Last Friday, the conservative San Diego Lincoln Club hosted the first mayoral debate attended by all four front-runners: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, state Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner. Below is a quick (and admittedly surface-level) take on the cocktail-hour event, held at the U.S. Grant Hotel.
DeMaio was among friends—the Lincoln Club is a major backer of the Comprehensive Pension Reform ballot measure that's become the platform of DeMaio's campaign—and his string of digs at organized labor went over well with the crowd.
Low point: Less than a minute into his first answer, DeMaio held up a copy of The Roadmap to Recovery, the plan he rolled out more than a year ago to fix city finances. As we've reported, DeMaio used a large chunk of his office budget to pay for the glossy, spiral-bound book—$36,900 went to a consultant and thousands of dollars more to print up copies. It was a handy self-marketing tool that he spent most of last year shopping around to various community groups. But a large part of the Roadmap is based on numbers from—and makes assumptions about—the fiscal year 2012 budget, which went into effect on July 1, 2011. Also, a significant chunk of the savings it assumes, $21 million, comes from reforming retiree healthcare. That's already been done—and without DeMaio's support. And, a task force that examined city finances in March deemed half of the Roadmap's proposed reforms not feasible.
Aguirre 2.0?: Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre spent much of his four years in office trying to undo vested pension benefits that he argued were illegally granted. In each case, the court disagreed. Time and again, courts have ruled that a public employee's pension benefits can't be touched. But, DeMaio suggested Friday that he'd take a stab at it: "I will get the best and brightest people around the table, and we will crack the code; we will pick the lock." Good luck with that.
Last time we saw Fletcher debate, it was only him and Bob Filner at a union-sponsored forum. As I wrote in a blog post, the pairing and setting only underscored Fletcher's Republican-ness:
And, indeed, Fletcher, a moderate Republican, was clearly at odds with the politics of most of the folks in attendance. Comprehensive pension reform? He supports it (boo!). Forcing city workers to prove they can do their jobs more cheaply than the private sector? He supports that, too (double boo!). Implementing a policy that requires the city to hire locally for taxpayer-funded projects? He doesn't support that (triple boo!).
Up against all three candidates, though, Fletcher came across as more moderate, especially with his talk of boosting San Diego's creative economy and his emphasis on coalition building. He got points for bringing up a Downtown IDEA district and for mentioning Richard Florida. Apparently Fletcher's a big fan of Florida's, author of the 2003 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which argues that cities need to abandon traditional economic-growth models and attract innovators who think outside the box. Florida's downright visionary when it comes to smart urban planning. We dig him. Dave Rolland interviewed him back in 2003. From that story(emphasis added):
[Florida's book] argues, in a nutshell, that traditional methods of stimulating regional economic growth, such as offering companies tax incentives and building large-scale amenities like sports stadiums, are outmoded. Don't do it, he tells anyone who'll listen—investment in human creativity is the path to greener pastures.
Re: sports stadiums: Fletcher supports a new Downtown stadium for the Chargers, but said it shouldn't be "a box you use eight times a year for football." He said Friday that he'd prefer a sports and entertainment district in East Village. That, however, raises the specter of overly commercialized city centers that lack character—not the sort of thing that attracts creative-class-type folks.
Zing!: Bonnie Dumanis has said that, if elected, she'll donate her mayoral salary to education. But, she's also looking at a quarter of a million dollars annual pension when she leaves the DA's office. Fletcher's response to that was one of the better lines of the night. (The first few words of the video are "at the state level"):
Oh, Bob. As long as you're in the race, it'll be a good time. Even though your long-promised pension-reform plan's yet to materialize, you have impeccable comedic timing:
We've been wondering what Bob's been up to. His behavior Friday was kind of like his campaign: unfocused. Almost from the second he took the stage, Filner was looking up, looking down, looking left and right, prompting one tweeter to wonder whether there was something just off the stage holding his attention.
The Bob and Nathan show: As mentioned above, Filner and Fletcher are the only candidates who've met before in a debate, and Filner's schtick has been to promise Fletcher various positions in his administration. On Thursday, it was speech writer and "Sports and Innovation District Czar."
Running for what?: At an October debate, Filner proposed public ownership of the Chargers—a sort of "If we give you money for a new stadium, you give us a stake in the team." But the NFL doesn't allow it (voiceofsandiego.org's Scott Lewis has a good post looking at that issue). The subject came up on Friday. Filner's response: "We can change the rules on the NFL. We can change the rules on their tax exemption." Yes, perhaps Congress could do that, but after this year, Filner will no longer be in Congress. So, he best get to work.
Until Friday, Dumanis' campaign has been pretty much a series of uninspired statements via press release. And, her plan for education was less-than-inspiring (VoSD). But, folks I've talked to have said they were impressed by her performance, and it was refreshing to hear Dumanis admit that she's stumbled some: "I may not be practiced; I may not be polished. But I am trying."
Low point: To illustrate her ability to make tough decisions, Dumanis brought up the fact that she has to decide whether to seek the death penalty in murder cases. Given the diminishing popularity of capital punishment and the fact that it doesn't really mean a death sentence (only 13 people have been executed in California since 1978), this might not be the best example.