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District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is the kind of person San Diegans like to elect mayor. Law-and-order. Moderate. Republican. Experienced.
Her mayoral campaign also featured the most robust plan to address troubles at city schools. But Dumanis never gained traction during the race and finished in fourth place.
In a candid Q&A, Dumanis said that she never got asked to drop out of the race and that Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher went back on a pledge to her not to run for mayor.
Dumanis also explained why she’s inclined not to endorse City Councilman Carl DeMaio or Congressman Bob Filner in the general election. And the lack of a moderate in the race, she said, made her “worried about San Diego.”
If there was anything you could do over again, what would you?
I’m not ready to say that yet. We’re going to do an after-action report, that’s what we do. But we have to wait and see where the numbers came in, what areas, what the demographics were, that sort of thing.
But surely there is something you would know off-hand, something that didn’t connect as well as you would have liked, or something didn’t break in the way you would have wanted.
Although I think my experience resonated, I’m not sure I articulated well enough what the difference was between running a large city and being a CEO and what a legislator does.
How could you have done that better?
For instance, now that Nathan and I are not in the race, I would like to see if there is going to be any company that’s going to hire him as a CEO with no experience.
I mention it for every candidate, not just for Nathan. I mentioned it when I talked to different groups. I think the real message is, what large organization with 10,000 employees, what business organization even, would hire someone with absolutely no CEO background or even as Carl had, a small CEO background?
Well, that’s not as sexy as “Kill Pensions.” Is that just a difficult message?
Sure. But isn’t that why they hired (current Mayor) Jerry Sanders to begin with? He proved that being the head of a large organization, the Police Department, that it was important. That’s why he’s been able to get done so much.
It was a different time then, though. The city was in absolute chaos. I think by many factors, it’s certainly not as bad as it was back in 2005.
I think you’re right. But I think it’s a different time in the world right now, with the economy, with people being angry, with people not having a trust in government.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that people are glad I’m staying the DA. I don’t take it as a loss, but as more of a re-election to DA.
So what’s next for you?
I’m going to run for re-election in 2014.
Was there ever any thoughts of not doing that?
There were some thoughts of not doing it. Originally I thought I would only do three terms. But really on the campaign trail, I heard what a great DA I was. I feel like our office has really excelled. I feel good about that and I want to continue. As I ran for mayor, I learned different areas that I want to focus on that relate to the DA’s Office. Like homelessness. Like education. But as I said, I don’t think I did a good job of showing how actively involved I’ve been in education.
You mentioned that at some point you wavered a bit about whether you would run again. Why was that?
For no other reason other than I think I had originally said that I probably would only do three terms. But I never was definite. It was before I even thought about running for mayor though, that I said I was going to run for a fourth term. There wasn’t any wavering.
I love the job and I’ve always said on the campaign trail, that I wasn’t running because I didn’t love the job or the people that worked with me or for me. It was because I felt that there was a greater need in the city and we had done so much in the DA’s office that it was a calling to me, a call to duty, to do that. I think we could have done great things.
Do you think where you finished in the mayor’s race makes you more vulnerable in 2014?
No. Not at all. There was virtually no negative about me in this whole race. I think there was a reason for that. It’s because there isn’t. We have issues here and there, but that’s what you have when you’re the DA.
By the way, I don’t view myself as a spoiler, which some say. I view Nathan as the spoiler. Nathan knew early on that I was going to run. People knew that I was going to run and there was an effort to persuade Nathan, but Nathan wouldn’t get out of the race. In my view, I’m the better qualified, the best qualified of the four.
I think everybody knew that. But they liked the bright, shiny penny.
So people were trying to get Nathan out? What did those efforts entail?
Nothing serious. I think just talking to Nathan about the reality. I think in my view it is clear that he was in his third year of the assembly. No matter what the accomplishments are that is not a qualification for mayor. Although he is someone who is bright, articulate, charismatic, you need more than that to be the mayor.
Did you know at the outset then, given that the four of you were running, that this was going to be the outcome?
No. Of course not. I thought to the very end that anything was possible. It always depended on who was going to show up at the polls.
But in debates when I took to task Nathan and Bob and sometimes Carl, it was always because all three of us were vying for number two. In my view, no one could have knocked out Carl.
Even from the beginning you didn’t think so?
Because he was always so high up and because he had been on TV for at least the previous two years on a regular basis beating the drum of pensions.
Do you think there was a mistake in Prop. B (the pension initiative), the mayor and Carl uniting?
In retrospect, it’s hard to go back. It’s like Monday morning quarterback.
So is that a yes or a no? (Laughs.)
It’s like being a Monday morning quarterback and I’m not good at second guessing people. I’m a big believer in what’s supposed to happen happens.
