The scene had been missing from San Diego’s mayoral politics for the past two elections. The city’s largest labor union found a candidate it wanted. And the candidate wanted the union back.

Democratic Congressman Bob Filner arrived to his Cortez Hill headquarters Monday morning to find more than a dozen members of the city’s white-collar union there to announce their endorsement of him.

“We are here to support Bob Filner for mayor because we cannot think of any other candidate better qualified to lead our city back to greatness,” said Tony Ruiz, the president of the Municipal Employees Association.

It’s been a tough time for MEA and all labor groups over the past six years. San Diego’s pension and financial scandals has left unresolved weaknesses in the city’s budget. When those troubles led to former Mayor Dick Murphy’s resignation, many unions didn’t endorse in the special election that installed Jerry Sanders in office. At least in part, that’s because no candidate wanted their support. Many municipal unions also sat out Sanders’ 2008 re-election bid against Republican businessman Steve Francis.

But now, with every major candidate but Filner supporting a June 2012 ballot measure that would eliminate pensions for most new city employees, labor support for Filner fits. It also could provide significant financial and organizational strength to his campaign and grist for his opponents.

“You could argue it’s going to be used against me,” Filner said of the MEA endorsement. “But look, I’m honored to be endorsed by them. I think our city employees do a great job. I think they’ve been subject to unjust attacks. I think if you work on their morale and their working conditions, you get better city services and a better quality of life.”

MEA represents more than 4,300 white-collar city employees, about 43 percent of City Hall’s workforce. Last week, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella organization that includes the city’s blue-collar union, endorsed Filner, too.

“We have a unique opportunity,” said Lorena Gonzalez, the secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council. “We have a candidate that’s not part of the downtown establishment that got us into this mess.”

Both Gonzalez and Michael Zucchet, MEA’s general manager, wouldn’t say how much they planned to spend to back Filner. But they said their organizations have many priorities for the coming election. The Labor Council has a campaign committee opposed to City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who has been the most aggressive anti-union mayoral candidate.

Gonzalez added that the Labor Council’s spending decisions could depend on who’s still in the mayor’s race. Gonzalez said she didn’t expect both District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, moderate Republicans, to remain.

“I’d be shocked if the downtown establishment doesn’t kick one of them out of the race,” Gonzalez said.

“I would assume they would extend some Godfather offer to one of them,” she added.

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

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

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...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.