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District 3 City Council candidate Anthony Bernal has something rare for a Democrat: a slew of support from developers and businesses – and even an endorsement from Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Their support is even more surprising given that Bernal and the other top contender in the race, Chris Ward, hold strikingly similar policy positions on most issues.

But there is one significant policy difference that might help explain why the business community supports Bernal: He disagrees with the state decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Bernal supported the city’s attempt to raise the minimum wage but his spokesman said he was concerned about the larger increase’s impact on small businesses.

“With District Three having a significant small business base, he’s concerned that they won’t be able to absorb that added cost of doing business,” wrote Nick Serrano, Bernal’s campaign spokesman, in an email.

Ward supports both the state minimum wage hike and the proposed local hike.

The establishment interests backing Bernal say their decisions come down the fact that, as a staffer in current District 3 Councilman Todd Gloria’s office, Bernal has been the guy at the city working with them.

“Anthony has been working with us over the years and that means something,” said Matthew Adams of the Building Industry Association, a developer group that launched a committee to support Bernal earlier this month.

Adams said his group is particularly impressed with Bernal’s command of development hurdles and has appreciated his directness during policymaking debates like the one over the affordable housing fee a few years ago.

“He hasn’t always told me what I wanted to hear but he’s always told me what I needed to hear,” Adams said.

Chris Duggan, the director of local government affairs for the powerful California Restaurant Association, said Bernal was a key player on a city ordinance that paved the way for more sidewalk cafes and has made it clear to restaurant owners that he understands concerns about coming statewide minimum wage hikes.

“It goes back to Anthony has worked in the district seven years now,” Duggan said. “He’s been on the ground with our restaurants.”

Faulconer made an almost identical point at his recent press conference with Bernal.

“Anthony has unrivaled experience working right here at City Hall and delivering results for District 3,” Faulconer said. “I have known Anthony for a number of years and I have seen firsthand the effort that he puts in, the work that he does with community members and the work that he does with all of the City Council members.”Both Bernal and Ward, who serves as chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Block, have billed themselves as best suited for the Council seat given the work they’re already doing to serve constituents.

But some prominent Democrats have criticized Bernal for endorsements and donations from business groups and conservatives, particularly from hotel magnate and Prop. 8 supporter Doug Manchester. (Manchester helped bankroll the campaign to help ban gay marriage; Bernal says he does not agree with Manchester’s marriage position.)

Former local Democratic Party chair Jess Durfee, a longtime District 3 resident, said Bernal’s acceptance of those supporters raise questions about whether he’s in touch with the values of a district that’s long been a Democratic stronghold.

He also questioned what those who’ve endorsed Bernal might expect if he’s elected.

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know that organizations such as those or individuals such as Doug Manchester do not support someone without a reasonable expectation that they will deliver for them on certain issues,” Durfee said.

Bernal has repeatedly rejected that argument, including as he stood beside Faulconer as the mayor endorsed him. He’s said endorsements don’t mean he’ll align with backers like Faulconer on every issue.

“We can agree to disagree,” Bernal said at the press conference this month.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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