Friday, April 02, 2010

Over 50 Turn Out for Whitburn Fundraiser in Hillcrest

Candidate Faces Unfair Attacks from Both Straight and Queer Media


Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Stephen Whitburn, former San Diego Democratic Club president and San Diego City Council candidate, brought his current campaign for the District Four seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to Hillcrest March 28 with an early-evening fundraiser at the Bamboo Lounge restaurant in Hillcrest. Over 50 people attended the event, in which Whitburn introduced his campaign team and laid out the issues he intends to raise in his challenge to incumbent Ron Roberts.

“It is so important that we win this seat,” Whitburn said. “Fundamentally, it is time that government work for people in San Diego County. I was down at the County Board on Tuesday to speak against the gifts Supervisors receive from the organizations to which they give taxpayers’ money. In the case of Ron Roberts, over the years he has given more than $850,000 to a nonprofit organization that promotes trade with Asia. And in turn, that organization has sent Ron Roberts on six all-expense-paid trips to China — junkets to China. Now, to me that seems improper.”

Whitburn also upbraided Roberts for calling for a second supervisorial vote on the controversial Merriam Mountains development proposal near Escondido. The developer sponsoring the proposal planned to blow off the top of a mountain, flatten it and build thousands of homes atop the denuded mountain. The County Board of Supervisors first voted on the proposal on December 9, with Roberts absent, and the board deadlocked 2-2, killing the plan. But Roberts insisted that the board schedule another vote so he could be there — leading to speculation that he supported the project and wanted to see it go through — though when the second vote came on March 24, he opposed Merriam Mountains.

At his fundraiser, Whitburn said he’d attended the March 24 meeting “and Ron Roberts would not look me in the eye. He didn’t want to look like he wasn’t paying attention, so he looked past me, so he could look like he was looking at me but not look at me.” Whitburn told the Supervisors they should vote down Merriam Mountains, and he asked the audience at his fundraiser “if you think it is a good idea to consider blasting off mountaintops and building homes in fire-prone areas without an evacuation plan.”

Whitburn also ridiculed the all-Republican County Board of Supervisors for their lack of interest in social service, which along with development and land use is one of the primary responsibilities of county government in California. “The County Board will not lift a finger above and beyond what is absolutely mandated by the state to help the people who so very much need government to serve them,” Whitburn said. “That $850,000 that went for trade with China could have provided assistance to a whole lot of working people who are struggling to pay their bills and need more food to feed their families.”

According to Whitburn, “The County Board has huge responsibilities, yet many people don’t even know what it does.” He attributed that to the fact that Roberts and his four fellow Supervisors are all “like-minded Republicans” who “decide the issues amongst themselves” with little or no public debate. “Without debate, there isn’t much media coverage of the County Board of Supervisors,” Whitburn explained — “and without media coverage, there isn’t very much public attention to it. And without that kind of public attention, people aren’t very plugged into what’s going on.”

What Whitburn says he has to do to win is get the public agitated and wanting change. “I was a reporter for 18 years,” Whitburn recalled. “I love to find out what’s going on and tell people what’s going on. And you’d better believe that as a County Supervisor, I’m going to be a strong voice, not only for what we believe but for communicating to the public exactly what the priorities of the County Board ought to be; what is not being done that ought to be; and what we need to be doing to make things better for people.”

Whitburn admitted he has an uphill battle. He first has to get through the June 8 primary and hope his three Democratic rivals split the vote enough to deny incumbent Roberts the 50 percent plus one he would need to win re-election outright, then he has to be the top vote-getter among the four Democrats (including one, San Diego Unified School District board member Shelia Jackson, who unlike Whitburn has actually served in elective office). But he said if he can do it, he hopes it will be an inspiration for other Democrats to challenge Republican incumbents in the South Bay and coastal districts and win a majority on the Board of Supervisors the way they have on the City Council.

“This starts here tonight,” Whitburn said. “It starts with all of us. … It starts with our fellow warriors for civil liberties. It starts with our fellow warriors for social and economic justice.” Whitburn pointed with pride to his endorsements from State Senator Christine Kehoe, City Councilmember Donna Frye and former City Councilmember Toni Atkins — “real leaders,” he called them — and added, “It starts with you. You are my friends. You’re the ones who know me as a person, and you are the ones who will most effectively communicate to other people how important this is, and why not only do we need to win, but we will win this race.”

Whitburn closed the event by introducing his campaign team: campaign manager Don Mullen, consultant Jennifer Tierney (who ironically represented Whitburn’s successful opponent, Todd Gloria, in the 2008 election for the District 3 seat on the San Diego City Council), field organizer Fernando Lopez, Web designer Matt Ferris and the hosts for his March 28 event, David Higgins and David Miles, He also thanked “government watchdog” and former San Diego City Council candidate Ian Trowbridge, event volunteer John Logan and longtime community volunteer Mel Merrill.

Since the March 28 event, Whitburn has taken some surprising hits in the media. San Diego CityBeat sent a reporter to the fundraiser but, instead of writing an actual story, ridiculed it in their “Turds & Blossoms” column. They called the event “disheartening” and made fun of Mullen and the two other Whitburn supporters who tried to get a chant of “Stephen! Stephen” going at the end — ignoring the enthusiastic response of the crowd earlier, when Whitburn asked them to back up his opposition to the Merriam Mountains development and Roberts’ junkets to China.

And the April 1 edition of the Gay & Lesbian Times ran a vituperative editorial attacking Kehoe and Atkins for supporting Whitburn. Once beyond the terms of personal abuse (the editorial writer said the two pioneering Lesbian politicians “need to take a shower and use some deodorant”), the Gay & Lesbian Times seemed to be saying that because Roberts endorsed both Kehoe and Atkins in their City Council races, he deserves their support in perpetuity. For a candidate who was a journalist for 18 years, Whitburn arguably has received a lot of unfair treatment from people who share his former profession — including some who also share his sexual orientation.