/Politics Report: Bloomberg Machine Sucks Up Campaign Staff

Politics Report: Bloomberg Machine Sucks Up Campaign Staff

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg / Image via Shutterstock

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has built a significant footprint in San Diego County, and it’s squeezing local campaigns.

Leading up to 2020, local campaigns were concerned presidential campaigns would buy up TV time in the run-up to the March election — making it harder and more expensive for them to buy their ads to reach a mass audience.

Now, there’s a bigger concern they didn’t see coming.

Multiple local campaign professionals have told us Bloomberg’s campaign is hiring staffers, paying them more than local campaigns could come close to matching and promising to keep many of them on through November.

It’s created a labor squeeze for campaign workers and paid canvassers, just as candidates are starting the process of turning out voters.

“It’s been a real pressure, for sure,” said Dan Rottenstreich, a political consultant whose campaigns this cycle include Georgette Gómez for Congress, Mara Elliott’s city attorney bid and the Measure C campaign to expand the Convention Center. “Generally, it’s hard to hire staff for all campaigns, but Bloomberg has definitely added pressure.”

Tom Shepard, a veteran consultant running Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s mayoral campaign, said he only knew of two local political professionals retained by Bloomberg, but that he was “definitely gobbling up available TV airtime with his commercials.” John Hoy, a Republican consultant working on Poway Mayor Steve Vaus’ supervisor bid and the No on Measure A campaign, said he’d heard Democratic campaigns grumbling about Bloomberg’s effect on their ability to stage significant field operations.

Eva Posner, a consultant who contracts with the Democratic Party, said she saw the shortage on local political talent coming, but hopes there will be a bright spot once all the presidential campaigns leave town.

“There’s going to be more trained political talent in San Diego than ever before,” she said. “And some of those newly trained staffers will stay in the industry.”

San Diego isn’t alone: Two national stories this week, in The Intercept and the New York Times, chronicled the effect that the billionaire former mayor’s well-financed campaign has had on local races nationwide.

Bloomberg’s San Diego operation had a staff of about 45, as of last weekend, said MaryAnne Pintar, the regional political director for the Bloomberg campaign in San Diego County. Bloomberg poached Pintar from the staff of Rep. Scott Peters.

Among those hired: Grassroots Resources CEO Jesus Cardenas, a local political consultant heading up the campaign’s network of paid door-to-door canvassers.

Pintar said she was already experiencing the labor shortage in Peters’ re-election campaign before the Bloomberg campaign came to town.

“There were all these other campaigns that had sucked up all the talent already,” she said. “We hired a girl who had just graduated from UCSD and I said, let’s just hire someone smart and energetic and we can teach them the rest. That was already the case, and we’re hiring a lot of non-traditional organizers.”

She said Democrats should be happy Bloomberg has pledged to fund the organizing operation through November.

“Any time you have a robust field operation, it lifts all boats and that’s the case with this,” she said.

On the ground: Not one but two volunteers for Bloomberg’s presidential campaign spoke to the Rancho Santa Fe Democratic Club in Solana Beach Thursday night. Francine Busby, former chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a central committee member, passed out yard signs as others passed around pamphlets.

That followed the Sunday opening of Bloomberg’s local office in Escondido, where Elliott added her name to an endorsement list that includes Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, Councilman Mark Kersey and Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. Escondido Councilwoman Olga Diaz was also there, but she said she has not endorsed Bloomberg or any other presidential candidate.

Deep thought: Bloomberg is either like the guy on “Jeopardy,” who started playing differently and ran the table for many weeks and millions of dollars, and forever changed how that game is played. Or, he’s just a guy spending money. But he’s serious about California based on the theory that he can miss all the debates, skip several primaries and concentrate on the Super Tuesday states with massive resources and parlay that success into the Democratic nomination.

Another thing is certain: California’s decision to move its primary to March, so it could be in this conversation, directly resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars for campaign professionals and media platforms.

Gómez Is Shuffling Resources Down the Stretch

We got a call from a paid canvasser Thursday who had just received some bad news.

The canvasser was headed to knock doors for Gómez in the 53rd Congressional District when the campaign called to say, “Don’t bother.” The campaign didn’t have the money for a paid field operation anymore, the canvasser said, and it was time to find a new gig.

“That’s not fully accurate,” said Rottenstreich, Gómez’s political consultant.

“We’re moving resources around, which we do all the time,” he said. “We made some moves from field to adjust elsewhere, and we’ll continue to have a robust campaign.”

Shots fired: “If your campaign isn’t funded by a billionaire, you often have to adjust your spending in the closing weeks,” he said, in a not-so-subtle reference to one of Gómez’s opponents, Sara Jacobs, whose grandfather is Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs.

“We’ll continue to have a very strong field campaign – with paid operations and our growing group of volunteers – and we expect it to keep growing all the way to get-out-the vote,” he said, referring to the final push to get voters to the polls in the last days of an election cycle.

The Scrum for No. 2 in the Mayor’s Race Heats Up

Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Councilman Scott Sherman / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The battle to make the November runoff in the mayor’s race is fierce. On Feb. 11, the same day a poll showed Councilwoman Barbara Bry 5 points behind Councilman Scott Sherman in the race for second place to Assemblyman Todd Gloria, Bry contributed $60,000 to her own campaign.

Then, Bry’s husband went on the attack. Neil Senturia sent out a plea to donations and referenced our news from last week’s Politics Report that former SoccerCity leader, Nick Stone, had donated to the Republican Party because of his support for Sherman.

Senturia had a conspiracy theory that SoccerCity would rise from the dead:

They know Sherman can’t win straight up in a Democratic leaning City, but if they can get Mr. Gloria elected, well maybe they can sabotage the deal and revisit the “scene of the crime.”  Maybe with Mr. Gloria as Mayor they can maneuver enough to get back at the table after SDSU West is derailed by legal eagles and litigation.

