Want the news summarized?
Subscribe to The Morning Report.

Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner have spent the last 16 months telling you why they should be San Diego’s next mayor. With the election less than a week away, we’re publishing a Reader’s Guide on each candidate to review all you need to know before voting.

Let’s start with DeMaio, a Republican city councilman.

The Pitch to Voters

DeMaio’s led overwhelmingly successful campaigns to cut pensions, competitively bid city services and oppose a tax increase. He has detailed plans to address city finances and promote economic development. He’s shown during the general election campaign that his temperament matches the kind of mayor San Diegans like to elect.

Three Big Issues

DeMaio’s most significant issues haven’t changed during the campaign: pensions, city finances and jobs. DeMaio now takes a much softer tone on his proposals than he did during the primary.

• Pensions

DeMaio’s Proposition B pension initiative passed in June, but city pensions remained a dominant issue in the general election.

DeMaio argued that only he could faithfully implement Prop. B’s provisions because he wrote the measure. Prop. B saves money because it recommends a freeze on city workers’ pensionable pay, something that needs to be negotiated with labor groups.

DeMaio also continued to use pension politics as a cudgel. He repeatedly called out Filner for potentially receiving up to $120,000 in annual payouts from his three pensions, including what he would make from two terms in the Mayor’s Office.

• City Finances

DeMaio’s mayoral campaign unofficially began in November 2010 when he released his laminated and bound budget plan called A Roadmap to Recovery. He made the document, which focuses on cuts to city retirement benefits and employee pay and greater outsourcing, the backbone of his platform.

In the two years since he released the Roadmap, however, the city has already tackled many of the reforms in it. The remaining reforms make up less than half the money DeMaio has counted on to boost police, road repairs and other services.

DeMaio says he’ll do the reforms the city’s already attempted over again and squeeze out more savings.

• Jobs

DeMaio also has a lengthy economic development plan. It relies primarily on slashing government fees and regulations and making it easier for the city to outsource its work. He’s identified specific things he would cut, including a fee to promote affordable housing and a special permit to park two cars in front of each other at new housing developments.

Even though he’s tempered his rhetoric during the general election campaign, DeMaio provides a much stronger indication of what he’d actually do in office than Filner.

His Background

DeMaio’s a gay Republican who was essentially orphaned as a teenager. He made millions in his 30s selling a business that taught government workers to comply with a federal law he helped make prominent in his 20s. As we detailed in our March profile, he’s led a tragic and fascinating life.

The millions he earned from his meeting planning and consulting businesses in Washington, D.C. fueled his 10-year San Diego political career. DeMaio made $2.5 million when he sold his companies in 2007 and spent $775,000 of his own money on the mayoral election alone.

But just as significant as the money, DeMaio followed the same playbook for success in the nation’s capital as he has in San Diego: He appeared out of nowhere, seized an issue headed for prominence, worked relentlessly and took credit even when it wasn’t quite due. We described his shifting roles this way in a story about how he made his money:

It’s never been clear, either in Washington or San Diego, if DeMaio is working on behalf of himself or the ideas he’s promoting. He has crossed the boundaries between partisan and nonpartisan, business and politics, and innovator and imitator so often that it’s difficult to understand what’s motivating him on any issue.

DeMaio’s potential to be the one of the first gay mayors of a large American city has attracted national attention. The New York Times recently focused on DeMaio’s rocky relationship with the gay community, a topic U-T San Diego had explored previously.

How He’s Changed Since The Primary

DeMaio’s switch in tone, emphasis and message since the primary has been astonishing. Back then, he considered downtown powerbrokers muddling moderates who got the city into its financial mess and called them “millionaire campaign backers” of a rival. Now, they’re key members of his reform team and the “grassroots coalition” that supports him.

DeMaio’s now talking about the environment, K-12 education and the border with Mexico, issues he’d never prioritized before.

DeMaio’s biggest shift, by far, has been on the city budget. He made his name criticizing the city for never accounting for all its debts, and never voted for a budget during his four years on City Council. As recently as April, he said the budget was hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.

But at the final debate of the campaign Wednesday, DeMaio deemed the budget balanced.

The change in DeMaio’s delivery, however, counts just as much as his shifting message. DeMaio went from someone who used political theatrics and polarizing rhetoric (remember “Wisconsin of the West“?) to someone who emphasized bipartisan deal-making.

He became noticeably calmer and more controlled. DeMaio sought to emulate the tenor of current Mayor Jerry Sanders and the temperament of mayors San Diegans are used to electing.

Biggest Hit

No matter whether you believe that DeMaio has evolved into a calm, steady politician, he worked hard to sell it. He weathered the worst that Filner could throw at him — repeated false accusations about DeMaio’s partner’s criminal involvement in Balboa Park vandalism — and didn’t lose his cool.

DeMaio’s own detailed knowledge of city issues and the superior organization, messaging and finances of his campaign kept Filner on his heels for the last five months.

Biggest Flop

DeMaio has a habit of taking credit for things he didn’t do. The worst example is his claim throughout the mayoral campaign to have uncovered the city’s financial crisis in 2003. As we pointed out: “There is a discernible difference between courageously uncovering uncomfortable truths, though, and simply being adept at using those truths to your political advantage.” (A U-T editorial writer has been even harsher, calling the claim DeMaio’s Al Gore-invented-the-internet moment.)

DeMaio also ran into trouble over his connections to developer and U-T San Diego publisher Doug Manchester.

DeMaio misrepresented the times he’s met with Manchester, a longtime enthusiastic supporter, during the campaign. He also denied saying he was open to a new City Hall building on Manchester’s proposed Navy headquarters development and seemed to backtrack when presented with evidence that he did. (DeMaio’s campaign calls his statements about locating City Hall at Manchester’s development an “unendorsed hypothetical.”)

Filner has used Manchester to personify his message that downtown special interests will run City Hall if DeMaio’s elected. DeMaio screwing up his contacts with Manchester gave Filner an opening to continue hammering away at the connection.

A Snapshot of DeMaio’s Views

You can quickly understand DeMaio’s positions on major city issues compared with Filner’s through our mayoral candidate scorecard. The scorecard also has links to more detailed stories on DeMaio’s policies.

How He Wins

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in San Diego by 13 percentage points. More voters now in the city are registered with no party affiliation than Republican. President Barack Obama’s name on the ballot should assure a strong Democratic turnout on Election Day. By all these metrics, DeMaio should have no business being in this race.

But he is. Though San Diego’s Democratic presence is growing, the city continues to elect moderate Republican mayors. After nine and a half years as a fiery conservative populist, DeMaio has spent the general election campaign trying to fit into that moderate Republican mold in policy and temperament. The messaging from DeMaio and his allies, Filner’s own long combative history and Filner’s missteps during the campaign have helped DeMaio frame himself as the safer alternative in the race.

To win, DeMaio needs enough Republicans and independents to line up behind him and enough Democrats and Obama supporters to leave Filner’s name off their ballot.

The Bottom Line

Given his move to the middle during the general election campaign, it’s fair to ask which version of DeMaio you’d get as mayor: the budget-busting populist or the moderate consensus builder.

One place to look for what DeMaio will do is his own plans. He’s put in writing, for instance, that he wants to cut pay for nearly every city firefighter by at least 8.5 percent. That’s a substantial labor concession for employees responsible for the city’s public safety.

Even if DeMaio tries to implement his plans with a smile instead of a snarl, he’s laid out in writing nothing less than a dramatic reshaping of city government.

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 liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Like VOSD on Facebook.

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...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.