I’m worried about San Diego.
Because I think we have two extremes that are running for election.
What does that mean?
It will mean they need to get really good people as part of their team. That’s the best way I think that things could move forward no matter who it is.
If you go back as far as Pete Wilson, maybe even further back than that, you’ve always had a candidate like you in the race. Now for the first time, you don’t. How do you think San Diego will be different or change with not having a mayor like that in office?
I don’t know. Either one of them could temper that extremeness with very solid, experienced people in the positions of leadership. If both of them understand that San Diego prefers that moderate view, I think that hopefully they will try and do that.
I certainly will be willing to help anybody who is the mayor to do whatever I can. Because I only ran for what I felt was the best interest of the city.
Did the mayor ever ask you to drop out?
Lots of people have said that. It’s not true?
He never, ever did. Nobody personally asked me to drop out. Nobody discussed it with me. Nobody had the courage to talk to me.
What about Malin Burnham?
He never called me. Early on there was a call. Way at the beginning. But we never connected with one another. I called him back. He called me back. But I don’t even know that that’s what that was about then.
Nobody asked me to pull out.
Toward the end of the race that you started getting into it more with other candidates during debates. Why did you do that? Was that a conscious change in strategy?
No. Even from the initial debate, I think I was assertive then as well. I might have gotten a little more aggressive as things changed. But there was no big change I don’t think. The only thing that was different that at some point I decided to be more of myself than trying to be as cautious as I tend to be as DA and as a former judge.
So we saw more of the real Bonnie Dumanis at the end of the campaign than at the beginning?
Yeah. I think part of it is just being comfortable with the subject matter. Also, there were things that happened in the campaign that I think got me fired up, including some of the whispering that was going on and those kinds of things.
You mentioned getting comfortable with more things as they went on during the campaign. Is that what happened with Prop. B?
With Prop. B early on it was just based on my reading of the initiative, which is probably not when I should have said anything. Then I did more research and then I felt really comfortable with it and could answer questions about it. It’s more than just talking points. It’s really understanding it.
You’re running on a campaign of experience and knowing how to do it and all of those things. Do you think since that was early on, it hurt that argument?
I think that’s the hallmark of leadership, being willing to change. It’s different than a principle or a core value, OK?
But you said firefighter pensions were a core value to you.
And I mean that. But when I discovered that the core value was met by making sure with the annuity they would have a good income I felt comfortable with that. By core value I mean, are you pro-choice or are you pro-life? Or are you pro-marriage for same-sex or are you not? You don’t just have an epiphany in the middle of a campaign.
This was more research driven. You can find out more information about pensions. That’s what I do in my job. It’s facts and evidence. I look at the facts and evidence that I have at the time, but if I get more and do more research or somebody brings me more information, then I am more than willing to change my mind.
I noticed as you’re talking now and this was clear too during the campaign that it seemed when you talked about Nathan you were bothered by him more than you were by the others.
I was disappointed in Nathan.
Because of the way he was so political in the campaign.
But you’re running for mayor. You’re a politician. Why is it not good to be political in a mayor’s race?
I think that you don’t make every decision based on whether or not you’ll get a vote for it. Perhaps that was my biggest downfall but biggest asset at the same time. I do the right thing for the right reasons and let the chips fall where they may.
You don’t think that he did that?
It’s just what I said on the campaign trail. First you don’t make a commitment to me that you’re not going to run.
He did that?
Yes. A long time ago. But we talked about it and he said he changed his mind. OK. But then you go to the Republican Party and you give the impassioned speech that he gave. And then you leave the party when the polls show that you’re down tremendously. Clearly, I think it was a political strategy and it got him what he wanted, which was more press and more interest nationwide. But it didn’t sustain.
He did that with the U-T. And he did that with the whispering campaign. I think all of that to me was disappointing. But probably more than anything immature.
You guys occupied the same space, that was very clear. So you were better because you were more mature, is that what you’re saying?
No. I understand a lot more. I think I have a wisdom that comes with life experiences. By the way, I don’t just occupy Nathan’s space. I think I occupy a lot of Bob’s space, too. I think there are so many more that would have voted for me if I was a Democrat. There are those that will only vote for Democrats and those that will only vote for Republicans. I understand that.
Well then why aren’t you a Democrat?
(Laughs.) Because I am what I am.
Who are you voting for?
I don’t know. I don’t know that I will even get involved in the race.
No decision on an endorsement or anything like that?
No. I’m more inclined not to endorse because as I’ve said in the past as the DA …
(Laughs.) But you endorsed Jerry?
But Jerry I knew for 20 years. It’s different. But you never know who I’m going to have to investigate in this race. (Laughs.) That was a joke.
Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663. Liam covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
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