Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and state Sen. Marty Block. Photos by Times of San Diego

State Sen. Marty Block, hoping to fend off a rare challenge by a fellow Democrat, said the La Jolla Democratic Club endorsed him 23-4 partly as a response to an Atkins campaign aide trying to pay for new members loyal to the speaker.

“Part of the reason they were so overwhelming in their support was the attempt by Laura Fink to stack the club — to buy memberships,” Block told Times of San Diego in a phone interview.

“Part of it was .. they like what I stand for and they like what I’ve done. They don’t like the fact that an incumbent Democrat is being challenged. … They were really upset at Laura Fink and Toni’s staff for trying to stack the club.”

Block labeled the La Jolla club’s vote “overwhelming” and said: “They’re an influential club. For the sitting speaker to get killed like that in an endorsement battle is totally unprecedented.”

The club did not respond to requests for comment, but its December newsletter noted that both candidates addressed the club at its November meeting and the club “voted 85 percent to endorse Senator Block” in the 39th Senate District.

Fink, the campaign spokeswoman, responded with a statement:

“Toni has seen a groundswell of support since announcing her campaign, including endorsements from many of San Diego’s most respected leaders – from San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore to San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria to the three previous Senators to hold the seat: Chris Kehoe, Dede Alpert and Lucy Killea – to name just a few.”

Fink continued: “The only thing stronger than Toni’s support among local leaders is her grassroots support – which drew more than 200 people to her campaign kickoff … nearly a year before the election. She has attended every campaign forum that has taken place so far and looks forward to continuing to talk to the community about the issues that are important to them.”

The Uptown Democratic Club also endorsed Block, which helps him build support toward a pre-primary endorsement vote by the California Democratic Party. Under its bylaws, he needs only majority support to win its endorsement — and financial backing.

As a nonincumbent, Atkins would need 60 percent of the state party vote to gain its endorsement.

Block said he also recently secured support from the California School Employees Association after endorsements from the Teamsters and California Federation of Teachers.

Fink shared a list of 22 endorsements, mainly from office-holders, and these group supporters: Run Women Run
, San Diego Democrats for Equality, Equality California, San Diego Municipal Employees Association, California Association Of Psychiatric Technicians and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 36.

A week ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled La Mesa debate, Block said the Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club is trying to schedule a debate for mid-March.

“But they’re having a hard time getting Toni to agree to appear,” he said. “I’ll either appear alone or with Toni, with whatever rules they want.”

Block acknowledged it’s early for debates. In fact, Monday was the first day for challengers to get nomination papers that allow them to save a $1,001 filing fee if they secure 3,000 signatures.

Fink said Atkins would pull papers this week.

The first day to formally file for the 39th District Senate race is Feb. 16, said Cynthia Paes, the assistant county registrar of voters. The deadline to file for the June 7 primary is March 11.

“Right now, nobody has filed to run against me,” Block said on a day he was making fund-raising calls and consulting other senators on campaign strategy.

“Toni has said she will file. Filing doesn’t open until mid-February,” he said. “A lot of times, people will wait till filing is done. Who knows? There could be four more candidates or no candidates. And talk is cheap.”

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