On a Sunday night in mid-April, two men who want to be San Diego’s next mayor went to Zia’s Bistro in Little Italy to have dinner together.

The meal culminated what by that point had been 10 months of campaigning for Democratic Congressman Bob Filner and independent Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. They didn’t know each other before last June. Since then, they have appeared side-by-side dozens of times at community meetings, forums and debates, often the only two of the four major candidates who would show up.

Filner’s fiancée, Bronwyn Ingram, suggested they have dinner with Fletcher and his wife, Mindy.

“We’ve become friends,” Filner said.

It’s a relationship you can see every time Filner and Fletcher are together. They whisper back and forth and make each other laugh. And now that they’ve been on the trail together for so long, they can finish each other’s sentences.

“We almost have a standup comedy routine,” Filner said. “I said at one thing, ‘Nathan you forgot to tell this story.’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah let me tell it.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going to tell it.’ People like it. I think. I may read the audience wrong. But they like the fact that we’re not going after each other, that we like each other. We even tell jokes.”

Filner picked the restaurant. Zia’s is one of his favorites. The chef always makes Filner something off the menu: pasta with garlic and oil.

Filner said he didn’t remember what Fletcher ordered, (it was lasagna), but the congressman joked that the choice seemed “strange” to him.

“It didn’t seem in character for a Marine,” Filner said.

Told Filner’s quip, Fletcher replied: “There was no MREs there, no meals, ready-to-eat.”

The dinner discussion, they said, centered on the diverse experiences they’ve had. Filner talked about his time in Congress and fighting in the civil rights movement. Fletcher discussed his time in the military. They talked about how hard it was for politicians’ significant others. They brought up their mayoral rival, City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who leads both of them in the polls.

Since their dinner, it’s become increasingly likely that either Filner or Fletcher will be the one facing DeMaio in the November general election. And the difference between them will be thinner than many had expected at the outset.

Filner, the Democrat in the race, has admitted that he underestimated Fletcher. But Filner also is benefitting from the barrage of advertisements DeMaio is leveling at Fletcher that attack the assemblyman’s lack of liberal credentials. DeMaio knows that a DeMaio-Filner runoff is much more favorable to him than DeMaio-Fletcher.

Whichever one doesn’t make out of the primary still might get a job. At debates, the 69-year-old Filner has attempted to magnify the 35-year-old Fletcher’s inexperience by jokingly offering Fletcher work in his administration. Fletcher, Filner says, could be his “czar of innovation,” for instance.

But Filner says he’s serious. He would hire him. Fletcher said he’d find a job for Filner, too.

“If I was mayor, I would absolutely try to find some way to keep him involved,” Fletcher said.

Though they may be friends now and work together in the future, one bit of formality remained when their dinner ended last month. They split the check.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. 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 liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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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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