Holidays are a great time to catch up on your reading. With the San Diego mayor’s race as 2012’s biggest local political issue, we’ve culled three significant stories on each of the four major candidates for your holiday pleasure. Unless otherwise noted, the pieces come from our archives.

Curl up in your comfy chair, roast some chestnuts, throw some marshmallows in your hot cocoa and enjoy.

City Councilman Carl DeMaio

In less than a decade, Carl DeMaio has gone from an unknown outsider to a daily force in local politics.

His rapid rise still has been most comprehensively captured in a 2005 Union-Tribune profile focusing on DeMaio’s sudden appearance on the San Diego political scene and his business history. It includes DeMaio’s immortal response to a question about his wealth: “Don’t people know I’m a man of means now?” he said. “I drive a BMW!”

DeMaio reached the pinnacle of his city political career last November. He had just been the primary actor behind the defeat of a sales tax hike at the polls. Less than a week later he unveiled his budget plan, which has been the foundation for his mayoral campaign. We examined at the time what leadership looked like for DeMaio.

DeMaio’s populism, unabashed fiscal conservatism and in-your-face approach has made him the most polarizing figure in San Diego politics. My colleague Scott Lewis took a close look at how DeMaio takes on the world with his potential similarities to former City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Combined with his demeaning view of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and Regional Economic Development Corp. and his attack on the arts, I’m struggling to picture if there’s an interest group in the city DeMaio is courting. He’s said before he looks to the building industry, the restaurants and the Realtors.

It’s a populist campaign. It’s not unlike the ones Aguirre waged. He lost all of his campaigns but one, the 2004 city attorney race. Though he was well known as hostile to all the same type of establishment groups, Aguirre benefited from an atmosphere of scandal and another important trait: his charm. He managed to get support from Chargers supporters, port commissioners, Realtors, establishment types, even the Union-Tribune.

Then, in 2008, having alienated just about everyone who supported him in 2004 — from unions to liberals and Republicans — he was clobbered. The populist learned he was not all that popular.

Unlike Aguirre, DeMaio’s not even trying to charm his way into a major city post. Either he’s not concerned about winning and he just wants to keep framing the debate, or he thinks the organized opposition against him, which could be bipartisan and unprecedented, isn’t all that effective.

I guess we’ll find out if that’s true.

The Stories:

Newcomer businessman wants a shot at fixing S.D., Union-Tribune, May 2005.

It’s In Carl’s Hands Now, November 2010.

Carl DeMaio vs. the World, February 2011.

The Road to 2012: Carl DeMaio.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis

Two years ago, we dubbed District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, “San Diego’s Most Powerful Politician.” How did we come to that conclusion? You can read our five-part series on her to find out. If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, Dumanis has developed an aw-shucks personality, made powerful relationships — notably with former Sheriff Bill Kolender — and wielded her political largesse effectively. Here’s a section from the first part of our Dumanis series:

She has distinguished herself by sheer force of personality: She is a political animal who cultivates relationships with important and average people alike. She is prominent in state politics and has friends in Washington D.C. She is being recruited to run for mayor and state attorney general.

Hers is the most coveted endorsement in town, and nobody in politics or law enforcement wants to cross her.

She’s also benefited by circumstance: As a law enforcement official, voters see her more as a crime fighter than a politician. The star power of San Diego city council members has been diminished by talk of bankruptcy, severe budget cuts, corruption investigations and other scandals.

Dumanis attempted to make tackling political corruption central to her time in office. But the record of her high-profile public integrity unit is far from sparkling. My colleague Will Carless found just one successful prosecution of a public official in the first four years of the unit’s existence. (District attorney investigators did raid the homes of three South Bay school board members this week.)

Dumanis has one of the best jobs in San Diego politics already. So why is she running for mayor? The Union-Tribune did a Q&A with Dumanis this fall. Her answer to that question and others is the most complete look at her stance on city issues to date.

The Stories:

The Rise of Dumanis, January 2010.

D.A.’s Public Integrity Unit: Not So Public Lately, April 2011.

