By Jim Miller
This just in: it appears that Nathan Fletcher’s claims of inevitability have evaporated as the race to meet Kevin Faulconer in the run off is a dead heat leaning Alvarez heading into the last week. The internal polling in all three camps shows Faulconer having consolidated the Republican vote as Fletcher’s early name ID-fueled lead has collapsed, and Alvarez has continued to steadily trend upwards.
More specifically, the most recent numbers from the AFT tracking poll over the weekend have Faulconer at 37.2%, Alvarez at 21.7%, and Fletcher trailing but still barely within the margin of error at 16.3%. Mike Aguirre has 2.5% and a big 20.5 % are still undecided. Hence the trend we are seeing is one of Alvarez slowly tracking up and Fletcher sinking like a lead weight.
Those who follow politics closely know that the trend line is what matters most at this point in a campaign and this bodes well for Alvarez. Also of note is the fact that the large pool of undecided voters tends to be younger and more liberal and will most likely break toward Alvarez if they show up. Here’s the bottom line: this election will come down to who can get the vote out and the best ground game will win. Whether or not you show up really matters.
When Neighborhood Markets (Funded by Jacobs and Friends) Attack!
Surely, it’s numbers like these that have Team Fletcher rapidly transforming into Team Freak-Out as they toss his pious pledge of civility into the dustbin of history. Thus the Neighborhood Markets Association funded by the Jacobs, Plumbers, and Laborers committee, “Restoring Trust in San Diego,” are ending the primary with a blitzkrieg of attack mailers against Alvarez.
The first of these mailers directly mimics those of the Teachers’ that portray Fletcher as the definition of “opportunism” by calling Alvarez the definition of “inexperience.” This despite the fact that Alvarez has more experience in San Diego city politics than Fletcher, who has none and who is in his thirties just as Alvarez is.
Predictably, the plutocrats, proletarians, and corner shop crew also stick to the bamboozle and divide doublethink strategy used by Fletcher supporters on labor and environmental issues by trying to portray Fletcher as both bipartisan AND as someone who will stand up to big business and Republicans.
In a particularly perverse twist, the mailer also states that Alvarez has “pitted neighbor against neighbor” in Barrio Logan by helping to craft the Barrio Logan plan that the community overwhelmingly supports.
The second and third attack mailers continue this theme, making use of quotes from folks like Rachael Ortiz to show how Alvarez has “let us down.” Aside from clearly trying to mark Alvarez as a “south of 8” guy to the rest of San Diego, the use of Ortiz, who as Doug Porter has noted is a “proxy for Fletcher supporter Ben Hueso,” is a clear indication that these attacks are more about San Diego machine politics than any real rift in the community.
As Porter points out, “Ben Hueso [is] now ensconced in the State Senate and [is a] long-time political enemy of the mayoral candidate” [who beat his brother in a city council race]. His run for that seat was part of the seemingly choreographed shuffle following Congressman Bob Filner’s decision to run for Mayor. Juan Vargas moved from Sacramento to take Filner’s spot, Hueso moved from Assembly to State Senate and Lorena Gonzalez moved from the Labor Council into the State Assembly [Gonzalez was a key Felipe Hueso backer in his failed run against Alvarez].”
But without this troublesome context, the mailers would lead the naïve reader to believe that the Anglo savior in waiting (who has no plan for Barrio Logan at all and probably has trouble finding it without a GPS device) would jump in and save the day if only his upstart Latino challenger would get out of the way.
Thus, the attitude in these mailers fits perfectly with the gaffe Fletcher made in a recent debate where he told Alvarez, “I want to help David become the first Latino mayor of San Diego. I’m hoping to keep the seat warm for him. …He can run next.”
When Alvarez responded that “wait your turn” or “It’s not your turn” were exactly the kinds of attitudes holding Latinos back in society, Fletcher quickly said that he “didn’t mean it that way.”
Apparently, however, his supporters do.
Despite their sentiment, if the current tracking polls are accurate, it just may be the six month-old Democrat and his friends in high places who’ll have to take a time out. We’ll all know in eight days.
Plutocrats and Populists in Paradise?
In the San Diego media landscape deeply influenced by the likes of “Papa” Doug Manchester and the Jacobs, there is not much discussion about class and power in local politics. Indeed such talk is frequently greeted as a kind of alien virus sent to our beatific shores to rudely harsh our mellow, a malaise brought to us by mean-spirited, bomb-throwing conspiracy theorists who just don’t get the groovy place that is America’s Finest City. Here in paradise, there is no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole, no less a rich or poor one. We don’t like to talk about moneyed interests in the place where happy happens; we just go surf together and have a “real conversation” afterwards.
Such is not the case everywhere, however. Indeed last week in the wake of a series of important national elections, there was some noteworthy discussion of this uncomfortable economic fact of American life by Robert Reich who weighed in on the plutocratic tilt of our national political landscape via social media with this:
Pundits who are already describing the victories of Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey as a “return to the center” of American politics are confusing the “center” with big business and Wall Street. A few decades ago McAuliffe would be viewed as a right-wing Democrat and Christie as a right-wing Republican; both garnered their major support from corporate America, and both will reliably govern as fiscal conservatives who won’t raise taxes on the wealthy. They look moderate only by contrast with the Tea Partiers to their extreme right.
The biggest game-changer, though, is Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect of New York City, who campaigned against the corporatist legacy of Michael Bloomberg — promising to raise taxes on the wealthy and use the revenues for pre-school and after-school programs for the children of New York’s burdened middle class and poor.
