Updated at 2:50 p.m., Saturday, March 17
Nathan Fletcher last year sought the backing of Mickey Kasparian’s new San Diego Working Families Council, the labor leader said Friday, but the Fletcher campaign said it rejected that endorsement before getting a rival union group’s backing instead.
This week Lori Saldaña — one of Fletcher’s Democratic rivals for the District 4 seat on the county Board of Supervisors — got the nod of the Kasparian-led coalition of six labor unions.
She was immediately hammered by Fletcher and allies, who sought to capitalize on Kasparian’s degraded reputation. Social media sniping followed.
Kasparian was accused of sexual misconduct or political retaliation in four lawsuits last year. He denied the allegations, and all cases were settled out of court.
“No one in this race has spoken out more strongly against Kasparian and the allegations of sexual harassment against him than Nathan Fletcher,” said a spokesman for the Fletcher campaign. “Once the full magnitude of the sexual abuse claims against Kasparian came to light, Nathan made clear he would not seek Kasparian’s endorsement — and he kept his word. Lori Saldaña on the other hand abandoned survivors of sexual harassment and is standing with their abuser in a desperate attempt to raise more money for her campaign.”
The Fletcher campaign said it had reached out to Kasparian before all of the accusations against Kasparian became public and accused the Saldaña campaign of “shameless political opportunism.”
In February 2017, Saldaña signed a letter calling for an investigation of the UFCW Local 135 president (and his being put on leave). He was also leader of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council at the time.
Brent Beltrán, who led a long series of anti-Kasparian protests on behalf of the accusers, said the attacks on Saldaña were justified.
“She chose to forgo any principles and integrity and sought out Kasparian’s endorsement,” Beltran said via email Friday. “It’s a shameful display of political opportunism on her part.”
Brigette Browning, president of San Diego’s Hotel Workers’ Union, said in a Fletcher campaign statement, “What kind of person would call for a sexual harasser to resign and then turn around and ask him for money for her campaign?”
And Fletcher’s wife, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, posted a black-and-white graphic depicting supposed “flip-flops” by Saldaña.
Saldaña, for her part, boasted the labor support shown by the Working Families Council endorsement — six unions with 60,000 members.
In a news release Friday morning, Saldaña said: “Dale Kelly Bankhead, Working Families Council Secretary-Treasurer and CEO, said, ‘SDWFC endorses candidates who have demonstrated that the interests of working families are a top priority for them. And, ‘That is certainly the case for Lori Saldaña, who, unlike any of her competitors, has a solid record of voting to support working people. And as someone who stood up to the NRA, we know Lori has the courage of her convictions.’”
Michael Kreizenbeck, Saldana’s campaign manager, scoffed at Fletcher’s contentions, calling it a “Hail Mary pass from a campaign that’s in real trouble.”
Kreizenbeck said Fletcher has a “really lousy labor record” and has been holding focus groups “to try to figure out a way” to win.
“And when they tested, Lori beat all of them in the focus group,” he said.
Citing a report from a member of a Democratic focus group, Kreizenbeck said its members were eventually told that Fletcher once was a Republican legislator.
“The reaction in the room was: ‘Why are we here? We’re not going to vote for a Republican,’” he said.
Kreizenbeck contends the story should be how Fletcher, who was endorsed by the Labor Council, has a “0 percent record on labor.”
The spokesman said the Labor Council “shut out the Latina. They shut out the two African-American men (Omar Passons and Ken Malbrough). It’s really appalling. THAT is an issue. THIS is desperation.”
In a phone interview Friday, Kasparian explained the endorsement process — stressing that he had only one vote.
The steps include a questionnaire sent to interested candidates and an interview. A two-thirds vote of the council is needed for an endorsement, he said, followed by another two-thirds vote of the Working Families Council executive board.
Kasparian said Fletcher in 2017 reached out to him three times and came to his office, “including the last time just before Thanksgiving to say how important our endorsement was to him.”
“In fact, he told me that he had been getting bullied by people in the other part of labor — and he didn’t care, because he told them that he wanted our endorsement because it was an important endorsement to him,” Kasparian said.
This year, Fletcher didn’t seek the Working Families Council endorsement, Kasparian said, but was given a shot at it.
Kasparian said the local Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Fletcher, asked the Working Families Council to hold off on a pick.
So instead of deciding its endorsement in the supervisor race on Feb. 26, it waited until March 7, Kasparian said.
“We held up the whole endorsement process in that race to give the respect to [Fletcher]. … He never showed up,” he said. “The SEIU request indicated to us that he wanted to come in and seek our endorsement. … We gave him more time to come in. We accommodated him.”
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?”
Kasparian also challenged a Voice of San Diego story saying that SEIU Local 221 had pulled out of the Working Families Council.
(On Tuesday, that union announced on Facebook that “the executive board of SEIU 221 tonight voted that it is in the best interests of our membership to disaffiliate with the Working Families Council.”)
Kasparian said: “I know the VOSD reported that, but we haven’t been notified of anything like that from SEIU.”
David Garcias, the SEIU 221 president, did not respond to a request for comment.
Kasparian said his council has yet to decide how it will allocate its money. The council will decide on the three or four most important races, and fund accordingly, he said.
Fletcher’s efforts to tie Saldaña to him shows “panic” and is an attempt to distract voters, Kasparian said.
“Cal Labor Fed’s scorecard [for Saldana] was 98 percent on union issues,” he said. “Nathan Fletcher’s was 18 percent. Voters care about issues that are important to them.”
Kreizenbeck, Saldaña’s manager, made light of Lorena Gonzalez’s Facebook note, which he called “a big flamboyant post, without reference to reality.”
He said it had 42 likes when he saw it. (By midnight, it had 46.) Yet “there are thousands of workers in San Diego that depend on public officials to represent them.”
Calling it a “nuance of triviality,” Kreizenbeck said the flip-flop issue is something insiders talk about “because the [Fletcher camp doesn’t] have anything good to say about their own candidate.”
Kasparian says his council tried mightily to be fair to all candidates, even giving Republican Bonnie Dumanis, the former district attorney, a hearing in her own race to replace Ron Roberts as supervisor.
Said Kreizenbeck: “When we were on our way in [for the endorsement interview], Bonnie Dumanis was on her way out. That was kind of funny.”