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Openly Gay Democrat Runs for San Diego County Supervisor, Bucks GOP Trend

by Leo E. Laurence Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2010 at 11:24 PM

Openly Gay Democrat Stephen Whitburn is challenging 16-year incumbent Republican Ron Roberts for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. In what's expected to be a “Republican year,” Whitburn is hoping voter disgust with ALL incumbents will boost his campaign. He's already won the endorsement of the San Diego Firefighters' Union — who backed Roberts in all his previous campaigns — largely because the all-Republican Board, out of partisan distaste for the Obama administration, turned down federal stimulus money that could have upgraded the county's ability to deal with San Diego's endemic wildfires.

Openly Gay Democrat ...
whitburn___bamboo_lounge.a.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x459

Openly Gay Whitburn Takes On Roberts for Supervisor

Democrat May Buck Trend of What’s Being Called a “Republican Year”


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence • Used by permission

In what’s being ballyhooed as a Republican-leaning election year — with Time magazine reporting that the Democrats are “on the brink of a broad setback in November, including the possible loss of both houses of Congress,” — openly Gay Democrat Stephen Whitburn is bucking the trend in his candidacy for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. He’s already forced Republican incumbent Ron Roberts into a runoff and has a good chance to end the 16-year Republican monopoly on the board.

Whitburn, 46, knows how to use the mainstream media. He was once a radio news director with ag-gressive management skills.

Unlike underfunded, underdog Democratic Congressional candidate Ray Lutz, who may have little chance of unseating the much richer incumbent Republican Duncan D. Hunter, Whitburn’s campaign looks promising.

He’s putting more energy into his professorial, Obama-ish, speaking style, but it still lacks the angry fire of the Tea Party, loosely connected with the Republican Party.

By aggressively proposing a radical improvement in fire protection, he surprised political analysts by winning the endorsement of the powerful Firefighters’ union. This was particularly surprising because the Firefighters had supported Roberts in virtually all his campaigns — until this year.

“People are very angry that the solidly Republican CountyBoard of Supervisors turned down millions of dollars in federal stimulus money simply because politically they didn’t like Obama,” Whitburn said in an exclusive interview for Zenger’s.

He favors the current .7 million in county funding of community non-profits, but wants to create a county commission to review applications independently and make recommendations to the full Board. Right now each Supervisor gets to designate the recipients for his or her district, a system Whitburn denounced as a “slush fund” during his primary campaign.

“It should be a different method with more transparency and more people involved,” Whitburn ex-plained. That way there wouldn’t be scandals like the recent one over illegal funding to church groups for religious purposes, pushed by Republican Supervisor Bill Horn and subsequently voided by the San Diego County Counsel.

“All five incumbents are Republicans, and that doesn’t reflect the demographics of the county,” Whit-burn explained.

“It’s going to be a tough battle,” William Kelley, 63, of Hillcrest believes — though grass-roots anger at all incumbents, not just Democrats, may help Whitburn’s campaign. Already the voters of San Diego County have imposed term limits on the Board of Supervisors in last June’s primary, in an ini-tiative sponsored by labor unions tired not only of having to deal with Republicans but the same Re-publicans year after year. The Board hadn’t changed personnel since the mid-1990’s.

Though Whitburn lost a San Diego City Council race in 2008 to fellow Gay Democrat Todd Gloria, “Over the years, he has matured as a political campaigner,” Kelley observed.

The Firefighters’ endorsement is a major coup for him, providing money and campaign workers throughout the county.

Whitburn is a thinker. During this one-on-one interview for Zenger’s, he often paused and thought carefully before answering questions — unlike Gloria, who sometimes starts to answer before a journalist can finish a question, and then talks fast like a New Yorker. Whitburn, in contrast, answers slowly and seems to choose his words carefully and deliberately.

Where’s the Fire?

Whitburn’s campaign faces enormous difficulties as a Democrat amidst a national political envi-ronment with Republicans coming on strong. But his chances are good if he can capture the widespread grass-roots anger at any incumbent, especially an old-timer like sitting Supervisor Roberts.

“If it’s a referendum on the president, it’s a tougher race,” said a Virginia Congressmember running for re-election.

“To be honest, Obama has been a big disappointment to a lot of Democrats. He talked about a lot of change in politics. While I believe he’s a good man, I don’t believe he’s done the changes that he promised to make,” said city commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez in a candid, Zenger’s interview.

“It’s politics as usual, be it Democrat or Republican,” Murray-Ramirez added.

“America went from an essentially optimistic nation to being an essentially pessimistic one that seems to be angry all the time,” writes editor Braydon Carter in the current Vanity Fair magazine.

“We hate Obama, Bush and Cheney. (We’ve all but given up on Congress.) We hate big media, big oil and big China. We even have a cable network devoted solely to anger and hatred. It’s called Fox News,” he stressed in an unusually strong statement for a high-end fashion magazine.

Anger is a “strong passion excited by real or supposed injuries,” but it is “not synonymous with ‘heat of passion,’ resentment or rage,” says the venerable Black’s Law Dictionary.

Self-proclaimed “Mama Grizzly” Sarah Palen and her Tea Party fanatics use hate daily, with political fire in their events. Some local Democratic campaign events, by contrast, have been quiet and polite, but boring.

An elegant Mission Hills residence was the scene of a Democratic fundraiser on September 1. The event was reserved and almost devoid of angry campaign energy. The candidate said he didn’t jack it up because he “didn’t want to offend Republicans attending.”

A tasteful, poorly attended event for GLBT politicians was held August 30 downtown. The only smiles were when Republican D.A. Bonnie Dumanis, an open Lesbian running for re-election without opposition, was mugging the cameras, as usual. There was no fire!

Even Whitburn’s “Kick-Off Rally” in front of the county administration building September 8 drew only about 30 people, most of whom were gathered behind him and seemed unsmilingly bored during his speech to five journalists in the “audience.” It had to be embarrassing.

“I’d fire the campaign manager,” said one county worker walking by.

“The fire the Tea Party movement has is not necessarily going to benefit the Republican Party,” said San Diego County Democratic Party chair Jess Durfee — who, like Whitburn, is a former president of the predominantly GLBT San Diego Democratic Club.

“They are really a rogue element and are not working in conjunction with the Republican Party, and sometimes they are running candidates in opposition to [mainstream] Republican candidates,” Durfee said. “They create the impression that the Republican Party is even more crazy than that party actually is.”

Some political analysts believe Whitburn is now adding fresh spark to his campaign style, and may be the exception to the common belief that Republicans will sweep the elections on November 2.

Durfee said his party is launching a “ground campaign” with an army of hundreds going door-to-door to help Whitburn break the 16-year Republican monopoly on the County Board of Supervisors and unseat old-line incumbent Ron Roberts.

Contact writer Leo E. Laurence, J.D. at (619) 757-4909 or

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