Lost among the noise of sexual harassment allegations facing San Diego Mayor Bob Filner was his July 18 announcement that he was pushing the $500 million Convention Center expansion as a major policy initiative.
Before the scandal broke, Filner had been lukewarm at best on the effort.
His change of heart, and other big efforts in City Hall, could help explain why two mammoth power players in San Diego politics – business and labor – have said barely a peep about Filner’s troubles. Almost three weeks into the scandal, no major business or labor group – save the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County – has called on the mayor to resign. Nor has any given Filner its full-throated support.
Both business and labor groups have a vested interest in what happens at City Hall. Often the decisions made affect their members’ bottom lines.
These decisions are happening even as Filner’s scandal unfolds.
Once the first allegations were leveled at Filner, the mayor tried to present the picture that he could still run the city. He hired Walt Ekard, a Republican and former county administrator beloved by the business community, to run day-to-day operations. Downtown San Diego Partnership President Kris Michell, a downtown power player if there ever was one, tried to rally support among business leaders for Ekard.
Filner also released an effusive statement praising the Convention Center expansion on July 18 and sent a letter to the powerful California Coastal Commission backing the effort last week. Labor and especially business groups want the expansion badly.
“I believe the mayor is trying to find as many allies as possible as he continues to make policy decisions,” said Keith Jones, the downtown partnership’s board chairman, on Filner’s Convention Center shift.
Jones, who runs Ace Parking, said many business leaders are privately discussing how to best handle the situation, but are concerned about simply adding fuel to the fire.
“I’m a nationwide firm headquartered in San Diego, and this is embarrassing,” he said. “I’m not saying do resign. I’m not saying don’t resign. I’m saying, ‘Oh my lord.’”
On Tuesday, the City Council is set to vote to require all city public works contractors to pay their workers industry-standard wages on city projects. The effort, called the “prevailing wage,” has been a dream of labor and progressives for years. Now, the city has a Democratic mayor to push for it.
In a committee decision last month, the vote fell along party lines with the Democratic majority supporting it. The same could happen Tuesday. But even with support from Democratic Council members, it’s hard to imagine the policy getting off the ground without mayoral leadership.
Andrea Tevlin, the city’s independent budget analyst, said the mayor’s office provided lots of detail about the potential benefits of prevailing wage rules: on-time construction, better quality and a safer jobsite, among others.
But she said the administration downplayed possible costs. Her office estimates that the price tag for public works projects could jump by 5 percent to 10 percent, resulting in 22 to 44 fewer miles of repaved streets.
“They aren’t discussing both sides of the issue,” Tevlin said.
Richard Barrera, the head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, couldn’t be reached for comment.