in the party to declare himself a candidate, but several of the party’s committee members and advisors said they aren’t convinced he’s a viable candidate against Aguirre.

“I think people are beginning to listen to the fact that others are starting to listen to alternatives,” Coffey said. “They want to understand what’s possible,”

So far, Coffey, a lawyer with backgrounds in engineering and real estate, and William Gentry, a deputy district attorney and military veteran are the only candidates in the race. Gentry is a Republican.

The committee’s decision is also a signal to other potential candidates that Democrats are willing to entertain other candidates.

Council President Scott Peters, former schools superintendent Alan Bersin and former Assemblyman Howard Wayne have all expressed interest in running in previous months, but Peters and Wayne now say they are unlikely to run.

Bersin said last month he is considering a run, but that he is conferring with his wife and friends before deciding. Aside from the chief for San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the local U.S. Attorney’s Office and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Department of Education. He is currently the chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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