Everyone was there for the launch of Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s campaign for San Diego mayor. The head of the local Republican party. The head of the city’s fire and police unions. Fletcher’s announcement, held at the headquarters of a new medical device company in Sorrento Valley, could have appealed to them all. He focused on innovation, jobs and changing the debate from the financial problems that have plagued the city for at least the past decade.
“It’s time to turn the page. It’s time for a new energy, a new vision,” Fletcher said. “It’s time for a new generation of leaders not tied to the gridlock or problems of the past to step forward and lead.”
The difficulty, of course, is that the problems of the past remain the problems of today. The eventual decisions Fletcher will have to make on the city’s budget and pension troubles likely will turn dark the now-starry eyes of leaders from the Republican Party or public safety unions, both potential key supporters.
For now, Fletcher isn’t taking sides on a June 2012 ballot initiative that would replace pensions with 401(k)s for most new city workers. He’s waiting at least until a financial analysis is complete. It’s a fair stance; a financial analysis doesn’t yet exist. But if he comes out in favor of it, he’ll alienate the police and fire folks whose endorsements would give him a huge boost. If he comes out against it, he’ll alienate the party and donors who could turn him from a relative unknown into a chosen one. Fletcher said he gets that.
“Whatever position we take there will be political consequences,” he said. “But that’s true in any decision you make.”
Contrast Fletcher with Councilman Carl DeMaio, another Republican mayoral candidate. DeMaio’s the one with all the answers now. He’s touted his authorship of the 401(k) measure and of an 80-page glossy budget plan when he made his official mayoral announcement Sunday.
Wanting to go beyond the problems of the past without fixing them, DeMaio said, continues the problems of the past.
“You can’t be part of the happy-talk crowd,” DeMaio said in an interview. “That’s not a new generation of leadership. That’s the old pattern that got us into this.”
DeMaio’s definitive stances give him license to hammer those who haven’t taken them. But it also attracts anger. San Diego’s largest organized labor group already has opened a political action committee just to defeat him. He also has a history of upsetting some of the city’s more moneyed interests that could help him financially navigate a large mayoral field.
DeMaio didn’t accept the anti-establishment mantle, but he sure talks like someone who’s that kind of candidate.
“I don’t see this as a race of me versus other candidates,” he said. “I see this as a race of me versus the system and the people who benefit from the system. Organized labor and a lot of business lobbyists who’ve really had too cozy a relationship in the past.”
Here are a few other mayoral campaign tidbits:
• Fletcher introduced a few policy proposals during his announcement. The most interesting was a plan to have one regional library system. The city’s libraries are a perennial budget cutting target, and talks of consolidation with San Diego County and other governments go as far back as 30 years. Consolidation hasn’t happened for 30 years.
“I think the budgetary pressures can provide an incentive for people to do that,” Fletcher said. “It doesn’t make sense. The city runs a library. The county runs a library. The community college runs a library. The UC runs a library. Cal State runs a library. Let’s have a regional system.”
• Fletcher is going to address a broad scope of issues. He talked about fixing problems with the city’s schools, an issue that many argue is outside of the mayor’s responsibilities. Fletcher disagreed.
“If the city can find time to talk about fireworks and harbor seals, then we can make time to talk about educating our children,” he said.
A major ballot measure dramatically reshaping the San Diego school board also is planned for the June 2012 election.
• If DeMaio runs for mayor, he can’t run for re-election to his City Council seat. That means if he loses, DeMaio has no office. It’s a general rule that politicians don’t like to give up power. I asked DeMaio if he was 100 percent committed to the mayor’s race. He said absolutely.
“The sort of changes that I want to make, the sort of changes that we must make as a city, require that they be made from the Mayor’s Office,” he said.
• As we’ve noted, fundraising between now and June 30 is a big deal. On his campaign website, DeMaio pledges personally to match any donations made through the end of the month. DeMaio touts his business experience founding companies before he became a politician. He said he was unsure if he would continue matching donations after June.
“I haven’t decided,” he said. “I know that the special interest lobbyists and the labor unions are going to spend an ungodly sum to try to defeat our reform agenda.”