The 2016 Mayoral Contest: Lori Saldaña Aims to Offer a Choice, Not an Echo

by on April 29, 2016 · 0 comments

in Culture, Election, Environment, History, Homelessness, Labor, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

Lori Saldana official picBy Doug Porter

If you buy into the notion, currently in vogue with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, of Democratic party orthodoxy as being little more than Republican lite, then Lori Saldaña would the logical choice to vote for in the upcoming San Diego mayoral primary.

The former assemblywoman has an activist pedigree, a history of hard-fought grassroots campaigns, and the enmity of the local political establishment.

In January Saldaña launched an independent campaign to challenge Kevin Faulconer, undaunted by a million dollar war chest (including PACs) and the advantages accompanying incumbency in America’s Finest City. The current mayor’s single greatest accomplishment thus far, in my opinion, has been directing the public relations players at his disposal in a non-stop symphony of praise for their leader, so it ain’t gonna be easy.

Environmental Activism, Plus

Throughout the 1990s Lori Saldaña was active in local environmental causes, becoming one of the founding Board of Directors for San Diego Earth Day and helping to organize the first “Earth Fair” in Balboa Park in 1990.

Later she worked with the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club, serving as chair from Jan. 1996 to Aug. 1997. Saldaña and the organization were named plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit against an Environmental Protection Agency proposed border sewage treatment project.

As an environmentalist, she learned about the broader political ramifications of her activism. By the time I met her a few years back, Saldaña possessed a seemingly encyclopedic understanding of the interconnectivity of class, race, and gender issues, alongside her love for the planet.

In 2004, she ran for Assembly beating out Vince Hall and Heidi von Szeliski in the primary by mostly ignoring her competition and going door-to-door. Her victory came as a surprise to her well-connected opponents and the local Democratic party establishment.

Saldaña defeated Republican Tricia Hunter, a former Assemblywoman. She was re-elected twice, winning 64% of the vote in 2006 and 2008. She left the Assembly due to term limits in 2010.

In addition to supporting significant environmental legislation (co-author of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act), she played a role in efforts to increase the minimum wage, reform the California ballot initiative process, enact Marriage Equality legislation, end abusive practices by payday lenders of military families, and create a single payer option for health care coverage.

Saldaña’s swan song as the legislative session drew to a close in 2010 involved a battle on the Assembly floor as a midnight cutoff for passing legislation approached.

The bill in question would have banned the open carry of unloaded handguns. It passed in the Senate by one vote. The Democratic leadership in the Assembly refused to use parliamentary procedure tactics to end GOP debate so the measure could be heard.

The legislation, supported by police chiefs from around the state, was sacrificed so other issues could be addressed.

From the Union-Tribune coverage:

At one point she was pleading with Calderon, her hands squarely on his chest, almost pushing him backward. Each time he strode off.

“It’s dead,” she said, seconds after the Assembly declared that no more measures, other than urgency bills and budget-related legislation, could be brought up.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, was clearly pleased with the tactics Republicans had used to save the day for gun-rights. “We’ll take victory any way we can get it,” he said.

The Race for Congress

Saldana & PetersSaldaña’s refusal to play nice with the party leadership is something she wears as a badge of honor. It has also made her some powerful enemies.

Her decision to run for the newly redrawn 52nd Congressional district in 2012 gave some of those Democratic adversaries a chance to get even.

Former City Councilman and Port Commissioner Scott Peters was encouraged to run for Congress by party insiders, fed up with Saldaña’s bad attitude. One labor leader reportedly called her “batshit crazy.”

Two months after the former Assemblywoman’s announcement, Scott Peters was all in. Eight months and million dollars in TV ads later, he won, beating out Saldaña by 700 votes.

The FilnerGate Follies

filnersexism2As San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s career took a nosedive in the summer of 2013, Saldaña let it be known that she’d approached the Democratic party leadership in 2011 with concerns raised by what she said were six different women about episodes of sexual harassment. She said nothing happened as a result.

From Voice of San Diego:

Saldaña said Filner never personally harassed her and declined to say who alleged to have had run-ins with the mayor. She said former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who is calling for Filner’s resignation over unspecified sexual harassment allegations, inspired her to talk.

Saldaña has a long history of conflict with Filner, most prominently over a failed border sewage treatment project about a decade ago. She also wound up endorsing him for mayor.

Party leaders, she said, made it clear that if people didn’t support Filner they wouldn’t receive their support again.

Democratic party leaders Jess Durfee and Francine Busby had a different view on what went down.

Durfee told the Union-Tribune that after Saldaña came to him, Filner was approached. The former mayor, according to Durfee, assured him there was nothing to worry about and pointed out that not one of his many female staffers over the years had ever filed a sexual harassment complaint.

Busby responded to Voice of San Diego, saying discussions involving Filner’s poor treatment of women never rose above being a rumor, pointing out the former Congressman’s three-decade long history as an advocate for progressive causes as the reason the party supported him.

There was some more back and forth over this, including some chapters of a book in progress posted by Lori Saldaña at San Diego Free Press, but the final outcome was that she changed her party registration to No Party Preference. Let’s just say there’s no love lost on either side of this.

The Campaign Against Faulconer

saldana campaign announcementIn January, saying the she believed voters deserved a choice, Saldaña formally declared her candidacy for San Diego’s top job.

She explained her reasoning in an interview with Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis:

I’m running to give voters of San Diego a choice. And the ones who might otherwise choose to simply not turn out to vote because they feel that they don’t have a dog in that fight, I want them to know that I’m there for people who otherwise feel disenfranchised by the process ? not just the current election process but the process that got us here in the first place.

If you look at the last 15 years the history of San Diego, we have had mayors elected by special election time after time after time. When Dick Murphy left, triggered a special election. Low voter turnout. Then we had the whole fill-in-the-bubble Donna Frye question that I think discouraged people from trusting the election system. Then we had Bob Filner and all of the problems associated with his election, which led to a special and low voter turnout and I think again disenchantment and discouragement that somehow this system is not working for the majority of San Diegans. You’re seeing increasingly lower numbers of people choosing the top-level position in the eighth-largest city in the country, over a million people. I believe in more voter participation. I want to encourage more people to turn out to vote and I want to have a very spirited debate on the future of this city. That won’t happen unless someone steps in and says, “I’m running for mayor of San Diego.”

Her admittedly low-budget campaign for mayor is all about staying connected with activism in San Diego. She’s been actively supporting a local initiative to increase the minimum wage, reforming oversight of police practices, improved programs for the homeless, racial justice, feminist and environmental groups initiatives.

This week she was on the forefront of activists asking local officials to observe April 27th as Denim Day. Saldaña was active in getting her colleagues in Sacramento to participate in earlier observances as a worldwide response to an infamous case where an Italian judge dismissed rape charges because the victim wore tight jeans.

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