Mayoral race: Filner is the lesser of two evils

by Leonardo Castaneda

MCT Campus

San Diego is a moderate city. Its moderate weather causes panic whenever it deviates from 72 degrees. It’s a moderately wealthy city, with a median income slightly higher and poverty rate slightly lower than the rest of California. It even has moderately successful sports teams—historically, not this year—that made appearances in the Super Bowl and World Series, despite losing both.

Few things have been more consistently moderate in San Diego than its mayor. However, this will change when voters choose between two unusually partisan candidates, either congressman Bob Filner or city council member Carl DeMaio, to become the mayor.

“DeMaio and Filner are much more partisan and extremist than any mayor that we’ve had in recent history,” San Diego State political science professor Brian Adams said. “Both (current Mayor) Sanders and (former mayor Dick) Murphy were moderate Republicans. Even when Pete Wilson was mayor, he was a moderate.”

Filner, a Democrat, served as the 51st District’s congressman for almost two decades. Last year, the National Journal gave him a 93.3 percent liberal rating, placing him in a tie as the most liberal member of the House of Representatives. Voice of San Diego lists shifting redevelopment money from downtown to the surrounding neighborhoods among Filner’s top priorities. His economic strategy centers on expanding the Unified Port of San Diego. This placed him at odds with downtown business interests, as well as U-T San Diego’s owner and land developer Doug Manchester, who spearheaded a downtown and waterfront expansion plan.

DeMaio, on the other hand, has been a city council member since 2008. He pushed for pension reform through Proposition B, which replaced traditional pensions for new city- hires with 401(k) pension plans. According to VOSD, DeMaio’s strategy focuses on financial reform. This includes continuing pension reform and benefit reduction for city employees, as well as outsourcing public employee jobs to the private sector.

DeMaio might seem like the logical fit for existing conservative interests in the city, but it wasn’t always so.

“When (DeMaio) was on the council, he was a flamethrower—and not just against liberals but against the entire establishment,” Adams said. “He was yelling and screaming against downtown business elites. He really angered a lot of people, including many Republicans.”

Although both candidates started on the extremes of San Diego politics, DeMaio made a concerted effort to move to the middle.

“The last couple of months, he’s formed alliances with many of the people he was arguing against,” Adams said.

This political moderation garnered DeMaio several key supporters including Sanders, a Republican; and Democrat philanthropist Irwin Jacobs. DeMaio’s campaign also managed to raise $3.4 million. However, more than $775,000 came from the candidate himself, both in direct contributions and loans to the campaign. A few independent political action committees raised money in support of DeMaio, primarily Taxpayers for Carl DeMaio – Mayor 2012, with slightly more than $207,000. The Republican Party (state and local branches combined) donated almost $800,000 to support DeMaio’s campaign.

Not all independent money has been favorable to DeMaio. PACs opposing DeMaio collected almost $2.2 million. The largest groups are San Diegans in Support of Bob Filner for Mayor – 2012 (more than $854,000), San Diego City Fire Fighters, Local 145 PAC (almost $710,000) and the union-backed Too Extreme for San Diego ($242,500), as well as several other public employee, police and teacher PACs.

Filner has been less willing to moderate as the election draws to an end and has therefore netted fewer big- name local endorsements. He managed to draw the attention of influential state and national politicians, with endorsements from former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Jerry Brown. Filner’s campaign was much less successful fundraising than DeMaio, with a total of slightly less than $1 million. However, pro-Filner PACs raised twice as much money as pro-DeMaio PACs, led by San Diegans for Retirement Security – Oppose DeMaio for Mayor 2012, sponsored by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees with almost $224,000.

The San Diego County Democratic Party also spent nearly $630,000 supporting Filner. Virtually all anti-Filner activity has been led by San Diegans for Reform in Opposition to Bob Filner with more than $1 million, financed by the pro-business Lincoln Club of San Diego County and the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors.

In the end, Filner is far from an ideal candidate. Although DeMaio took great steps to imitate the moderate Republican mayors San Diegans are used to, he still has a lengthy history of extreme partisanship. Filner’s vision of reinvestment away from downtown to help develop all of San Diego makes sense. DeMaio’s development plan seems to hinge on dismantling public employee unions, a move which would lower wages and could potentially harm the quality of services provided by the city.

It is fitting in this hyper-partisan election cycle for San Diego’s mayoral race to be so bitterly divided. Whomever voters choose will set a vision for city government, which will extend far beyond the next few years. Filner is best qualified to set a vision based on community investment, fair treatment for public sector employees and due attention to veterans, the elderly and those in need.