At this point in San Diego’s mayoral election, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher can’t compete with their Republican counterpart Councilman Carl DeMaio on his knowledge of city issues.

Actually, let’s be real. It’s doubtful Dumanis and Fletcher ever will — or even try to.

For the better part of a decade, DeMaio has steeped himself in the details of city politics and kept his signature issues, pension costs and competitive bidding, in San Diego’s daily discourse. If you think a high-energy, intellectually serious policy wonk should be mayor, and you appreciate regular union bashing, then you’ll no doubt like DeMaio.

Dumanis and Fletcher are positioning themselves as an alternative. Themselves, literally. As my story on the candidates’ road and infrastructure repair proposals shows, Dumanis and Fletcher don’t offer DeMaio’s details. Instead, they argue they can more effectively implement the reforms needed to fix streets.

Dumanis and Fletcher both say their personal histories and political experiences demonstrate they can build consensus with varying interest groups to make change. And by default, they argue that DeMaio’s hard-charging style will leave him with few allies and, as a result, few accomplishments.

Dumanis cites her more-than-three-decade rise from junior clerk typist to district attorney and record as the county’s top prosecutor. Fletcher relies on his time as a Marine and his record in the state Legislature. Case in point: The city’s police union endorsed him Wednesday even though the cops hate a divisive pension reform initiative that Fletcher supports.

“He has shown the ability to get a coalition of people together with opposing ideas to find a solution to solve a problem,” the union’s president said of Fletcher.

Keep a close eye, then, on how Dumanis and Fletcher present their leadership and management styles, particularly since they have similar policies and bases of support. It’s a way for them to distinguish themselves from each other, counteract DeMaio’s knowledge and provide perhaps the best insight into how they’ll run San Diego.

Here’s a small example: I recently interviewed a former city public works official who said he held meetings every other week about the slow pace of road and infrastructure repairs because the fixes were such a high-priority for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

When I spoke separately with Dumanis and Fletcher, I told them that story and asked if the public works official or the mayor himself should be holding those meetings. Dumanis’ reaction was not to micro-manage.

“The boss is not the day-to-day operator,” Dumanis said. “As the mayor and as the chief executive, you pick a good team and you hold that team responsible.”

Fletcher responded differently. He said he’s called heads of state agencies himself to check on the status of his requests.

“You gotta get in there,” Fletcher said.

A word also about the race’s only major Democrat, Congressman Bob Filner: Filner doesn’t appear to be positioning himself against any of the other candidates other than simply being the lone Democrat. He hasn’t been shy about saying he’ll finish in the top two of the June 2012 primary and face off against one of the Republicans next November.

He’s still going around town raising money, holding community coffees and debating. No elected Democrat has run San Diego for almost two decades, and he suggested at the end of a debate Wednesday night that the city’s establishment fears him.

“The old guard is scared to death of me,” Filner said. “Why is that? Because it’s something new.”

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for 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 or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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