A conversation with Bonnie Dumanis, Union-Tribune, September 2011.

The Road to 2012: Bonnie Dumanis.

U.S. Congressman Bob Filner

Bob Filner has been in local politics for a while. So long, in fact, that we’re going all the way back to 1987 for a Los Angeles Times profile of Filner on the eve of his first successful City Council race. The Times’ story discusses Filner’s time with the Freedom Riders in the 1960s, which is central to his political narrative:

His involvement in the civil rights movement, combined with a second pivotal event — working as a legislative aide to the late Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) in the mid-1970s — dramatically altered Filner’s career plans, drawing him first to teaching and later, politics.

“The first event showed me that people could change things, and the experience with Humphrey reinforced that by exposing me to a lot of practical political skills needed to make those changes,” said the 45-year-old Filner.

A Pittsburgh native raised in New York City, Filner was one of the hundreds of college students who traveled to the South in the summer of 1961 to push for abolition of legal separation of the races. In Jackson, Miss., Filner was arrested for being part of an integrated group in a bus station waiting room — a violation of a law requiring that blacks and whites wait in different rooms. He was convicted and, pending an appeal, spent about two months in city and county jails and state prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately overturned Filner’s and other activists’ convictions and, in the process, struck down the racial separation laws. That legal victory provided the foundation for Filner’s abiding faith that personal involvement and commitment can change society — a guiding tenet in his political career.

Our fascination with Filner has focused on his twin personalities. He’s has a history of quarrelling with anyone and everyone, including Democratic Party mainstays. He also has attracted adoration in his increasingly diverse district with his hard work and responsiveness to constituents.

Filner has an interesting take on the mayor’s race. He doesn’t think he needs to worry about June’s primary because he’s the only major Democratic candidate. You can understand his stance on city issues best in this August CityBeat interview.

The Stories:

Filner: Being a Freedom Rider Changed the Course of His Life, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1987.

The Two Filners, Jan. 2010.

Our interview with Bob Filner, CityBeat, Aug. 2011.

The Road to 2012: Bob Filner.

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher

Nathan Fletcher’s military service has formed the foundation of his political narrative. We recently took a lengthy look at Fletcher’s time in the Marines and found that he honed the same conciliatory tone in the military that he’s used in politics.

When Fletcher’s name first arose as a potential mayoral candidate last fall, we did a Q&A with him. We touched on his high-profile sponsorship of Chelsea’s Law, gay marriage and his philosophy on budgeting.

A month after our interview, Fletcher made his biggest political play to date. He engineered a late-night law to divert a significant share of $6 billion in future property taxes to San Diego downtown redevelopment at the expense of state education funds. We put together a detailed play-by-play of the hectic night before the law passed, including Fletcher’s role:

In less than six hours on the day before the downtown redevelopment bill passed the state Assembly, the responsibility for potentially hundreds of millions of tax dollars switched hands without any public discussion.

At 5 p.m., Fletcher personally passed along a draft version of the bill to (Mayor Jerry) Sanders’ then-chief of staff. In the email, an Assembly budget committee consultant had written: “Does this work for san diego…”

It didn’t.

That draft would have forced school funding to come from downtown redevelopment instead of the state, a massive hit to the agency’s bottom line that city leaders weren’t willing to take. They didn’t believe that version of the bill would have given downtown redevelopment enough money.

Instead, they determined it was better to go through the public process the council already had started, two former Sanders policy advisors who were involved in the deal said. If that public process was successful, the state would have been stuck with the schools’ tab.

One of the former advisors, Job Nelson, said some in the city believed the bill’s language even would have hurt the downtown redevelopment agency’s current funding.

“We just looked at it and we said … ‘Wait a second, this is even worse than the deal we have now,’” Nelson said in an interview. “Nathan went back to whoever and said ‘no’ to the deal. And they blinked.”

The Stories:

For Fletcher, Military and Political Identities Rooted in the Personal, December 2011.

The Emerging Candidate, September 2010.

San Diego Stuck State With Schools’ Big Bill, February 2011.

The Road to 2012: Nathan Fletcher.

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 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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