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Less than five weeks before Election Day, City Councilman Todd Gloria still doesn’t know who to pick for county supervisor or whether he’ll even endorse a candidate.

Ron Roberts, the incumbent, supported Gloria throughout his political career and endorsed him two years ago in a brutal campaign for City Council when he defeated Stephen Whitburn — who is now challenging Roberts for supervisor and asking for his former competitor’s backing. Both Gloria and Whitburn are Democrats; Roberts is Republican.

Gloria’s uncertainty highlights a tough choice that has also divided prominent leaders of the gay community, torn between Roberts, a longtime supporter of gay rights and several gay candidates, and Whitburn, who would be the first openly gay supervisor if elected.

It’s been such a divisive issue in the community that even several prominent leaders who consider themselves close friends with Roberts have sided with Whitburn. Others say their support of Roberts, however, is simply about who’s the most qualified candidate.

The area Roberts and Whitburn are vying to represent includes neighborhoods from University City to Paradise Hills. Smack in the middle are neighborhoods such as North Park, Hillcrest and University Heights, a regional hub for the gay community and a stronghold for Whitburn during the June primary.

Since then, prominent opinion leaders who are gay have been split over who to endorse. Gloria and City Councilman Carl DeMaio have not announced endorsements. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican, and the Gay & Lesbian Times support Roberts. San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and fellow Democrats state Sen. Christine Kehoe and state Assembly candidate Toni Atkins support Whitburn.

Roberts said the surprising part was losing the support of people he’s endorsed in the past. He endorsed Kehoe in her successful 1993 City Council bid, when she became its first openly gay member. He supported Atkins in her first bid to the City Council, too.

“Elections are when you find out who your friends are,” he said. “I was disappointed.”

Roberts believes he’s supported the gay community during his 16 years on the Board of Supervisors. He walked in gay pride parades when few other Republican elected officials did. He opposed Proposition 8 and regularly attends meetings with advocates for the gay community. Now, it feels like they’ve turned their backs, he said.

Gloria said he remains undecided in the race because he considers Roberts a longtime supporter — they first met when Gloria was in fifth grade — and thinks Whitburn would be a “breath of fresh air on the Board of Supervisors.”

“It presents a decision that makes them (voters) have to think about it more,” Gloria said. “I think I’m like many of my constituents.”

Roberts’ supporters emphasized his experience on the board and said he would best represent the entire district beyond the gay community.

“Being LGBT is one part of a person,” Dumanis said. “During the budget crisis we have right now, it’s not a good time to change away from someone with experience.”

Whitburn’s supporters highlight how he’d break barriers. Kehoe said a Whitburn victory would continue demonstrating that gay politicians can win elected office. She said Whitburn’s voice on the board would improve cultural attitudes toward gay rights across the county.

“It would be a big step toward a more progressive county Board of Supervisors,” she said. “I’ve known Ron since 1987. This isn’t about making Ron Roberts into an awful person. It’s about taking a step forward with the gay community.”

But the election should have nothing to do with a candidate’s sexuality, said Norris Nagao, a professor at Southwestern College who lives in Hillcrest, is gay and supports Roberts.

“In the gay community it’s difficult to support someone who’s not gay,” Nagao said, but added, “He doesn’t have to be the first gay supervisor. We want someone who can make things happen.”

Whitburn said he’d be a better representative of the gay community, arguing that he’d push for the creation of a human relations commission to improve diversity and investigate discrimination. Those functions are now overseen by the county’s Office of Internal Affairs, the Civil Service Commission or human resources staff.

Whitburn also said he would better search for money to expand HIV and AIDs services at local community clinics. The county has received more federal funding for treatment and care services in recent years, but significantly less from the state for education and prevention.

Please contact Keegan Kyle directly at or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter:

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