The race for District 4 County Supervisor is heating up. And not necessarily in a good way.
Four Democratic candidates are seeking the seat: attorney Omar Passons, former Deputy Fire Chief Ken Malbrough, along with former Assemblypersons Lori Saldaña and Nathan Fletcher. Former DA Bonnie Dumanis is the sole Republican on the June 5 primary ballot.
Saldaña and Fletcher are the ones making the news this week, with stories in the Union-Tribune and the Times of San Diego. You’d need a scorecard to keep track of the charges and counter-charges between two camps. While I’m not going to detail every move and countermove, I will give readers a taste of what’s been happening.
In a nutshell, last week candidate Lori Saldaña was endorsed by a breakaway labor group scorned by many progressive activists. This news has triggered a war of words.
The upheaval has little to do with platform promises or past voting records; it’s about temperament. Although Saldaña touts her truly progressive tenure in the Assembly, she has burned more than a few bridges along the way.
While she has plenty of loyalists willing to argue for her candidacy on social media, her campaign –according to the report issued at the end of January — had the least amount of money of anybody running for the office. Saldaña obviously needs a well-heeled backer. She needed this endorsement.
Fletcher, on the other hand, has endorsements spanning the social and political groupings throughout the Democratic Party. And he’s raised the most money by far. He didn’t need an endorsement from this group.
He has come a long way in the past six years, actively campaigning for and supporting just about every progressive cause I can think of. His marriage to one of the rising stars in the Democratic party, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, hasn’t hurt his credibility, either. When it comes to responding to attacks on her husband’s campaign, Mrs. Gonzalez-Fletcher has mighty sharp elbows.
Fletcher is–gasp!–a former Republican. And to hear Saldaña tell it, this is an unforgivable sin. In fact, his voting record in the Assembly from a decade ago dominates her campaign.
Saldaña wears the mantle of Progressive Outsider Democrat. Fletcher has the enthusiasm of a Convert to the Cause. There is no chasm in terms of policies each candidate would actually advocate as the sole Democrat on the five-person Board of Supervisors.
Now, a little bit of background about the controversial endorsement at the heart of this matter.
Mickey Kasparian, President of United Foodservice and Commercial Workers Local 135, established the Working Families Council (WFC) with a few other unions in 2017, just as observers from the national AFL-CIO reached the conclusion he ought to be booted from his leadership role in the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.
Depending on whose version of the breakup you listen to, it was either ‘you’re fired’or ‘I quit.’
As President of the Council, Kasparian was attracting unwelcome attention as ex-employees of the UFCW went public with assertions of sexual harassment or retaliation for standing up to him. Other unions on the council were also chafing at his ‘my way or the highway’ leadership style.
Kasparian’s recently settled up with the women who filed legal claims. The deals all include non-disclosure agreements, so what’s left on the public record are the labor leader’s denials.
What’s left on the political ledger in San Diego are hard feelings from supporters of Las Tres Hermanas, the nom de guerre adopted by the women. They hounded Kasparian in public appearances and on social media over the past 15 months. They’re still at it, having just announced plans to picket the upcoming UFCW convention in Las Vegas.
The County Democratic Party moved its meetings to another location just to get away from those pesky picket lines. And the intrigue inside the party over Kasparian’s (very important financial) relationship with the organization won’t make anybody proud, when and if it comes to light.
This has been real uncomfortable for a lot of folks. For some, it was about #MeToo. For others, it was a matter of loyalty to a leader who they saw as a progressive visionary. Allies have become enemies and vitriol spewing forth on social media continues to this day.
Just 14 months ago Lori Saldaña was a signatory to a letter with 45 other progressives responding to claims of sexual harassment and calling on the Mickey Kasparian to be suspended pending an investigation. Later she Tweeted, “I have no plans ‘to accept a contribution, an endorsement or other types of campaign support from UFCW 135 or the Working Families Council while Mickey Kasparian is president.’”
Last week the WFC endorsements were published.
Candidate Nathan Fletcher’s campaign issued a press release reflecting much of the reaction to the endorsement on social media:
In a stunning display of shameless political opportunism, Lori Saldaña has taken the political support of Mickey Kasparian, an accused sexual harasser who just months ago she demanded step down from office in response to allegations of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and workplace abuses.
The optics of her response to criticism arising out of this endorsement are not good.
Saldaña told the UT on Friday her January tweet about not accepting support from the Working Families Council was written when “she did not believe that the council would be offering endorsements.”
“I said, literally in a tweet, that I had no plans…I had no plans to ask for it because they had no plans to offer,” she said.
She said she was concerned about the allegations against Kasparian and has not changed her position…
…Saldaña would not say on Friday whether she believed the women who accused Kasparian of misconduct and then settled their complaints.
Then she got into a squabble with UT reporter Joshua Stewart, demanding to know why he didn’t quote anybody from WFC in his article. The short answer: they didn’t respond to his request.
Then she started posting the old stories about Carl DeMaio’s accuser being busted for making false statements, the implication being that somehow Kasparian’s accusers could be lying.
Criticism of her affiliation with Kasparian and the WFC on social was brutal:
I took campaign contributions from a strip club, so it’s hard for me to claim the moral authority in San Diego, but I do finally have it over one person- Lori Saldana! What are you thinking- are you that desperate? Have you no compass? You’ve become an enabler- you are shameful! https://t.co/BCW61YakVK
— Ralph Inzunza (@RalphInzunza) March 16, 2018
The Times of San Diego posted an article (and then corrected it) making the claim that Nathan Fletcher sought Mickey Kasparian’s support in late 2017.