Those who dismiss his victory as an aberration confined to New York are overlooking three big new things: First, the new demographic reality of America gives every swing state at least one large city whose inhabitants resemble those of New York. Second, he won notwithstanding New York’s position as the epicenter of big business and Wall Street, whose money couldn’t stop him. Third, Americans are catching on to the scourge of the nation’s raging inequality, and its baleful consequences for our economy and democracy.
During the campaign, I had also commented on the significance of de Blasio’s candidacy both nationally and here in San Diego noting that de Blasio’s likely victory showed a lot about the growing divide over class and economics inside the Democratic Party. Recently The American Prospect entered this debate observing that what divides the Democrats today is “economics: Cory Booker’s Wall Street liberalism versus Bill de Blasio’s anti-corporate populism.”
Tom Hayden also commented on the significance of New York City’s mayoral election in The Guardian observing that de Blasio’s win was “the harbinger of a new populist left in America.” Specifically, Hayden believes that de Blasio won big because he campaigned on issues “considered too polarizing for winning politics” like the inequalities told in New York’s “tale of two cities” and the police harassment of young men of color.
What the de Blasio win does for America, Hayden argues, is open up a space for progressive policy on a national platform:
With American politics polarized between the Obama center and the thriving Tea Party, the only opening for the left is through state and local federalism serving as “laboratories of reform”, to paraphrase former Justice Louis Brandeis. After the Gilded Age and the Great Crash of the 1920s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (1934-47) and legislators like Robert Wagner created the first pillars of the New Deal before it become the national platform of the Democrats. They successfully fought not only Wall Street bankers, but a virulent and racist American right . . . De Blasio is positioned to similarly shift the nation’s dialogue, policies and priorities in a progressive direction
Let’s hope he’s right.
Continuing on the subject of plutocracy versus populism, the Sunday before the big de Blasio win, the New York Times ran a cover piece in the Sunday Review entitled “Plutocrats Versus Populists” where Chrystia Freeland makes the case that we may be at a place politically in America where plutocracy has found its limits as the Tea Party populists on the right and progressive populists on the left threaten the plutocrats’ grip on political power.
Interestingly, Freeland argues that despite the fact that, “Democratic and Republican politicians are more likely to agree with the views of their wealthier constituents and to listen to them than they are to those lower down the income scale,” those politicians may find it difficult to maintain power because the policies they are enacting have “yet to come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs.”
Thus both plutocrats like the Koch brothers who make use of “political lobbying strictly focused on the defense or expansion of their economic interests” and the more moderate “philanthrocapitalists” like Bill Gates whose form of “plutocratic political power offers the tantalizing possibility of policy practiced at the highest professional level with none of the messiness and deal making and venality of traditional politics” may eventually be forced to negotiate with “bottom up politics” or lose to the populists.
While I don’t share Freeland’s optimism that the more moderate wing of plutocracy offer us technocrats who are “smart centrists with clever, fact-based policies designed to fine tune 21st century capitalism and make it work for everyone,” her distinction between the two camps of plutocrats is a useful one for understanding our local politics.
The Plutocrats’ Triple Threat
You can see the first variety of plutocratic politics clearly in the way the local corporate community responded during Filner’s battle with the hoteliers, subsequent disputes over the Barrio Logan plan, and last week’s vote to impose a “development fee” that would help subsidize affordable housing.
In all three incidents, whether our disgraced former mayor was involved or not, the response of the local power elite to very reasonable policies designed to serve the greater public good rather than the narrow interests of the powerful was full scale political war. In the case of the Barrio Logan plan and the redevelopment fee the corporate crowd struck back with one well-funded referendum effort and the threat of another after losing the votes.
The message here is clear: cross us and we’ll use our economic power to go around the City Council. It’s precisely the kind of intimidation that Walmart used to force the Council to say uncle during the fight over a proposed economic impact study for big box stores. This is clearly plutocratic political muscle being flexed in the service of “defending or expanding economic power,” plain and simple. If we were back in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Knights of Labor would call it, “wealth versus commonwealth.”
If you want this kind of plutocratic rule, Kevin Faulconer is your man: friend of business rather than the barrio, the main man of the House of Manchester set who will fight any effort to constrain the power of San Diego’s elite.
As for the second kind of plutocratic politician, enter Nathan Fletcher, the point man of San Diego’s manifestation of “philanthrocapitalism,” Jacobs-style. While Fletcher will never stand up for Barrio Logan, he will “have a real conversation” about coming up with a more politically expedient solution that won’t offend the plutocrats. And all his talk of “getting people together” is free of the bothersome conflict that comes with a thoroughgoing progressive populism.
In short, Fletcher is the handsome smiling face of the newly converted socially moderate though still thoroughly establishment “philanthrocapitalism,” complete with a vague technocratic solution for everything. He claims to be able to “gets things done” though we just aren’t sure yet what those things will actually be. What we can be assured of, however, is that those amorphous “things” really won’t ever disturb the Chamber of Commerce. He is “moderate” in precisely the same way Reich describes Christie and McAuliffe.
And finally, you have David Alvarez, the only serious candidate for mayor not supported by a local wing of San Diego’s plutocracy. Alvarez comes from humble origins and still lives in a blue-collar community. And he doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk. He knows the “tale of two cities” from the inside out and wants to unite us.
Alvarez is the only person running for mayor who has stood with Barrio Logan against the industries that want to run rough-shod over their community, the only one who stood outside City Hall with working class folks before the Council vote on the redevelopment fee and said, “Unfortunately, and just like we’ve seen over the past several years, the usual crowd of Downtown special interests are trying to get in the way of supporting working families.”
That’s not plutocracy speaking, that’s a man speaking the truth to power. Alvarez is the only truly progressive Democrat in the race for San Diego mayor. If we elect him, we’ll have our own game changer right here in San Diego. Yes, it can happen here too.