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At Wednesday afternoon’s San Diego mayoral debate, both candidates were allowed to ask each other a question.

Given recent political events, City Councilman Carl DeMaio made a curious query to his opponent, Congressman Bob Filner.

“Congressman, as mayor will you turn down your elected official pensions?” DeMaio asked.

San Diego city politicians aren’t entitled to pensions anymore, as DeMaio well knows. Proposition B, the DeMaio-backed initiative that passed in June, gave new city politicians along with every other new employee except police officers 401(k)s instead of guaranteed pensions.

Filner, however, is a special case. He served on the City Council from 1987 to 1992, entitling him to a pension for his service. The 70-year-old has never retired from the city and isn’t collecting a city pension now.

The elimination of pensions for new employees doesn’t apply to former city workers who come back, said Mark Hovey, the head of the city’s retirement system. That includes Filner.

“Technically, he’s a rehire,” Hovey said.

In his response to DeMaio at the debate, Filner said he’d take a mayoral pension and offered a full-throated defense of his benefit.

“I work hard for my salary,” Filner said. “Every working person deserves a pension. Every working person deserves the security that that 30 years of work, or whatever, has given to that person. So I ain’t going to turn it down. I earned that. “

If Filner accepts a mayoral pension and serves two full terms, he would be entitled to a $46,000 city pension, according to an in-depth analysis of Filner’s pension benefits we did last fall.

That’s not the only pension Filner will receive. He’ll get one from his time as a congressman and already takes one from the state after teaching at San Diego State University. From our story:

Filner’s own public pension provides another example of the complexities and idiosyncrasies of government retirement benefits at a time when the debt created by them remains central to San Diego politics.

After more than four decades in public service, Filner’s pension will reach $82,000 annually assuming he retires after his current congressional term in 2012, a analysis found. If Filner wins San Diego’s mayoral election and serves two terms, he’d be eligible to receive a total pension worth almost $120,000 a year …

His government service entitles him to many of the pension perks targeted by reform crusaders. He retired from San Diego State at age 50. He received a retroactive benefit increase from the city. And if he becomes mayor, he can use that salary to boost his city payout far beyond what he earned as a councilman.

Filner’s decision to accept his full mayoral pension could put him in a sticky situation. Back when our story ran, Filner planned to cap pensions for city employees at $125,000 a year. He’s since lowered that cap to $100,000.

But if Filner accepts his city, state and federal pensions, his total payout would be almost $20,000 more than the maximum he’s proposing for city workers.

I’ve emailed Filner’s campaign to ask whether he’d take his entire pension payout and will update this post if it responds.

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 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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