Josh Kellems of the Fletcher campaign said the Working Families Council invited Fletcher to interview for the endorsement, “but [the campaign] never received a copy of the questionnaire or a detailed explanation of their process.”
The Fletcher spokesman said: “We were told if Nathan made a personal apology to Kasparian and issued a statement exonerating him, we could earn the endorsement. Nathan refused to abandon survivors of harassment and side with their abuser. Clearly, Lori Saldaña agreed.”
Hearing that, Kasparian said: “If you really wanted to come in for an endorsement, wouldn’t you request a questionnaire? If they’re going to start splitting hairs. … Oh, wouldn’t you make a phone call?”
The AFL-CIO affiliated Labor Council has made it clear for months now that their endorsed candidates should not seek the Working Family Council’s blessing.
Some hinky stuff about the WFC’s list of endorsements makes me question the credibility of that organization. I have heard through a third party from two ‘endorsed’ candidates for the County Board of Education (more on this in another story to come) who say they never sought the endorsement or filled out a questionnaire.
And the press release announcing the WFC endorsement of Saldaña included the Service Employees International Union local that represents many of the 10,000 county employees.
Local 221 was one of the first organizations to endorse Nathan Fletcher (July 2017) and recently announced it was leaving Kasparian’s group.
The WFC leader told the Times of San Diego –while he was aware of Voice of San Diego’s reporting on the departure–he was unaware of SEIU’s departure. I’m guessing maybe SEIU President David Gracia’s conversation with Kasparian’s political director Kelly Bankhead went unreported. Or maybe he missed the announcement on social media.
So, yeah, in case you haven’t guessed, I’m taking a side here. I find her acceptance of this endorsement unacceptable. I invite you to do a little time traveling with me to understand why.
Let’s start with an imaginary visit to June 6th, the day after the primary election. Let’s say that one of the three Democrats other than Saldaña gets enough votes to make it to the November ballot.
If the other Democrat happens to be Nathan Fletcher, candidate Saldaña all-but-promised at the Democrats for Equality forum to take her marbles and go home.
The local party has –true fact– greased the wheels for him, and that’s not fair. Or you could say he’s learned to play the insider’s game very well.
The forces backing Fletcher have not been shy about pushing his candidacy, and there are people other than Saldaña who are unhappy about the processes involved, both with the Democratic Party and the Labor Council. But I’m fairly certain they won’t sit out campaigning in the general election.
It’s one thing to wish the vetting processes of the Democratic party were more transparent; it’s another to give aid and comfort to the people who ultimately–despite posturing–support the Trump agenda.
Now, let’s go to early in 2017.
Saldaña has told folks I know she laid the groundwork for her campaign by cozying up with people who should be political enemies: those associated with the Lincoln Club. They had some push-polling showing she’d be a stronger candidate come November once the dirt in their possession got thrown at Nathan Fletcher.
These are the same people who funded mailers implying councilman and mayoral candidate David Alvarez was a Barrio Don Corleone. The Lincoln Club knows how to do these things, especially when it comes to divide and conquer.
Then there was Saldaña’s tet-a-tet with then-DA and now Republican Supervisor candidate Bonnie Dumanis. And the former DA’s campaign consultant Jason Roe has been heard singing the praises of his client’s opponent.
It turns out that Mickey Kasparian also has a relationship with these folks.
At one point a few years back Kasparian was doing his best to claim the mantle of kingmaker in San Diego politics. I remember Richard Barrera telling the Point Loma Democratic Club of a million dollar pledge back when Kasparian headed the legit labor council to boost voter registration and get out the vote efforts.
Nathan Fletcher’s unsuccessful run for mayor in the wake of Bob Filner’s demise represented a challenge to Kasparian, who supported City Councilman David Alvarez. (As did I, for the record.)
Local Republicans didn’t like Fletcher, in large part because he’d abandoned their party, and because he had –from a name recognition standpoint– a better shot at beating their man, Kevin Faulconer.
I believe this was the point where Kasparian started making deals with the devil. That’s a slippery slope, and it wasn’t long before other deals got made with the GOP. The ascension of Myrtle Cole to City Council President was one of those deals. And I’m guessing the some the city’s trade unions got the short end of the stick on at least one deal beneficial to the UFCW.
So, while a surge of progressive activism came in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, San Diego’s union movement had a serious fracture on its hands.
The 2018 elections represent an opportunity for the Working People’s Council to make its mark on local politics. The key contest, from the point of view of labor, is for termed-out Ron Roberts’ seat.
Term limits (something Kasparian helped orchestrate) for the Board of Supervisors have negated the advantages of incumbency. It’s entirely possible Democrats–who haven’t been players at this level for decades–may end up with a majority in the next few years.
County elections at this point (unlike City & State races) can be decided on June 5 if any candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
The consequence of negative campaigning is to drive down voter turnout. Lower voter turnout in the primary election favors the status quo.
In the District 4 Supervisor race, the status quo is represented by Republican Bonnie Dumanis. And that’s apparently fine with the Working Families Council; as the GOP candidate was the only other one considered…
By a labor group. In 2018. Think about it.
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