We’re finishing up our Reader’s Guides on the four major mayoral candidates with Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. Here’s what we learned about Dumanis over the year-long campaign.
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The Pitch to Voters
You know Dumanis. She’s spent the last nine years as district attorney and is the only candidate with experience running a large government organization. Plus, she has the most wide-ranging plan to reform local schools.
Three Big Issues
Every position Dumanis takes comes back to one thing: her time as district attorney. Her experience, she believes, sets her apart. Her plans to reform city schools and spur job growth rely on her ability to manage and implement change in government.
Dumanis is the only candidate who has run a large government agency. As DA, she’s in charge of 1,000 employees and a $155 million budget. Her three opponents have spent their political careers as legislators, not executives. Her experience becomes all the more important because recent changes to San Diego law have put the city’s bureaucracy under the mayor’s control instead of a professional manager.
She maintains her background makes her the best qualified to be in charge of the city, particularly when so many of its issues, from pension reform to pothole patching to constructing big buildings, require strong management to see them through to completion.
Dumanis has made reforming K-12 public schools her most significant policy position. On its face, education reform is a strange choice. The city has no direct involvement in the San Diego Unified School District.
But big-city mayors across the country have started to exert control over education issues. And San Diego’s schools remain in turmoil. The district has flirted with insolvency and plans to lay off one out of every five teachers.
Dumanis contends she will fix city schools by 2016, the end of her first term. She wants to author a 2014 ballot measure that would add four mayoral-appointed members to the current five-member elected school board, create a new city department to address education and appoint an independent board to oversee district finances.
At times, however, Dumanis has struggled with the finer points of her plan.
Like everyone else, Dumanis spends much of her time on the trail talking about job creation. She ties her economic development ideas — streamlining city permitting, and increasing border commerce and veterans hiring — to her government experience.
Every time Dumanis opens her mouth, you can tell she wasn’t born in San Diego. She hasn’t kicked the Boston accent.
But, as she’s noted on the trail, she’s been working in San Diego governments longer than two of her opponents, DeMaio and Fletcher, have been alive.
Dumanis has had a long political rise from a junior clerk typist in the 1970s in the District Attorney’s Office to the nation’s first openly gay DA in 2002. Once her political mentor, former Sheriff Bill Kolender, retired in 2009, we felt Dumanis had become the county’s most powerful politician:
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. …
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.
As DA, Dumanis promotes her high conviction rates and a prisoner reform program that’s been successful in reducing recidivism. She’s also been active in writing and advocating new state laws and programs.
During the campaign, both Dumanis and her supporters have touted her record fighting political corruption.
But despite some tough talk, her record on these cases is thin and marked by more failure than success:
In four years, three elected officials have been prosecuted by Dumanis’ office and, so far, only one of those prosecutions has resulted in punitive action: Earlier this year former Encinitas Mayor Dan Dalager was fined $1,000 for receiving discounted kitchen appliances from a resident he assisted while in office.
(Since that story published in spring 2011, Dumanis decided to prosecute South Bay school officials, in a case that is still winding its way through the court system.)
For more on Dumanis’ background, check out our 2010 five-part series on her rise.
Where Dumanis Is Weak
Dumanis’ opponents have given San Diegans clear reasons to vote for them. City Councilman Carl DeMaio is the battle-tested pension reformer. Congressman Bob Filner is the lone Democrat. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher is the consensus-building independent.
Dumanis’ argument is much more difficult to communicate. As a campaign slogan “Vote ‘Yes’ For Management!” doesn’t hold the same sex appeal as “Kill Pensions!”
Her message required a robust campaign to tell voters why it mattered. That hasn’t happened. DeMaio and Fletcher each raised a boatload of money, and had strong campaign staffs and surrogates ready, willing and able to spread their message. For all of Filner’s fundraising faults and other missteps, he’s detailed a vision that’s different from the rest of his opponents and has shown up to nearly every forum and debate since the fall.
For one week in early January, Dumanis was the toast of the mayor’s race. On a Wednesday, she announced a felony political corruption case against multiple South Bay school officials. The next day, she announced the most significant policy plank in her platform: a sweeping school reform plan.
The week set the stage for her entire campaign. She’s running on her record as DA and K-12 education. It also addressed questions about her lack of focus and vision up to that point.
For Dumanis, you could call it her biggest flip-flop.
Dumanis came out early in opposing Proposition B, a pension initiative crafted by her biggest supporter, Mayor Jerry Sanders, and her opponent DeMaio. In announcing her position, she said it was her “core belief” that all of the city’s public safety workers deserved pensions. Prop. B gives new firefighters 401(k)s.
Yet four months later, Dumanis announced that she had changed her mind. She now supported Prop. B, conceding that she didn’t do enough homework before making her first decision.
Her flip came on the heels of her firing her first campaign manager and lackluster fundraising numbers. It also brought renewed attention to her own $200,000-plus projected annual pension.
These missteps didn’t look good for a platform based on her experience. And, despite her one week of activity in January, it’s unclear if her campaign ever recovered from the early loss of command.
Top Endorsements and a Snapshot of Dumanis’ Views
Dumanis’ key supporters: Sanders, all five San Diego County supervisors, County Sheriff Bill Gore, former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk.
You can quickly understand Dumanis’ positions on major city issues compared to her opponents through our mayoral scorecard.
How She Wins
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a much feistier Bonnie Dumanis. She’s tried to score points at debates and has had a more robust communication campaign.
At a KUSI television debate last week, she said she didn’t believe voters were paying attention to the mayor’s race until then. She’d better hope that’s true. With virtually everyone certain that DeMaio has locked up one of the two spots in the November runoff, she has to finish ahead of Filner and Fletcher. Polls show that will be an uphill fight.
To sneak into the general election, she has to hope that her experience and school reform messages ring true, while benefitting from the flurry of attacks against Filner and Fletcher.
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 email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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