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#ShowUsYourMailers: San Diego Firefighters Spread The Love In City Council Race

The San Diego firefighters union endorsed Democrat Barbara Bry in the District 1 City Council race. So why did the union also send out mailers supporting a Republican candidate in the same race?

San Diego's firefighters union recently sent mailers to voters in San Diego City Council District 1 promoting two candidates in the race: Barbara Bry and Bruce Lightner. The dual support is unusual because months before the mailers went out, the union held a news conference endorsing only one of them: Barbara Bry.

Bry, a Democrat, and her main opponent, Ray Ellis, a Republican, both did interviews and filled out questionnaires for the firefighters union's endorsement. Bruce Lightner, the husband of the district's termed-out incumbent, Sherri Lightner, said he had not done either.

The San Diego firefighters union sent this mailer to voters in City Council District 1 promoting both Barbara Bry and Bruce Lightner.

"I guess I was both surprised and pleased," Lightner said. "When you read it, they have very nice things to say about my wife and myself, so how can one complain?"

District 1 has been the focus of aggressive campaigning because it will likely decide whether Democrats keep their 5-4 majority on the City Council or whether that shifts to Republicans.

The "Republican choice"?

Bruce Lightner is a registered Republican, but does not have the support of his party. In fact, the Republican Party of San Diego County has sent out multiple mailers attacking Lightner. The party's chairman, Tony Krvaric, characterized Lightner's campaign as "'Kennedy dynasty dreams."

Ray Ellis secured the Republicans' endorsement last year, along with those of other conservative groups, including the Lincoln Club and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Despite that support for Ellis, the firefighters' mailer calls Lightner "The REPUBLICAN Choice for City Council." Another mailer from the firefighters union also thanks Bruce and Sherri Lightner and reads "Vote for Republican Bruce LIGHTNER."

"I think it's pretty obvious that (the firefighters union) would like to use that type of communication to dilute my side of the ledger and my votes," Ellis said. "They've formally endorsed Ms. Bry, so we know where their intentions are."

A mailer paid for by the San Diego firefighters union urges support for Bruce Lightner in the District 1 City Council race.

Ellis has already raised questions about the seriousness of Bruce Lightner's campaign, citing his initial copying of Ellis' website, his lack of fundraising and his absence from several community forums the other four District 1 candidates have attended.

Lightner, however, has insisted he entered the race to win, and that the firefighters support for him must go beyond mere opposition to Ellis.

"I do believe they honestly believe either Barbara or myself would be the superior choice, otherwise they wouldn't have put these mailers out," he said.

Bry said she assumed the union voiced support for Bruce Lightner because his wife had pushed for new fire stations in District 1, which includes La Jolla, University City and Carmel Valley. Asked whether the mailers weakened the union's endorsement of her, she said, "You could say that. I guess they've endorsed both of us."

The mailers contain a quote from the firefighters union president, Alan Arrollado, praising Bry and Lightner:

"We are lucky to have TWO EXCELLENT CANDIDATES running for the San Diego City Council in District 1 — one Republican and one Democrat. Just like our courageous firefighters, we know that there are often great candidates from both political parties. BARBARA BRY AND BRUCE LIGHTNER WOULD BOTH PROVIDE GREAT LEADERSHIP FOR SAN DIEGO."

Arrollado did not respond to an interview request.

Strategizing aside, there is one statement on the firefighters' mailer that is inaccurate: It states Bry "served on the Faculty at UC San Diego."

Bry taught a non-credit series of workshops for the UC San Diego von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center, open to graduate students and non-students. But she said in an interview that she never considered herself a member of the university's faculty — a term which usually connotes tenure-track professors.

Bry has the endorsement of the Democratic Party of San Diego County, The San Diego Union-Tribune and various unions and environmental groups. The firefighters union is independent from the Bry and Lightner campaigns, and the candidates are legally barred from coordinating campaign activities with the union.

If any of the five candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote on June 7, that candidate wins the election outright. If not, the top two vote getters compete in a runoff on November 8.

You can show us the mailers you receive by tweeting a picture to @KPBSnews with the hashtag #ShowUsYourMailers, or e-mail it to kpbsmailers@kpbs.org. You can also submit it through our Public Insight Network.

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