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It’s not unusual for high-profile local Democrats to endorse a Republican for mayor of San Diego. There’s been a dearth of major Democratic candidates even though Democratic voter registration significantly outweighs Republican in the city. Current Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders has enjoyed a swath of Democratic support during his two campaigns.

This year is different. Big-name Democrats are possible contenders in 2012. Congressman Bob Filner has committed to the race and state Sen. Christine Kehoe has filed paperwork to raise money.

That hasn’t changed local Democrats’ penchant for picking a Republican.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis already unveiled this week a lengthy catalog of Democrat backers. The list includes a former U.S. congresswoman and her chief of staff, a well-known lawyer and philanthropist, a Unified Port of San Diego commissioner and a Solana Beach councilman.

“Democrats are probably more open to cross party lines when they think it will be better for the community,” said Murray Galinson, a Democrat and former California State University trustee endorsing Dumanis.

At least for some of the Democrats on Dumanis’ list, it appears personalities are at play as much as anything else. Some don’t think Filner’s up to the job.

“I don’t think he has the qualities of temperament, leadership and trustworthiness to run the city,” said former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, a Dumanis endorser.

“In my opinion, he’s divisive,” she added.

Galinson said he didn’t believe Filner could marshal consensus to enact his policies. Asked why, Galinson replied, “His personality.”

These criticisms speak to one of Filner’s biggest perceived weaknesses in the mayor’s race: his prickly persona. Filner is the most battle-tested of the major candidates, having survived three hard-fought Democratic primaries for his congressional seat against now-state Sen. Juan Vargas. Filner has emerged with some scars.

It’s no secret that Filner and Schenk haven’t gotten along for a while. Six years ago, for instance, Filner likely helped torpedo Schenk’s bid to run a regional transit board.

But Galinson said he backed Filner in every race he’s had. Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, another Democrat, said he’s been a longtime supporter of Filner as well, but is picking Dumanis because she has better experience managing a large organization.

Schenk, Galinson and Nelson all cited their longstanding relationships with Dumanis and said they respected the district attorney’s integrity and leadership abilities. They also emphasized that local elections are nonpartisan.

But the defection of big-name Democrats to a Republican mayoral candidate is key to the continued handwringing of local Democrats.

“Until San Diego Democrats are willing to take the plunge and consistently support Democrats in tough elections without being forced by circumstance, San Diego will never discuss government from a Democratic perspective,” wrote liberal blogger Lucas O’Connor in a post titled The Democrats’ Embarrassment. (O’Connor has been writing and tweeting copiously about the situation.)

The Dumanis endorsements also say a lot about Kehoe. Schenk, Galinson and Nelson were effusive in their praise. But Schenk and Galinson indicated they went for Dumanis in part because Kehoe hadn’t decided she was running.

“Christine is a dear friend of mine, but she has not declared,” Schenk said.

Galinson said he would back Kehoe as well if she chose to run.

Dumanis Not Taking Leave From DA Job

In her initial campaign for district attorney, Dumanis took a leave of absence from her position as a Superior Court judge, something the law requires when judges run for another office. While interviewing her for my story on her pension, I asked her if she’d be taking leave from her district attorney job to run for mayor.

“I don’t plan on it, nor does anyone I think in the race plan on taking one,” she said.

I asked Dumanis what she would do if another mayoral candidate got arrested for DUI, for example. Would her office prosecute the case?

Dumanis said she’d turn the case over to the Attorney General’s Office, which would determine if there was a conflict. If the AG kicked the case back to her, she would hand it off to someone that would report to one of her assistants. She said she wouldn’t be consulted on the case.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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