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Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher chose sides this week, the first time he’s staked out firm ground on a major policy issue in a mayoral race dominated by candidates that are better known and have more defined support.

He announced his support for the pension reform initiative that’s the hot-button issue in the June 2012 mayoral primary. And as with every major decision on hot button issues, there was political fallout. Before Fletcher was one of the two Republicans who could have won over public safety unions and business groups. Now, the labor side looks less likely.

“It makes it much more difficult for us to consider Nathan for an endorsement,” said police union head Brian Marvel.

Fletcher was the last of the four major mayoral candidates to take a position on the measure, which gives most new city employees 401(k)s instead of guaranteed pensions and aims to freeze city workers’ base salaries for five years. His stance separates him from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who’s also fighting for the same middle-of-the-road Republican support.

Dumanis and Congressman Bob Filner oppose the measure, saying that the plan shouldn’t include firefighters or that it’s too punitive on workers, respectively. City Councilman Carl DeMaio co-wrote the measure and is one of its biggest proponents.

In an interview, Fletcher said he supports the pension plan because it balances immediate cost savings with reducing the city’s investment risk in the long term. Retirement security for public safety workers, his primary concern about the measure, could be ensured through offering annuities or other options, he said.

“We’re removing the ability of future politicians to make bad decisions as it relates to pensions and I think the public should take comfort in that,” Fletcher said.

His stance, though, also puts him in the awkward position of backing DeMaio’s plan to fix the city pension system, one of the key political issues since 2004. Fletcher said the ballot measure would solve the city’s pension problem. Fletcher also said he’d help campaign for the measure if asked, which could put him and DeMaio on the stage together. (T.J. Zane, head of the pro-business Lincoln Club and pension ballot committee chairman, said a letter asking for Fletcher’s help campaigning went out Tuesday afternoon.)

But Fletcher also is distinguishing himself from DeMaio in some respects.

Fletcher believes new workers should re-enter the Social Security system while DeMaio thinks employees would prefer a larger 401(k) match, instead. Fletcher also said he’ll be releasing his own proposals for addressing the city’s budget problems, including its $800 million backlog of dilapidated roads, buildings and storm drains.

Supporters of the measure have until mid-October to collect more than 90,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

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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