Determination: Mostly True
Analysis: A television advertisement from mayoral candidate Bob Filner features the children of San Diego police officer Christopher Wilson speaking about Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio. Wilson was killed in the line of duty two years ago.
“So you can imagine how we felt when Carl DeMaio voted not once but twice against death benefits for families of slain police officers,” Wilson’s daughter Kaylee says in the ad.
DeMaio has fought back hard against the charge.
Filner “knows the ad’s not true and he should be ashamed,” DeMaio said during a radio debate Friday morning. DeMaio’s lawyer threatened to sue any TV station that ran a similar ad released during the primary.
We’re checking this claim because Filner has tried to develop a narrative that DeMaio busts budgets without regard for impacts to city workers and because of the ad’s potential emotional resonance in the last days of the campaign.
Here are the facts that Filner uses to back up the statement:
• DeMaio cast the sole vote against a two-year labor contract between the city and its police union in July 2010. The deal included survivor benefits for the families of fallen police officers. The issue never came up during council discussion prior to the vote.
• DeMaio cast one of two votes against a retiree health care deal between the city and the police union. Survivor benefits were included in this vote, too. But unlike the prior decision, city Human Resources Director Scott Chadwick specifically mentioned that the item included health benefits for police officers killed in the line of duty.
During the meeting, Councilwoman Marti Emerald asked Chadwick to clarify what he meant.
“When you’re talking about those killed in the line of duty, you’re talking about their survivors, their dependents?” Emerald asked.
“That’s correct,” Chadwick said.
The council record makes clear that like Filner’s ad says, DeMaio twice voted against survivor benefits for families of police officers.
DeMaio contends the simple facts of the case do not tell the whole story. He makes his point in two ways: The ad takes his votes out of context, and ignores definitive actions he has taken to support police survivor benefits. Let’s take DeMaio’s arguments one by one.
• Both votes were smaller parts of a larger whole, and DeMaio says he didn’t vote against the measures because of police survivor benefits.
He opposed the labor contract because he wanted a one-year deal and was afraid the council wouldn’t have another chance to decide on an unrelated police pension issue. DeMaio voted against the retiree health care pact because he believed the city could have gotten more savings from the entire deal. Neither time did he mention survivor benefits in explaining his no vote.
DeMaio said on the radio Friday that if those votes could be held against him for their impacts to survivor benefits, all anyone ever has to do to assure passage of anything was attach survivor benefits to the item.
“Basically that puts legislators with a gun to their head, to turn their backs on taxpayers ’cause they’re afraid of being accused on survivor benefits,” DeMaio said.
DeMaio also argued that by that standard, Filner himself would be guilty of opposing survivor benefits for military families. As a member of Congress, Filner voted against the 2008 defense appropriations bill, which addressed that issue.
“I think that’s shocking and if you want to have it that way, then you have to take accountability for voting against survivor benefits for military families,” DeMaio said.
• DeMaio contends that he has assured police families will receive death and disability benefits regardless of how he voted at the council. Proposition B, the pension initiative he co-wrote, says that the city must provide death and disability benefits to police officers killed or injured in the line of duty.
But Prop. B didn’t actually result in any new benefit for police officers because death benefits already existed, according to a city legal memo.
The claim in Filner’s ad is difficult to Fact Check.
The plain reading of the claim — that DeMaio voted twice against survivor benefits — is undeniably correct. But DeMaio makes a reasonable case that there’s more to the story than the plain reading.
We considered both Mostly True and Barely True ratings for the statement. By our definitions, a Mostly True statement is accurate but has an important nuance to consider. A Barely True statement has an element of truth but critical context is absent that may significantly alter the impression the statement leaves.
So our rating came down to whether the additional information that DeMaio voted against a much larger package of items and that he backed survivor benefits in Prop. B amounts to an “important nuance” or “critical context.”
We landed on Mostly True. We’re examining the accuracy of DeMaio’s voting record on two specific items that came before the council. That’s a much narrower issue than whether he supports survivor benefits for the families of slain police officers as a general concept. DeMaio has shown that he clearly supports those benefits through his public statements and his work on Prop. B. That information amounts to an important nuance to consider when examining his voting record.
Here’s the full Filner ad:
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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.
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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