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It’s her experience that Bonnie Dumanis says sets her apart from her two main Republican challengers in the race to be San Diego’s next mayor. She’s spent 38 years in public service, including the last eight as district attorney. Her competitors, City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, have served nearly six years combined as legislators.

Yet it’s Dumanis’ campaign that has been the most indecisive since the race’s official start almost three months ago. Last month she fired her campaign manager just as the campaign was beginning. Thursday, she flipped her position and now supports a Republican-led pension reform initiative.

The initiative would give all new city workers except police officers 401(k)s instead of pensions.

Dumanis opposed the measure four months ago because she said it was her “core belief” that all the city’s public safety workers should receive pensions.

Since her original decision, Dumanis said she has done more research and decided that an annuity is good enough for firefighters. An annuity is financing plan that typically uses an individual’s retirement earnings to provide steadier yearly payments than a pure 401(k). Her position now largely mirrors Fletcher’s.

“I always wanted to find a way if I could to protect those firefighters and also support the pension initiative,” Dumanis said. “I have done that.”

Dumanis’ flip had been rumored for a while, but her new campaign manager denied she was changing her position when asked last week.

Two of Dumanis’ most high-profile supporters, current Mayor Jerry Sanders and Councilman Kevin Faulconer, flanked her Thursday at a press conference outside City Hall. They both helped author the pension measure, but still endorsed her even though she opposed it. Sanders praised her at the press conference for doing her homework before making a final decision.

Dumanis conceded she hadn’t done that work before making an initial decision. She said in the past four months she spent more time understanding how an annuity operates.

The advantages of Dumanis’ flip are clear. She now is more attractive to Republicans and key interests on one of the most significant for the June 2012 mayoral primary election. She now finds herself on the same side as fellow Republicans Fletcher and DeMaio, and opposite Democrat Bob Filner.

Frank De Clercq, head of the city’s firefighter union, said Dumanis had to change her position to appease Republican donors. So far Dumanis’ fundraising has lagged far behind DeMaio’s and Fletcher’s. Sanders, Faulconer, Dumanis and Fletcher all told the union at one point they didn’t want to strip pensions from new firefighters, De Clercq said.

“Whether it’s a core belief or it’s their morals, I think that the money overcomes all,” De Clercq said.

But there remains at least one big downside to her new decision aside from the hit she might take from vacillating. Dumanis’ own pension, even though she says she won’t take one as mayor, still will approach $250,000 annually. She now believes that almost all new city employees shouldn’t have what she has.

Dumanis said that she’s never before been in a position to reform pension systems.

“When I began as a junior clerk typist, it was a different time, a different place and the pension system was totally different,” she said. “I think we all know now that those pension benefits are unaffordable and as mayor I will be right there making sure that those pension reforms that are necessary will take of that.”

Asked if her own pension was unaffordable, Dumanis said, “I think I’ve answered that.”

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big buildings. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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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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