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A very interesting development: Blue San Diego reports that Stephen Whitburn has hired Jennifer Tierney to run his campaign for county supervisor against longtime Supe Ron Roberts.

First off, Tierney ran Todd Gloria’s successful campaign in 2008 against Whitburn. One of the reason it’s a good idea to run a race like that and lose is that you learn lessons, and it appears that one of Whitburn’s lesson is that Tierney is good. It’s also a very establishment-like choice for the iconoclast and fierce Democrat Whitburn. Tierney represents almost as many Republicans as she does Democrats.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Tierney has a history with Roberts. She’s still undoubtedly not pleased with an incident in 2004. That year, Republican Roberts was running for mayor against the incumbent Republican, Dick Murphy. But Tierney also worked with the city’s firefighters union.

At one point during the campaign, Roberts accused the firefighters of colluding with Tierney and Mayor Murphy’s campaign. It would be illegal for the firefighters to have coordinated any effort with Murphy’s campaign. And Roberts said he had spoken with the FBI. Tierney made a rare public appearance in front of reporters to dispute the charge.

Shortly after that, the firefighters union released a devastating television campaign against Roberts. It may have, in fact, been the last, most significant, political action by the firefighters (followed closely by their endorsement of Republican Kevin Faulconer for City Council over Lorena Gonzalez in 2006). The union has lost a lot of its influence over the last few years.

It never turned into anything but it certainly had to sting.

Since then, Tierney has gone on to help District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis become the most powerful local politician. If you were running for judge, for example, and you got Dumanis to endorse you and Tierney to run your campaign, you won.

Over time, Dumanis built a very strong alliance with Sheriff Bill Kolender. Both Kolender and Dumanis early on let it be known that they wanted Kolender’s deputy, Bill Gore, to take over as sheriff when Kolender departed. But at the same time, Roberts gave Jim Duffy a job while he cultivated his campaign against Gore for the job.

There are some interesting and long rivalries coming to a head in this race. Stay tuned. The problem for Whitburn is that ousting Roberts will be exceedingly difficult no matter what long grudges he’s able to stoke. Very few people know what county supervisors do. And the few who do might not be as disaffected with Roberts as Whitburn needs them to be. His challenge then is to educate thousands of people not only about who he is but why they should care.

Whitburn will need money to do that. He’s already said that, unlike in 2008, he will not dump hundreds of thousands of his own dollars in the race.

So he’ll have to raise it to pay Tierney’s high price. It will be a lot of work. But it will be worth it if he’s somehow able to force a runoff with Roberts.

He’s got less than three months to do it. We’ll see.

Correction: My chronology on this original post was incorrect. Roberts first accused the firefighters and Tierney of colluding with Murphy. After that, the firefighters put out their commercial attacking Roberts. I had it reversed.

— SCOTT LEWIS

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