Just a couple of years since San Diego’s most powerful labor leader, Mickey Kasparian, went all in for David Alvarez in a special San Diego mayoral race, Alvarez and Kasparian find themselves on opposite sides of a surprising battle for influence over the local Democratic Party.
Alvarez and Kasparian are running competing slates of candidates to take the six spots representing the 80th Assembly District on the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee.
And Alvarez has enlisted an interesting ally: Former Port Commissioner David Malcolm, who is now the chairman of the Lincoln Club’s Political Affairs Committee, invested $10,000 in the effort — through his company, Suncoast Financial Mortgage — to help Alvarez’s preferred candidates win their spots. Other donors have put another $11,000 into the Alvarez Central Committee campaign.
Here are a couple of the mailers the money helped buy.
Alvarez is himself a Central Committee candidate. He said he just wants the seat, and he’s supporting the candidates he wants to support. He says that there are 18 candidates and he called Malcolm and asked for donations because it’s a low-profile race and he needs help to stand out. Alvarez appears to be pushing two preferred slates:
The Central Committee has grown in importance. It is a collection of six elected representatives from every Assembly district in San Diego. State legislators also get automatic seats. But elected leaders in the city of San Diego, for instance, do not have guaranteed seats on the body. And that’s why Alvarez has to run for the seat himself.
The committee’s decisions on who it endorses can open the door for major spending on behalf of those candidates. For example, the Central Committee decided to endorse Ed Harris for mayor, Barbara Bry in San Diego’s City Council District 1 and Chris Ward in District 3. And those candidates, in tough races, were featured in a recent mailer to registered members of the party sent by the party itself.
On the other hand, the Central Committee declined to pick a preference in the city attorney race and no candidate was featured on the mailer. It’s these sorts of decisions that Alvarez and Kasparian are fighting to influence.
I asked Malcolm why he would spend so much on a race to shape the Democratic Party.
He said it was simple.
“I like David Alvarez,” Malcolm said. “I don’t like the other side. So I felt bad for him. I don’t know who else is going to come to his rescue. When I have friends on the limb, I’m going to go help them off that limb.”
There has long been a striking political chasm between Democrats in the South Bay. Two networks of elected officials and party activists have constantly vied for power. Alvarez won the district and the Council seat when he beat Felipe Hueso, the brother of state Sen. Ben Hueso in 2010.
Lorena Gonzalez, who was at that time the head of the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, supported Hueso. And now, the slate of candidates running for the Democratic Central Committee that Kasparian supports include people who have worked for Gonzalez. Here’s the slate she and Kasparian support:
Alvarez’s slate includes several people who have worked for him, including his preferred successor for the City Council seat, Vivian Moreno. For Alvarez, it appears to be a strategic long-term move to perhaps help Moreno or his own chances should he seek elected office again after he is termed out in 2018.
Kasparian is taking it as a betrayal.
“I’m very disappointed, quite frankly, that he’s showing a general lack of loyalty to the people who stood by him and supported him — walked precincts, made phone calls and spent a lot of free time trying to get him elected mayor,” Kasparian said.
Alvarez said he’s not even sure who Kasparian’s preferred candidates are and declined to respond to the labor leader’s criticism. It’s hard not to dwell, however, on the dramatic falling out between the two. When Alvarez raised his hand to run for mayor in 2013 even though former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, then a newly converted Democrat, had already jumped in the race, Kasparian rushed to support him. Kasparian and the labor leaders he worked with marshaled $4 million for Alvarez and accused Gonzalez of betraying him with her support for Fletcher.
Kasparian said he called Alvarez to ask why he was getting involved in the Central Committee race. Alvarez, he said, would only reply that he had to protect his interests. “Our slate is about workers and the progressive movement. His slate is about Team Alvarez,” Kasparian said. He said he was shocked Alvarez would take money from Malcolm, whom he called a Republican.
Malcolm said he left the party years ago, or actually, “The party left me. I believe in limited government and the party decided to let government come into my bedroom.”
His company is developing projects in La Mesa and Imperial Beach. He said he thinks it’s the business community’s responsibility to support people like Alvarez when they show independence from organized labor.
“I think I’m in the [Councilman] Scott Sherman camp, who says: ‘Alvarez has always been honest. He’s always been upfront and he is a lot smarter than he gets credit for,’” Malcolm said.
Correction: Malcolm is the chairman of the Lincoln Club’s Political Affairs Committee. The Lincoln Club itself is a political action committee with its own chair. It has within it several committees, including the one Malcolm runs.