Jan. 25 2012 12:00 AM

Mayoral candidate was once employed by the now-imprisoned member of Congress

Nathan Fletcher's strategy in the San Diego mayor's race is to position himself as the candidate who can bring diverse interests together, whether it's accepting the support of the far right, like County Supervisor Bill Horn, or courting us socialist pinkos at CityBeat.

But there's one person with whom Fletcher does not want to be associated: His former boss, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who's currently serving time in a federal prison in Tucson after confessing to accepting more than $2 million in bribes. For a brief spell between 2003 and 2005, Fletcher served as Cunningham's district director in San Diego.

Now, it was very brief. Fletcher says he'd never met Cunningham before he was hired in 2003. Fletcher, a Marine, left a month later for duty, which would take him away for training and to Iraq. (You can read Cunningham's floor entry in the Congressional Record about it here). Fletcher came back a couple of times, spending a total of three to four months in the job before leaving officially in 2005. He denies any knowledge or involvement in Cunningham's corruption.

And Cunningham confirms that.

"I wish Nathan well and remember politics are mean," Cunningham writes in a letter to CityBeat. "His opponents use his connection with me in error."

OK, this didn't just come out of the blue. I asked Cunningham to tell us about Fletcher, since he's running for mayor and their brief professional relationship is fair game. Cunningham says Fletcher should not be ashamed of his time as a Congressional staffer:
"Nathan should embrace both the San Diego office and D.C. office. The San Diego staff was so good that other members would ask the staff to help them in such areas as social security, health care, veterans issues and legal immigration, etc. They were noted for the professional work ethics. Dave, I saw staff cry when they could not break through the burocracy [sic] & help people. They all carried 50-80 cases each and worked 10-12 hrs/day. Nathan was a dedicated worker if only for a short time before his service in the military called."
That's quite an endorsement, but not one Fletcher really wants.

"There's never an excuse for corruption—ever," Fletcher says. "But he was a veteran and he served in war and in combat. To have him take defense dollars and misappropriate them during a time of war for personal gain, it is unconscionable. I was serving in Iraq and we didn't have the humvees and body armor we needed.... It's just really despicable."

Nevertheless, it was a learning experience. Fletcher doesn't remember crying about bureaucracy, but he does recall being exposed to tragedy.

"You get people coming to you that really need help," he says. "By the time they call their congressman—or state assemblyman—they really are at the end of their rope."

Speaking of ends of ropes: According to the Bureau of Prisons, Cunningham is set for release on June 4, 2013, but in his letter he says he'll be out the door in eight and a half months.
Cunningham continues to claim he was treated unjustly by federal prosecutors and that the allegations in his plea agreement were "95 percent untrue."


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