The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council surprised a lot of people last month when it endorsed Todd Gloria over Stephen Whitburn for the District 3 City Council race, as the union group had endorsed both during the primary.
At the time, labor said that after the primary a handful of specific unions pushed for a Gloria endorsement.
But Whitburn's campaign now says that the Labor Council shied away from him because he wouldn't pledge to support the union's pick for City Council president over Councilwoman Donna Frye — a Whitburn ally who has at times found herself at odds with the Labor Council.
B.D. Howard, Whitburn's campaign manager, said that during an interview with the Labor Council's executive board last month, Whitburn was asked the following: "If Donna Frye was running for Council President, but we want you to support the person we pick, who would you vote for?"
Howard said Whitburn made it very clear that he would not betray Frye in exchange for an endorsement.
"They are looking for someone who will carry their agenda and vote for them every time," Howard said.
Labor Council Political Director Evan McLaughlin wouldn't comment on Whitburn's assertions. Gloria said he was asked about the council president post, but said he felt no pressure to pick sides.
"I made no promises on who I would support," he said.
The Labor Council's endorsement is considered important in the face-off between Democrats Whitburn and Gloria in District 3, which has a large number of union households. And with Council President Scott Peters termed out at the end of the year, the jockeying among colleagues to be his replacement has been intense.
Frye has made it clear that she is interested in the post, and she is one of Whitburn's strongest and most high-profile supporters. She has not, however, been a consistent friend of labor. She has gone against unions when on pension reform, and last year voted against a proposal for a citywide ban of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, which are an anathema to unions.
Howard said the panel of union leaders included Labor Council Secretary/Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez, United Food and Commercial Workers chief Mickey Kasparian and firefighters union head Frank De Clercq. He said that based on the comments and looks of the union chiefs, it was clear that the mood toward Whitburn noticeably soured after his response to the Frye question.
"They started to try to attack him," Howard said.