File photos by Sam Hodgson
Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner.
Which San Diego mayoral candidate has spent his time since the primary talking about public schools, the environment and the border with Mexico?
And which candidate has taken pains to emphasize that he’ll implement a pension initiative, the Balboa Park remodel and the Convention Center expansion?
If you guessed Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio for the first and Democratic Congressman Bob Filner for the second, congratulations. You spent your summer following the mayor’s race. But if you stopped paying attention the day after the June primary, you might not recognize either of the two candidates any more.
With the day after Labor Day serving as the traditional start to campaign season, here’s a Reader’s Guide to how the candidates have changed since the primary.
• Education: DeMaio prides himself on his detailed plans for civic issues, such as city finances, jobs and volunteering. One major topic he had left out was K-12 public education. The city has little direct control over the San Diego Unified School District and DeMaio, like many others, had long argued that the mayor had too much to do to tackle education. The most DeMaio said during the primary was that his city financial reforms could be a model for the school district to follow.
But with the school system facing financial pressure, greater voter interest in city control and other mayoral candidates making education a campaign issue, DeMaio started to turn at the end of the primary. Now he’s formally added education to his platform.
In August, DeMaio said he wanted the district to adopt more performance measures tied to student achievement. He made the announcement alongside City Council President Tony Young, a Democrat. Young has yet to endorse in the mayor’s race, but has said the candidates’ education proposals would be a key to that decision. DeMaio and Young also said the council would hold a joint meeting with the school board on these issues later this month.
• Environment: San Diego’s next mayor faces a showdown with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over pollution at the city’s Point Loma sewage treatment plant. Increasing sewage recycling is expected to be vital to any deal.
That would seem to hurt DeMaio, who cast one of two City Council votes against a demonstration plant for recycling sewage two years ago.
But DeMaio’s position on sewage recycling — once derided by opponents as “toilet to tap” — has changed since that vote. During the primary, he said he was keeping an open mind on it. And two weeks ago, he announced he backed the program. His new environmental plan says purifying sewage is a “trusted technology.”
DeMaio’s overall environmental proposal calls for a new water rate structure, a revamped city department to handle environmental and storm water issues and greater promotion of surfing as an economic driver.
When he released the plan, the left-leaning League of Conservation Voters dismissed DeMaio’s environmental record. Its president, Livia Borak, noted that he had the worst cumulative score of any council member on the group’s annual environmental report card.
• Border: DeMaio’s most recent cause célèbre is the border with Mexico. He took a two-day trip to the country last week to talk with business and political leaders about economic development. Though he mentioned border issues in the jobs plan he released last year, now is the first time he’s emphasized it.
Contrast that with Filner, who represents California’s border with Mexico. Filner jabbed at DeMaio’s newfound interest at a debate before DeMaio’s trip.
“I’m so proud of you, Carl,” Filner said. “You’re going to go to Mexico in a few days. You know I was just there yesterday with (Tijuana) Mayor (Carlos) Bustamante.”
DeMaio emphasized that the border’s major problems weren’t fixed, referencing long wait times to cross and sewage spills.
• People: As recently as the primary campaign, DeMaio blamed downtown business leaders for the city’s long-running financial problems.
But he began courting them after the June election. He’s also since embraced a former city councilwoman.
When Toni Atkins was on the council, she voted in favor of one of the city’s most infamous pension deals. DeMaio has made his political career in San Diego railing against the deal.
In April 2007, San Diego Magazine asked DeMaio asked about the political future of Atkins and other council members tied to the pension crisis.
“I don’t think they have a political future whatsoever,” DeMaio replied. “And I don’t think they warrant a political future.”
But recently, Atkins was named Democratic majority leader in the assembly. DeMaio’s response? He congratulated her on Twitter, calling it “A good development for San Diego!“
Here are some things Filner used to say about important San Diego civic matters.
The Proposition B pension initiative: “A fraud.”
The Convention Center expansion’s financing plan: “The billion-dollar convention center giveaway to private, out-of-town hoteliers.”
The Balboa Park Plaza de Panama remodel: “Destroy[s] the historical integrity of Balboa Park.”
This change in rhetoric comes after all three received stamps of approval from voters and the council.
In the June primary, San Diegans overwhelmingly approved Prop. B, which gives most new city workers 401(k)s instead of pensions. And by large majorities, the City Council signed off on the major part of the expansion’s financing plan and ratified the Plaza de Panama proposal.
Filner and his supporters have emphasized that nothing is different about his take on the issues, just that he’ll bow to the will of the voters and the council like any mayor would be required to do. After all, he even said during the primary that he’d implement Prop. B if it passed.
So now that these efforts have been approved, could Filner take any position other than carrying them through? Yes.
For instance, he could have followed through with his pledge to brand the cost of the Balboa Park plan “the Carl DeMaio Tax” for the remainder of the campaign. Or he could have tried to stick to his original pension proposal, which called for some across-the-board raises for city employees, and still fell within the bounds of the law on Prop. B.
But Filner isn’t. Instead, he’s changing his emphasis, tone and tenor. His goal seems to be promoting a more conciliatory image rather than the combative one he displayed during the primary.
The Bottom Line
It’s a rule in elections that politicians try to move to the middle in general elections after playing to the extremes in the primary. That seemed especially likely for this mayor’s race. Both candidates are more partisan than the politicians San Diegans usually elect to lead them.
But few could have expected the sheer amount of shifting going on for both candidates. DeMaio is talking about issues he rarely did before. And Filner is talking about implementing initiatives he decried in the strongest terms before.
There are now 63 days until the election.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
Like VOSD on Facebook.
Value investigative reporting? Support it. Donate Now.