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Move follows poll showing Filner extending lead

Setting aside issues, Sanders endorses DeMaio

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Cats and dogs are taking up residence in San Diego.

Mayor Jerry Sanders endorsed Councilman Carl DeMaio on Tuesday as his successor over Rep. Bob Filner.

The endorsement follows four years of Sanders and DeMaio feuding over city policy, and coincides with the release of a public 10News/SurveyUSA poll that found Filner had opened a 12-point lead in the race.

Sanders, who endorsed District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in the primary and on Election Day called Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher his second choice, said he couldn’t in good conscience withhold an endorsement in the general election.

“I think the easiest thing for me to do would have been to stay out of this race,” he said. “But I have spent 33 years in city employment, 26 with the police department and seven with the mayor’s office, and I love this city too much to just sit it out because it would be the easiest thing for me.”

He said DeMaio was the only candidate in the race who is committed to pension reform, understands how to work with the region’s private industry and has detailed knowledge of the city.

“I saw how they prepared themselves for the complicated challenges of leading a large city, and in my mind it’s not even close,” he said.

Filner quickly responded to the news by touting his position in the SurveyUSA poll.

“It’s unfortunate Jerry Sanders was put in the position of endorsing a person for whom he clearly has so little respect,” Filner said in a release. “It shows how much pressure he has been under from special interest supporters in the Republican Party and in the construction industry.”

Over the last four years, DeMaio has led the effort to defeat Proposition D, a half-cent sales tax increase Sanders favored to balance the city’s budget. DeMaio also voted against the city retiree health care savings compromise Sanders negotiated, and has voted against every budget the mayor has put forward because he said they didn’t save enough money and relied on accounting tricks.

The two did, however, work together on pension reform, first to collect signatures to put Proposition B on the ballot and then to build support for the initiative, which eventually won overwhelming voter approval.

Their disagreements came to a head in late May after Sanders released his final budget, which he says closed the city’s structural budget deficit. DeMaio said the deficit wasn’t closed, and took credit for much of the savings that had closed the gap between expenditures and revenues.

“He probably takes credit for my weight loss, he takes credit for the weeds I pulled in my back yard last week. It’s all bullshit,” Sanders said at the time. “[DeMaio] never voted for a budget, didn’t vote for retiree health care savings, he never voted for any of those things because it might have muddied up his political calculations for mayor.”

After Sanders released his budget, DeMaio held his own press conference claiming the city was operating with a $50 million annual deficit, and said diminished service levels meant the city had a “true deficit” of $433 million.

“Unfortunately, some things don’t change,” DeMaio said. “Today brings yet another budget proposal that leaders claim is balanced. Well, it’s not."

As he had for all of Sanders’ previous proposals, DeMaio went on to vote against each piece of the budget.

Initially, DeMaio wouldn’t provide a yes-or-no answer to whether he still believed the mayor’s budgets were illegitimate.

“I think his budgets have provided a firm foundation for us to finish the job of fiscal reform,” he said.

He later seemed to suggest that he accepted Sanders’ belief that the structural deficits have been closed, though he also said he had no regrets over voting against them.

“You can have a balanced budget that doesn’t reflect the services we’d like to see,” he said.

In accepting the endorsement, however, DeMaio delivered a positive reading on Sanders’ legacy, one that in many ways echoed recent remarks by the mayor’s director of communications.

“He has been a remarkable mayor for the city of San Diego, and I absolutely believe he will go down in the history books as one of our best mayors,” DeMaio said. “Mayor Sanders took over during one of the most troubled times in our city’s history, and as our good friend [Dumanis] put it … he ran into a burning building, with one arm tied behind his back, and for the past seven years he’s put out fires. He’s helped put us back on the path of fiscal recovery, and economic prosperity.”

In a profile interview last month, Sanders’ director of communications, Darren Pudgil, said it was important to him that Sanders was remembered as one of city’s greatest mayors.

“I want to make sure that he is remembered fairly and accurately,” Pudgil said. “I truly believe he’ll be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, mayors San Diego’s ever had. … The mayor came in during the city’s darkest hour and rescued the city. San Diego was dying before he came in.”

The poll released Tuesday, sponsored by 10News and conducted by SurveyUSA, which was criticized by Sanders for using automated surveying methods, found Filner taking 50 percent of the vote compared to DeMaio’s 38 percent if the election were held on Sept. 25. Twelve percent of voters remain undecided.

Filner’s support increased 3 points while DeMaio’s fell by the same amount since the firm last polled the race one month ago.

DeMaio dismissed the notion that the endorsement was driven by the poll, saying his campaign had internal polling showing a tied race.

Sanders, likewise, dismissed the idea that he had buckled to political pressure by saying he’d been at odds with the local GOP over his seven years in office, most notably over his support for gay marriage and his move to increase sales taxes with Proposition D.

Sanders’ endorsement came one day after Filner collected one from his own longtime local political rival.

State Sen. Juan Vargas, the presumptive successor to Filner’s seat representing the 51st Congressional District, on Monday said he and Filner put past disagreements aside to do what was in the city’s best interests.

Vargas called the endorsement an invevitable decision brought on by the importance of the election.

“[Filner] is a big person,” he said, “His is a big tent. The choice is no choice at all.”

“If Juan and I can work together, anyone can work together,” Filner said.

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