She gave them the question beforehand because she wanted all four of the mayoral candidates to be prepared for their interview.

Susan Tinsky, one of San Diego’s most prominent affordable housing advocates, asked the candidates about the proposed Convention Center expansion and housing. Specifically, Tinsky wanted to know where all the people who received the low-wage tourism jobs generated by the expansion would live in a region with such high housing prices.

Three of the candidates, Republicans Carl DeMaio and Bonnie Dumanis and former Republican Nathan Fletcher, answered by talking about the economic development that the Convention Center expansion would bring, not tourism jobs vs. housing affordability, Tinsky said.

Democratic Congressman Bob Filner, she said, responded by talking about the importance of making affordable housing a greater part of the city’s infrastructure plans.

“You can tell a lot about the framing in how they come back to you,” Tinsky said.

It’s not just housing. Filner has a distinct take on many of the core questions in the mayor’s race. His three rivals for the most part don’t vary on the big issues and instead duke it out over how to get the same things done. For proof, check out our mayoral candidate scorecard. DeMaio, Dumanis and Fletcher all support a pension reform initiative, a ban on mandating union-friendly contract deals, outsourcing city services and the Convention Center expansion plan. Filner opposes all of them.

I started asking Filner about the scorecard, but he stopped me before I finished my question.

“I’m different than all the other three,” Filner said. “Guess what? I’m the Democrat. They’re Republicans.”

Filner’s answer played into the stereotype of his campaign platform: People should vote for him because he’s a Democrat. But the depth of Filner’s difference runs deeper than party.

It’s in how he pitches himself. Dumanis brags about throwing people in jail as the district attorney. Filner brags about going to jail during the civil rights movement.

It’s in his approach and position on issues. The affordable housing example shows that he comes from a different place than his opponents. Filner has said he supports the idea behind redevelopment: focused, targeted, investment in downtrodden neighborhoods. But he disliked San Diego’s emphasis on downtown redevelopment. Every other mayoral candidate decried the recent death of redevelopment as a major hit to the city’s economic development program. Filner celebrated it as a blow to downtown insiders, and hoped it would allow the city to focus on needier neighborhoods outside downtown.

And it’s in the kind of people he’d surround himself with once in office. Environmental, neighborhood, open government and renewable energy advocates would have a seat at the table that they haven’t had previously, Filner said.

“I’m going to listen to different people,” he said. “I’m going to make different appointments. We’re going to have different advisors. We’re going to listen to the neighborhoods.”

He listed Environmental Health Coalition head Diane Takvorian, solar energy booster Bill Powers and former City Councilwoman Donna Frye as three examples.

Filner’s approach inspires confidence among these kinds of groups even when on the surface their ideals might conflict with his policies. Filner’s economic development strategy relies on massive development of San Diego’s port. Though Filner has laid out few details on his plan, an expansion would likely affect the surrounding port neighborhoods of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights, whose residents continue to push back against industry expansion.

Nicole Capretz, a director at Takvorian’s Environmental Health Coalition, which advocates for public health issues, said she wasn’t concerned about Filner’s jobs plan. She knew Filner would address her organization’s point of view because they would be in the room with Filner when he worked out the plan’s specifics.

“We’d have his ear,” Capretz said.

The biggest difference between Filner and other candidates and recent City Hall history, said political scientist Vlad Kogan, is that Filner rejects tourism as the city’s primary economic development strategy in favor of greater industry at the port.

“He’s not holding up tourism as an idol,” Kogan said.

Still, Kogan said he isn’t sure how much Filner’s difference would translate into a different City Hall. Filner hasn’t provided much more than a broad vision for how he’d change San Diego.

“I still have no idea what he’s going to do and how the hell he’s going to do it,” Kogan said.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. 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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