Gloria supported Measure G, the initiative that directed the city to sell the land at the stadium site to San Diego State University.

That wasn’t all: A group called Taxpayers Advocates sent out an attack mailer to Republicans hitting Sherman for not being loyal enough to Trump.

Taxpayers Advocates is managed by former San Diego school board member Scott Barnett, who used to run the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. In 2003, after leaving that organization, he formed taxpayersadvocate.org.

Barnett has never been much of a partisan himself. He represented a group of Republicans opposed to Democrat Gov. Gray Davis’ recall in 2003 and, when he ran for school board, he had the support of both the teachers union and the Republican Party. But he quickly fell out of favor with conservatives as he became an outspoken advocate for property tax increases for school construction bonds.

All this to say, it’s kind of weird he would ding someone for not supporting President Trump enthusiastically enough.

Except when you realize he’s sending it to Republican households. He’s trying to help clear Bry’s pathway to the runoff.  

We asked him who funded the mailer.

Short answer: Who can say, really?

“This is a general recipient committee, which has been open for several years and I have been raising funds from a variety of sources who choose to donate to the committee, which is able to be involved in any state or local campaign,” Barnett wrote to us. He said his donors do not tell him where the money will go. He decides.

The disclosures are unclear for now. Barnett hinted that the Feb. 20 disclosures may be more illuminating.

But Barnett was direct about what he wanted: He supports Bry.

“I think she has the best combination of skills, background and decisiveness to lead the city. Sherman will be killed by Todd in the general,” Barnett wrote.

And his hit on Sherman from the Trumpist right was just to rile up Republicans.

“The mailer is designed so GOP voters understand where Sherman is on issues important to them. They don’t trust anti-Trumpers,” he wrote.

Sherman fired back: It is the way of these things that you must face the attack and then complain that you have been attacked to your supporters and ask for money.

But check out The Shermanator’s ninja move: Instead of responding that he, in fact, does support Trump wholeheartedly (something he has steadfastly refused to do) Sherman told supporters the attack was on his Republican Party bona fides. And he responded to that, thereby avoiding having to express loyalty to Trump.

Bravo, sir.

“Yesterday, a false and dishonest mailing was sent to Republican voters attacking me as a RINO (Republican In Name Only),” Sherman wrote.

He went on: “Their goal is to confuse Republican voters in hopes that one of the liberal Democrats wins. Don’t be fooled. I am the officially endorsed candidate of the Republican Party of San Diego County and they are attacking me because they know we are just 18 days from victory.”

Dems Want to Sink Bry

The Democratic Party, meanwhile, continues to see only one successful outcome in the mayoral race: Gloria winning. It’s spending money to make it happen.

We asked Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the party’s chair, whether they would consider attacking Sherman to help Bry make the runoff. That would guarantee the next mayor would be a Democrat.

No, he said. When the party endorsed Gloria this summer, it made its decision.

He said he wouldn’t see a Bry victory as a consolation prize, even though she is a Democrat.

“She’s adopted cruel stances on homelessness that don’t make political sense and which are complete 180s that are inconsistent with party values,” he said. “She seems to think her path to victory is hitting Todd on every little thing, but she’s bleeding support from the left and the right.”

Public polls have shown Gloria leading the field with just under 30 percent of the vote, but that’s with nearly a third of voters saying they’re undecided. Rodriguez-Kennedy said the party isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We are well financed, so we have to spend to make sure those undecided voters go to Todd,” he said.

Race of Indecision

If you are having trouble deciding between Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer for county supervisor, as they both try to make the runoff election presumably against incumbent Kristin Gaspar, you are not alone. We recently noticed fliers for Diaz and Lawson-Remer that both included a picture of Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina among a list of endorsements.

That wasn’t a mistake or misleading publication. Dedina said he has endorsed both of them.

Campa-Najjar Tacks Right, Nearly Loses Progressive Support

The San Diego Progressive Democratic club this week nearly rescinded its endorsement of Ammar Campa-Najjar, the lone Democrat competing for the 50th District congressional seat.

Group members accused Campa-Najjar of misrepresenting himself when he earlier sought their support because of a recent Union-Tribune editorial board interview in which Campa-Najjar appeared to water down some of his more progressive stances, saying he would not support Medicare for All and brushed off the Green New Deal, calling the nonbinding resolution “impractical.”

“We’ve had enough of the double talk,” said Katherine Hogue, the club’s president. “We don’t want to hear one thing one day and then hear another thing another day. No, we want someone who’s willing to stand up every single day fighting for this cause.”

In the 2018 election cycle, though, Campa-Najjar told Rolling Stone that he wanted to expand Medicare for people who are 50 to 64 years old as a buy-in option. On Tuesday night, he reminded the group he’s running in a largely conservative, rural district.

“You guys may have heard me called the most conservative congressman in San Diego County,” Campa-Najjar said. “The most conservative congressman in San Diego County is still the most progressive congressman in the 50th District’s history.”

This resonated with about half of the club’s voting members. An effort to rescind the earlier endorsement of Campa-Najjar failed to reach the 60 percent threshold.

He stood by the statements he made to the U-T, but apologized for not better informing the group “about what my strategy was going to be,” he said.

He also appeared flustered at times, urging the group to unite around him in the general, and pushed back against a progressive purity test that applies to all races equally. “If you want perfection, that’s a cult, not a campaign,” he said.

—Bella Ross

Jesse Marx contributed to this Politics Report. He’s a great guy – a creative writer and diligent reporter. Andrew Keatts can read. If you have any feedback you would like him to read or ideas for us for future Politics Reports, send a note to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.