Saturday’s inaugural Politifest had all the makings of a successful festival: a dunk tank, food trucks, a beer garden and an inflatable worm-shaped obstacle course to keep toddlers in check. 

And then there was the season’s first mayoral debate and the Idea Tournament, the highlights of our first Politifest, designed to celebrate the ideas that shape San Diego’s future. 

The lively and free-flowing Lincoln/Douglas-style mayoral debate featured seven candidates and, as the Union-Tribune noted, “some moments were punctuated by ruckus applause or laughter.” The newspaper’s coverage focused on the divergent pension strategies of Bob Filner and Nathan Fletcher, but also touched on what appeared to be the crowd’s favorite quote of the day, from magician and perennial candidate Loch David Crane: “I’m running for mayor because it’s time to change the water in the bong of city government.”

Our news partner NBC 7 San Diego, who co-hosted the event, took on the candidates’ views on the financial issues and medical marijuana, and even captured some footage of the tug of war and dunk tank. CBS8 focused on the candidates’ views on a new Chargers stadium and talked to some of the people in the audience. One interesting thing of note: Filner mentioned trying to get a public stake in the team, something we’ve long been interested in

What else did some of the 1,000 or more attendees have to say about the event? Let’s turn to Twitter:

@jwalcher: Enjoyable event! Something for everyone. Good job. Looking forward to #2.

@dougporter506: Thanks to @voiceofsandiego @Politifest. We had a good time. High point: local bigwig democrat took my fake DeMaio sticker to be real. (Porter wrote up his impression of the event on the blog OBRag.)

@Fletcher2012: Big Team Fletcher THX to every supporter, volunteer & friend who attended #politifest to cheer on SD’s next mayor @nathanfletcher!

@raptorhands: Went to Politifest today. I stopped by tables based on their candy selection. 

(Did you see the chocolate at the Classics 4 Kids booth, @raptorhands?)

Our own @vosdscott (Scott Lewis): The one bad thing about #politifest was that it was something I would really have liked to just go to rather than work. Maybe someday.

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Offline, Lewis said he was pleased with the event and the turnout. “We made some decisions better than others and look forward to taking those lessons into next year’s planning,” he said. 

No Grocery Strike Yet 

Will they or won’t they? That’s the question that inspired many San Diegans to make a last-minute run to the supermarket on Sunday in the event of a grocery strike.

Union leaders met with grocery chain negotiators and continued with talks that went well past a previously arranged 7:10 p.m. Sunday deadline. If a settlement isn’t reached, 62,000 grocery workers at Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs could walk off the job over health benefit disagreements. And if there is a strike, Ralphs and Albertsons have plans to close their doors, at least initially.

“Our workers will stay on the job until at least midnight, and possibly longer if negotiations are moving ahead,” Mike Shimpock, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 said.

The negotiations come at a time when 160,000 people in San Diego County are unemployed and may not be as sympathetic as they were in 2003, when a similar grocery strike lasted four months.

“Go ahead and strike, lots of people need a job,” wrote an online commentator. “I will see all of you as I cross the picket line.” (NBC San Diego, U-T)

Union Tribune writer Tanya Mannes is a good writer to follow on Twitter for updates on the potential strike.

San Diego Schools Get Short-Changed by the State

For years, California’s been getting further and further behind on its payments of tax revenues to schools. Rather than send school districts money, the government’s been handing out IOUs.

San Diego Unified alone is owed about $70 million. Other smaller local school districts like Grossmont Union High School District and San Marcos Unified are owed tens of millions of dollars — equivalent to around 30 percent of those districts’ entire budgets.

So to meet payroll each month and pay expenses involved with keeping schools open, districts are taking out loans with interest rates.

Will Carless explores how these loans and IOUS are affecting local children.

“It’s frustrating. I look at that $65,000 and that’s a teacher I could’ve hired, but instead I’ve got to spend it borrowing this money,” said Scott Patterson, district’s deputy superintendent of business services.

Fighting Pension Reform

San Diego pension reform was a big topic at Politifest, but the U-T says those wanting to end guaranteed pensions for most new city hires and give them 401(k)s instead, may have trouble getting the initiative on the June 2012 ballot.  

Supporters must collect over 94,000 signatures from registered city voters in a six-month window, which is no easy task, especially when there’s strong opposition from local labor unions. The unions are admittedly putting up as many roadblocks as possible to thwart the effort with protests of their own at signature-gathering locations.

“They’re trying to hustle as many signatures as they can get, rightfully so, and we’re going to do what we can to make sure they don’t get ’em,” said Frank De Clercq, head of the city firefighters union. “The unions are going to want to verify every one of those signatures. I’m sure there are plenty of duplicates.”

The Drama That Is Plaza de Panama 

Most everyone agrees that Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama would be much lovelier without all those cars in the way. 

Making that happen, however, has been quite a saga that’s played out by way of council votes, lawsuit and lots of press conferences.

Adrian Florido pieces together everything that’s been going on so far  — from preservationists who don’t want the park’s historic features altered to the philanthropist committed to raising money to see his vision through.

At Politifest, opponents of the mayor’s plan snapped this shot of them trying to fit the mayor’s special projects director, Gerry Braun, with one of their shirts.  It was a good example of the kind of dialogue at the festival. 

New Chapters for the Armed Forces

Big changes are in store for the United States military, just as San Diego’s in the midst of celebrating Fleet Week. 

On Tuesday, gay and lesbian soldiers will be able to serve openly in uniform an idea that the Marine Corps — combat troops in particular — protested at first. Then, on Friday, Adm. Jonathan Greenert will be sworn in as the 30th chief of naval operations in Washington, D.C.

Though the Navy’s new top officer isn’t expected to abruptly change the Navy’s course, it’s expected that he’ll zealously protect shipbuilding plans for submarines as the military braces for budget cuts. (U-T)

Remembering Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan

After a long battle with endometrial cancer, Encinitas City Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan died Friday evening, the North County Times reports. She was 63. 

Houlihan, who served on the council for 11 years and was mayor twice, was known for being a strong animal rights activist and a leader in the local environmental movement. And to Encinitas kids, she’ll be fondly remembered as the woman who wore the giant white rabbit costume at the city’s annual egg hunts.

‘Teaching, Not Preaching’

It seems everyone has an opinion about Bradley Johnson, the Poway Unified School District teacher who hung religious banners in his classroom. 

The Los Angeles Times weighed in over the weekend with an editorial about the controversial incident, stating, “what goes on at the front of the classroom must be teaching, not preaching. 

One Very Expensive Gift

Carlsbad Councilwoman Ann Kulchin, who buys her own tickets to area fundraisers and events, has only accepted one gift in her 31 years in office.

But, that one gift — a trip to Israel — was worth more than $4,000

Kulchin, who isn’t Jewish, said she received the invitation to go to Israel because of her long-standing relationship with Chabad of La Costa, a synagogue in Carlsbad.

“If you get invited to Israel, you go,” she said. (NC Times)

Acknowledging Pop Culture

Congratulations to USD alum Jim Parson’s on his Emmy win for best actor in a comedy. 

And let’s just not mention Tom Brady’s name whatsoever, OK?

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