Mayor Bob Filner wanted his first State of the City speech be to about empowerment but he couldn’t help but hedge on Tuesday.

He compared the city to a patient who had survived years of painful treatment, only to emerge cautiously optimistic.

To thrive, the new mayor said, San Diegans will need to work together.

In that spirit, Filner honored several community leaders he said set an example, and he emphasized how the city can come together.

We’ve heard most of this before.

Filner promised to work with the San Diego Association of Governments to bolster public transportation and to reach five-year agreements with the city’s labor unions. He pledged to work with city staffers to open City Hall one night a week to accommodate citizens’ busy schedules and to meet with residents the first Saturday of every month. He again reiterated his interest in partnering with Tijuana and other Baja California cities to market the binational region, and to help homeless San Diegans.

Filner also made a few pledges we’ve heard less about, including a plan to convene a Neighborhood Infrastructure Financing Team and to work with environmental groups to ask the state to consider an approach he said would reduce the cost of importing water to San Diego.

“We have an opportunity in San Diego to create a truly great international city, a city that respects and empowers its people, a city that protects and enhances their quality of life and a city that promotes good-paying jobs and a healthy economy for all residents,” he said. “Over the next year, I invite you to join me in working to make that city a reality.”

But the new mayor also had to acknowledge a reality: the ailing city still isn’t finished with the healing process.

Filner said past city leaders had covered up the city’s then-looming pension crisis and didn’t keep their promises to residents. He described the damage to the city’s credit rating, striking budget cuts and “the hubris of our predecessors.”

Then he shared the latest: “The budget surplus predicted by my predecessor last year could actually be a deficit of as much as $40 million by the time I submit our budget to the City Council in April.”

Such a shortfall could change the plans Filner shared on the campaign trail, and even the ones he outlined in the same address, a reality he only tangentially touched on in his speech.

But instead of focusing on potential cutbacks, Filner called on San Diegans to pull together.

He repeatedly described the importance of trust and collaboration, partnerships and mutual support.

Ironically, one of the hurdles likely standing in the way of Filner’s goal is, well, Filner. He called for cooperation in his speech, but Filner himself is not known for his ability to play well with others.

Filner can be abrasive and confrontational. As a congressman, even those on his side of the aisle complained about this.

He’s shown that side in his earliest days in office, too.

Filner publicly confronted Council President Todd Gloria last week at a City Council meeting, accusing the fellow Democrat of sidestepping the correct process for SANDAG appointments.

Later that evening, he criticized City Attorney Jan Goldsmith at a meeting of medical-marijuana advocates. U-T San Diego reported that Filner referred to Goldsmith as a “little guy” and said the city attorney hasn’t “accepted the fact that he is the attorney and the city is the client.”

Both Gloria and Goldsmith later downplayed the interactions.

Back in July, Filner promised to change his approach.

“I have a reputation, but I think people are going to find that the reality when I’m governing, they’ll see a whole approach that will bring people together,” he said.

Filner certainly struck a conciliatory note in his speech.

The mayor praised each council member, including Gloria, by addressing each one individually and offering praise. Some compliments were more creative than others: Filner applauded Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s commitment to the preservation of sport fishing and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s interest in smart growth.

“You and your immediate predecessors deserve much credit for addressing our fiscal challenges head on,” he said. “I look forward to working with you in pursuit of the public’s interest in the future.”

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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