By Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / January 17, 2012
The in-depth fact checking, parsing of policy, and search for substance will carry on here and elsewhere for quite some time following Friday’s first mayoral debate to feature all four leading candidates. In the meantime though, an initial round of horse-race impressions.
No love for Mayor Sanders
It was just hours before the debate that updated pension numbers narrowed the city’s deficit to $12.2 million, but nobody seemed to be in a laudatory mood with the mayor. Indeed, the new numbers were hardly acknowledged by candidates or panelists. There was little enthusiasm for public funds going to a Convention Center expansion or a new Chargers stadium (two Sanders priorities) and the closest the candidates came to full agreement was in their rejection of felony charges for Occupy protesters arrested at the State of the City address.
Downtown focus remains
Carl DeMaio made brief mention of a third border crossing and use of the Tijuana airport, and seemed much more excited about the East-Asian middle class than he ever has about the middle class in San Diego, but otherwise the furthest from downtown that the conversation ventured was Barrio Logan. Anyone hoping that the next regime will provide a little more love for the rest of the city may be waiting a while longer. But maybe it was just a function of the setting, where egalitarians need not apply.
On the candidates
Nathan Fletcher is clearly doing his best to replicate the Obama playbook — don’t get bogged down in relitigating the past, sketch out a vision of empowerment and inclusiveness, emphasize perspective and approach over policy and esoteric power-brokering. It’s a reasonable gamble for November, when visibility and accessibility will find a more receptive electorate, but he has to get there first. And if the other contenders all end up with fatal flaws (a very real possibility), the teflon of ambiguity may pay off. He started taking some lumps for his time in Sacramento, but his ‘at least I’ve passed something’ response seems at least passable against two other Republican candidates who have no legislative achievements to tout.
Bonnie Dumanis was the most consistent punching bag throughout the event — specifically her $250,000 pension and plan to donate her mayoral salary to aid schools. Nobody, particularly in that room, wanted to point out the obvious flaw in an expectation that public salaries be donated — that independent wealth becomes a prerequisite for holding office. But nobody could resist taking shots at the large Dumanis pension. Beyond that, it was a tough night for the District Attorney. Too often, her comments were little more than ‘me too’ addenda to conversations already finished, and her lack of polish could be seen as lack-of-preparedness just as easily as it may come off as folksy. A night in which all three other contenders were clear about the reason to vote for them, Dumanis ended the night as the ‘slightly different than the rest’ candidate.
Carl DeMaio made clear that his budget proposals and vehement, seemingly personal opposition to labor unions will be his campaign no matter what. There wasn’t much mention of the nearly-closed budget deficit, but it was certainly on the buzz in the room. The long-term viability of this play has a lot to do with whether the sheer force of the DeMaio media machine can keep people from noticing that the crisis justifying his campaign is just about over. He also mixed in some brow-raising comments, such as his suggestion that hoteliers are paying for the Convention Center expansion (they are, unless you count $60 million from the Port District, and a limitless commitment of funds from the city’s general fund). He noted his pride that police officers and firefighters don’t support him, recommitted to eventually folding police into his 401k plan, clearly enunciated his goal of generally lowering wages, and unapologetically said he was beholden to his campaign contributors. He is who he is, no matter the reality or consequences.
Bob Filner, it’s hardly novel to note, is banking so far on being entertaining — and he’s succeeding. He’s made clear that his plan is just to get through the primary and then dig in for November, but he needs to get there first. We got a hint of Filner’s long-promised pension plan ($106K pension cap, refinance the outstanding pension obligation, five year labor peace), but mostly he spent the debate underlining his ‘one of these things is not like the other’ campaign theme and tossing around one-liners to make his competitors seem less serious. The thing is, eventually he’ll have to seem capable of being serious himself. It may prove a dangerous gamble to overestimate his built-in gravitas.
Not too many points scored initially between the candidates, but a good deal of progress towards better defining the ground on which the campaign will be waged.
Go to original article to view video of the debate.