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The partisan balance of San Diego’s City Council could hinge on the re-election of Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Lightner next year.

So it wasn’t stunning to see the local Democratic Party come out and support Lightner early on. Nor was it a shock this week to see Council President Tony Young, her Democratic colleague, appoint her to head a new, high-profile committee on economic development.

The surprise came last week when a traditional Democratic interest group left Lightner, who represents La Jolla and nearby areas, off their endorsement list.

The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a union umbrella group and the city’s most powerful labor organization, endorsed Democrat Bob Filner for mayor, Democrat Scott Peters for congress, Democrat Marti Emerald in one council race and Democrat Mat Kostrinsky in another. (Kostrinsky, who works for a home healthcare union, also should have a competitive election to represent Navajo, Tierrasanta and surrounding neighborhoods. But that race leans more Republican than Lightner’s.)

I asked Lorena Gonzalez, the Labor Council’s head, about Lightner in the context of City Council’s Democratic and Republican divide. She told me that partisanship isn’t her problem. It’s the Democratic Party’s.

Gonzalez said she’s met with Lightner’s opponent, Republican businessman and retirement board head Ray Ellis.

“To be real honest, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the two of them,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has made her dissatisfaction with Lightner known. In October, CityBeat reported on labor and environmental groups’ disappointment with Lightner:

For Lorena Gonzalez, secretary/treasurer and CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, an assessment of Lightner comes down mostly to a couple of key issues — big-box super-centers and managed competition. Lightner voted against requiring companies like Walmart to conduct economic-impact studies when they propose new super-centers, and, last week, she voted in favor of opening up certain operations at the Miramar Landfill to competitive bidding among private companies and the city workers who currently run the landfill.

Even if she doesn’t have labor support, Lightner remains the favorite. No incumbent has lost a council race in 20 years and, according to a study by a local think tank, Lightner’s district became marginally more Democratic during the recent redistricting cycle.

Still, Lightner benefitted greatly from labor support and the President Obama wave that gave Democrats a 6-2 council majority after the 2008 elections. If Lightner and Kostrinsky lose — and the other races go as expected — Republicans would have a 5-4 majority next year.

Gonzalez said the Labor Council hasn’t ruled out endorsing Lightner and could consider that council seat and other races before June.

“I have a process,” Gonzalez said, “and she has a record.”

Update: I just heard from Lightner’s campaign consultant, Jennifer Tierney. She told me Lightner hadn’t asked for the Labor Council’s endorsement yet.

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.

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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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