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Campaign notebook: Attack ad dust-up leads to lawsuit threat

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The San Diego Police Officers Association released an attack ad against City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s mayoral campaign alleging the anti-union legislator voted against providing survivor benefits to the widows of slain police officers.

Later that day, an attorney retained by DeMaio sent a letter to the SDPOA and at least one area television station declaring that they viewed the ad as libelous.

The letter, delivered by the law office of Ryan Darby, takes exception with the line in the ad that states “Carl DeMaio voted against health care benefits for widows and children of fallen officers,” and the subsequent claim that DeMaio put a cheap political stunt ahead of the welfare of killed officers’ surviving family.

“Again, this ‘political stunt’ never occurred, so the claim that it jeopardized anyone’s welfare is categorically untrue and slanderous,” the attorney's letter reads.

It also says the ad doesn’t cite any of its claims.

“Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you immediately pull this advertisement. Alternatively, we will require documentation verifying the claims contained herein (which, again, we know do not exist). Otherwise, Mr. DeMaio will name you in a civil lawsuit,” the letter concludes.

The disagreement is over an item the San Diego City Council voted on last June that amended the city’s retirement system and health benefits. The amendment was said to save $714 million over 25 years, beginning with $3.45 million in 2015.

It was passed 6-2, with DeMaio and Lorie Zapf voting nay.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, during debate of the item, asked a representative from the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System if the amendment specifically referred to the dependents of officers killed in the line of duty. The SDCERS official confirmed that it did.

No one on the council besides Emerald spoke during the discussion period of the item.

DeMaio’s campaign has said the specific item affecting surviving families of killed police officers was a small piece, roughly $10,000 per family, in a memorandum of understanding of more than $1 billion.

He opposed the agreement because he wanted it to produce more savings, but says he would have voted in favor of the provision relating to officers’ families if it were a stand-alone item.

DeMaio’s campaign calls the ad not only misleading, but an outright lie, because of its claim that his vote was to “deny” benefits to victims’ families. Those families already have benefits, and the provision in question would have only expanded them, according to the campaign.

He released a statement in response to the ad.

“As someone who lost my parents as a child, I believe we have a moral obligation to the families of our men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line,” the statement reads. “I never voted for any cuts to survivor benefits, and specifically included a mandate for those benefits in Prop. B because these families deserve the assurance that we will always be there to support them."

Last-minute endorsements roll in

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher secured the highest profile endorsement of the campaign on the Thursday before the election, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg saying Fletcher has the mindset to solve problems and avoid partisan squabbling.

Fletcher also secured a not-quite endorsement from Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democratic governor, who worked with Fletcher on a compromise to close a $1 billion tax loophole on out-of-state companies, said Fletcher “stood out from the pack” for being willing to cross the aisle to find workable solutions.

But that wasn’t the only endorsement delivered in the last week of the election.

DeMaio announced the support of two coalitions representing the identity of his campaign: pension reformers, and small business owners.

At a Thursday press conference, a group of small business owners signed off on his jobs plan, part of the Roadmap to Recovery document that’s served as the outline of his platform.

Friday, a group of pension-reform advocates announced its support of his mayoral candidacy. The group included a former official within the Social Security Administration and two former officials with the San Diego City Pension Board, the president of the California Foundation of Fiscal Responsibility and the editor of a pension reform-oriented website.

DeMaio led the signature drive to put Proposition B on the ballot. The ballot measure would give most new city hires 401(k)-style retirement plans and freeze pensionable pay for six years.

District Attorney and mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis had already received the support of former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk, but the Democrat reiterated her support before the election with a message on Dumanis’ behalf.

She said Dumanis understood that the mayor’s office was nonpartisan, and wouldn’t use it as a stepping stone for higher office.

Schenk is a female-rights advocate and a founder of the Lawyers Club, an organization -- which Dumanis is a past president of -- that was created to expand female employment.

She called Dumanis a champion of women, LGBT rights, and education.

“So, unlike the other candidates, who may be sincere about (their) positions at this political moment, Bonnie has demonstrated during 30 years of dedicated work in the face of much opposition, her commitment to women's reproductive rights, access to jobs, health care and housing -- in other words, women's basic dignity,” Schenk’s statement reads.

Days from mayoral election, Filner wades into presidential race

Four days before the mayoral primary, Congressman Bob Filner, the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, held a conference call to question former Massachusetts Gov. and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s history on veterans’ issues.

The call was put together by the Truman Project and also included Yadira Carrasquillo, an Iraq War veteran and political advocate from San Diego.

Filner said Romney failed veterans as governor and wants to take the same policies to Washington.

“As governor he proposed eliminating hiring preferences for veterans and tried to cut veterans’ programs by 11 percent in his first budget proposal,” Filner said. “And, just last year, Gov. Romney proposed turning the VA health care system into a voucher program.”

He then praised President Barack Obama’s track record on veteran issues.

Earlier in the week, an ad paid for by DeMaio’s mayoral campaign featured a clip of the president thanking Filner for his leadership on a bill expanding benefits for veterans and their families while referring to the 20-year congressman as an “Obama Democrat.”

At a later mayoral debate, Filner joked that he welcomed the association.

“I plead guilty, Carl,” he said. “And, you know, when the president gets re-elected and I’m elected mayor, San Diego will have a good friend in the White House.”

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