Photo by Sam Hodgson
A polling station at the University of California, San Diego, on Election Day in November 2012.
It’s time for election season again.
San Diego’s next mayoral election began at 4 p.m. Friday when ex-Mayor Bob Filner resigned after an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations. In November, Filner became the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years. But the dynamics in this election won’t be anything like the last one.
Start Your Engines Yesterday
This race will move at a breakneck pace. The first election has to happen, per the City Charter, between two to three months after Filner officially leaves on Aug. 30. A runoff election, assuming no candidate wins more than half the initial vote, would occur 49 days later. (A statewide political consulting firm has a good rundown of possible dates.)
The speed of the election will benefit candidates who can raise money quickly and get major institutions like the local political parties, labor unions and GOP-friendly Lincoln Club on board early.
“I think the serious candidates will have raised $100,000 in the first week,” said Democratic political consultant Jennifer Tierney.
Tierney expected all the big interest groups to have made their choice known within two weeks.
We should also expect to see fewer debates. Filner and his opponent Carl DeMaio met a staggering 29 times during the runoff campaign because Filner would debate any time and anywhere, and DeMaio had to sell a more moderate image of himself. With Filner gone and election timeline sped up, this should change.
Turnout Favors the GOP
In the last five citywide elections, a rule has emerged. If you’re a Republican, you can get anything you want (City Council candidates, killing a sales tax hike, pension reform), except in a presidential general election.
Barack Obama or any other Democratic presidential contender won’t be on a mayoral special election ballot, either in a primary or runoff.
Voter turnout in the November election was 69 percent. In a special election, Tierney said turnout could plummet to about half that.
Lower turnout helps explain why even though Democrats have a more than 13-point registration edge over Republicans in the city, a GOP candidate would be competitive or even the favorite in a special election.
“Some kid from San Diego State who has never voted before is not coming down to vote in a special mayoral election before they go back to St. Louis next year,” Republican consultant Jennifer Jacobs said earlier this month.
Even if you assume residual distaste for Filner won’t hurt Democratic candidates in the special election, the turnout will.
Time to Clean Up City Hall Again
After San Diego’s last major mayoral political scandal in 2005, the “Clean Up City Hall” message reverberated for the next seven years, through the unceasing financial and political problems with city pensions. With the passage of a pension reform initiative and the ultimate defeat of its champion DeMaio, the last mayoral election cycle was seen as pension politics’ last hurrah.
Now the scandal that forced Filner from office will hang over the election and require candidates to have their own plan to address sexual harassment, or city credit card usage or other Filner-related weaknesses in City Hall.
“I think we’re going to go right back to that message,” Tierney said.
We should also expect to see more public scrutiny on the mayoral candidates’ character. Rumors of Filner’s treatment of women had been known for years, but nothing came out publicly prior to the election. Issues that might have been considered irrelevant personal issues before likely will become fair game post-Filner scandal.
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