Photo by Sam Hodgson
Nathan Fletcher at the Voice of San Diego mayoral debate at The Birch North Park Theatre.
It’s been a long 10 weeks since San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigned. Four main candidates have emerged in the Nov. 19 special election to replace him. In the week before the big day, we’ll tell you what you need to know about them. Up first is former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.
Seen and Heard
Here’s a video introduction to Fletcher:
And Fletcher’s appearance on VOSD Radio:
The Pitch to Voters
Fletcher’s a dealmaker who can best mix San Diego’s penchant for electing moderate mayors with its growing progressive influence.
Three Big Issues
Fletcher argues his history shows he’s the best one to actually get stuff accomplished as mayor. He points to high-profile legislation he wrote, such as Chelsea’s Law, and big deals he made with Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.
But on many issues in this race, Fletcher doesn’t have a strong position. Often, his answer is to say he wants to have a conversation about the problem. He’s focusing on jobs and the economy, public safety and streets and sidewalks.
• Jobs and the Economy
Fletcher’s jobs plan calls for 130,000 new jobs in the region over the next six years – about 26,000 more than regional planners have forecast between 2008 and 2020. He emphasizes new manufacturing jobs, which would be clustered near the border, and high-tech jobs. (Fletcher’s currently an executive at Qualcomm focusing on community outreach.)
Like the previous mayoral campaign where he finished third in the primary, much of Fletcher’s jobs plan relies on him acting as an ambassador. He wants to speak with companies already in San Diego, potential trade partners in Asia and the federal and state governments to keep businesses here or expand the city’s reach. He also wants to brand San Diego as “the world’s most innovative city.”
• Public Safety
Fletcher wants more cops on the street and more fire stations. He says he’ll add 160 new police officers and halve police attrition by 2016.
On the campaign trail, Fletcher often cites delayed emergency medical responses to 911 calls in southeastern San Diego communities, and says he’ll resolve the issue.
The city’s police and fire unions have endorsed him.
• Streets and Sidewalks
By all accounts, Filner’s winning message in the last campaign was putting the city’s neighborhoods first. The candidates, Fletcher included, have embraced this framing. Fletcher’s plans to fix the city’s streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure address that issue.
Fletcher wants to spend enough money in his first year in office to keep the city’s streets, storm drains and buildings from further deteriorating. He also wants to hire an infrastructure czar and present a plan to deal with the issue by the end of 2014. He’s open to a large, voter-approved infrastructure loan, which would include a tax increase.
Fletcher served in the Marines, earning a medal in combat during the Iraq war. He worked for disgraced former U.S. Rep. Duke Cunningham, but wasn’t around for most of Cunningham’s bribery scandal. He brokered a huge deal in the state Legislature to divert billions in tax dollars to downtown San Diego that later unraveled.
In this campaign, though, the biggest issue in Fletcher’s background is his party-shifting. The 36-year-old Fletcher was a lifelong Republican until March 2012. Then in the middle of the last election, he became an independent. Then earlier this year he became a Democrat. At each step, he said made some shifts that don’t match his current positions.
“There’s no doubt that the transition from Republican to Democrat could have been done better,” Fletcher told me. “I should have done it sooner. But these are difficult things.”
Where He’s Weak
You could have a spirited debate between 2012 Nathan Fletcher and 2013 Nathan Fletcher.
In 2012, he bragged to the Republican Party about voting to eliminate welfare. In 2013, he talked up the virtues of union-friendly prevailing wage laws. It wasn’t too long ago that Fletcher palled around with Democratic bogeymen Karl Rove, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush.
Fletcher’s record suggests he probably would do big things as mayor. It’s unclear from Fletcher’s recent history exactly what those big things would be.
The city’s institutional heavyweights, including the two political parties and top business and labor groups, have shunned Fletcher’s campaign. Instead, he’s cobbled together a coalition from Democratic elected officials, such as Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, and smaller unions, such as the city’s white-collar, police and fire groups. You can see all of Fletcher’s endorsements here.
How He Wins
In the last campaign, Fletcher started at the bottom of a four-person field, briefly cracked the top two in the polls and then fell to third place. In this campaign, polls showed Fletcher at the top to start. In both races, Fletcher faced an onslaught of negative ads, primarily from the right. Fletcher’s always been a better runoff candidate than a primary one. He wins by holding off Democratic City Councilman Alvarez for second place and advancing to face likely first-place finisher Republican Councilman Kevin Faulconer.
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