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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Fletcher’s Mayoral Candidacy Creates Crack Among San Diego Progressives

Nathan Fletcher’s candidacy as a Democrat in the special election to replace disgraced former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has created a division among progressives.

Special Feature Special Election

When she served as political director of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, Lorena Gonzalez expected candidates seeking the powerful group’s endorsement to earn it.

“What she accomplished more than any other thing was holding candidates accountable for their votes,” said Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. “Lorena thought if we were ever going to become a political power, we would have to hold candidates more accountable, particularly Democrats. We haven’t endorsed candidates who have given us poor votes.”

Poor votes are why Gonzalez urged labor not to endorse Democrats Todd Gloria and Sherri Lightner in their re-election bids to the San Diego City Council last year, according to Kasparian. Gonzalez argued Gloria’s 60 percent and Lightner’s 54 percent voting records for workers fell short of what labor should expect of those it supports, Kasparian said.

When Nathan Fletcher ran for mayor last year – first as a Republican, then an Independent — he came out against project labor agreements and argued in favor of pension reform and managed competition.

So why in this month’s special mayoral election to replace Bob Filner, has Gonzalez propped up Fletcher, who voted with labor just 18 percent of the time during his two state assembly terms?

Even Republican candidate Councilman Kevin Faulconer received a higher rating — 31 percent — from the labor council than Fletcher. Kasparian said he’s bewildered most by why Gonzalez didn’t instead get behind Democratic mayoral candidate and Councilman David Alvarez who voted with labor 81 percent of the time.

“I cannot give you any business reason in the world why she would endorse Nathan Fletcher,” Kasparian said. “Now, I know she’s always liked Nathan, even when he was a Republican and he was in the Assembly. But it is totally against the standards that she built in San Diego.”

Gonzalez declined comment for this piece. But in an interview with inewsource last month, she conceded Fletcher hasn’t always stood with workers.

“He’s never going to be me,” Gonzalez said. “He’s never going to be a former labor leader, nor should he be. But he’s going to be good on the issues that matter to working folks and I think that’s good for the entire city.”

Gonzalez also pointed out that Fletcher’s mayoral rival, Alvarez, didn’t get labor’s support when he ran for the city council in 2010. She said Alvarez was no lover of labor and that he had called unions a special interest.

And she painted a different picture from Kasparian on why she champions certain candidates for office. It’s not solely based on their platform.

“There’s more than just having the progressive values,” Gonzalez said. “It’s about getting things done. It’s about the ability to get elected and then to bring people together to achieve goals.”

Gonzalez herself has received high marks for speedy progress on her legislative agenda. Since taking office in late May, she’s already authored two bills that are now law. One deals with awarding law licenses to immigrants who pass the state bar exam. Another offers consumer protections to undocumented immigrants. State Senator Ben Hueso said that’s no small feat for a freshman assemblywoman.

“She came in and made an immediate impact,” Hueso said. “As a new person with a very short tenure, she’s earned the admiration of her colleagues.”

If Hueso predicts a thriving political career for Gonzalez, she herself believes the same for Fletcher.

“I saw in him somebody who wasn’t going to go away, somebody who was going to be a rising star,” Gonzalez said. “He had the right charisma and background. He went to war and has done incredible things and I thought he could become a very good Democrat.”

Some of San Diego’s other prominent unions share Gonzalez’s hopes.

Unions for firefighters, police officers and the city’s workers have endorsed Fletcher. Municipal Employees Association General Manager Michael Zucchet said his members liked Fletcher last year when he ran for mayor as an Independent but endorsed Bob Filner, who opposed pension reform unlike Fletcher. Political pragmatism, he said, drove the MEA to back Fletcher this year.

“We were in a position where we were going to have a very short election cycle.” Zucchet said, “At the time we endorsed him, Carl DeMaio was still saying he was likely running for mayor. We just thought Nathan was going to hit the ground running, be a very strong candidate and be a good mayor if elected. We endorsed him early and enthusiastically.”

Zucchet said Fletcher’s position on sending city jobs for bid to private contractors is more “focused” than in 2012. Fletcher believes outsourcing certain city services is worth consideration. But he does not think it’s the panacea for government inefficiency.

“We think he’s got the right approach on managed competition,” Zucchet said.

Fletcher also has said he now favors project labor agreements.

The choice between putting faith in Fletcher’s current campaign promises or relying on his record and positions as a Republican assemblyman has also divided local Democrats.

The San Diego County Democratic Party endorsed Alvarez against the recommendations of not just Gonzalez but Congressmen Juan Vargas and Scott Peters, who also lobbied for Fletcher.

Despite the big-name boosts, the Central Committee couldn’t be swayed.

“We really don’t know Nathan, so there was no way we could endorse him,” said Democratic Central Committee member, Lori Kern.

She said there has been a lot of hurt feelings over the issue and most of it has centered around Lorena Gonzalez.

“It’s been kind of ugly that way,” Kern said. “I think there’s been a split in the Democratic party and definitely with labor. Lorena was such a champion and now she’s forgotten us.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Mickey Kasparian's name throughout.

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