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It was a bit of a surprise when a coalition of southeastern San Diego pastors endorsed Kevin Faulconer in the special mayoral election. This was a race, after all, involving hometown hero David Alvarez, who grew up in nearby Barrio Logan.
A year later, I wanted to see how some of them felt about the decision. Has Faulconer lived up to the coalition’s expectations?
Pastor Don Connelly was one of the faces of the coalition when it announced the endorsement last January. I called Encanto Southern Baptist Church last week, and Connelly himself answered the phone. Half an hour later, I was sitting with him inside his church at a table set up for Bible study.
Connelly told me that for the most part, he’s been very happy with Faulconer’s leadership and attention to southeastern San Diego. But he said portions of that coalition hadn’t had the access to the mayor’s office that they hoped for last year.
“A city as diverse as ours, a mayor has to be accessible,” Connelly told me. “If anything I’d encourage (Faulconer) to find out who his gatekeeper is and either fire them or give them a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”
He said he’d heard grumblings from the United African-American Ministerial Council just that day.
“They’ve been trying to get into his office to talk to him to schedule meetings and someone’s blocking them,” Connelly said. “I’ve sent a couple emails and I haven’t gotten any responses to those. I don’t know if there’s someone being gatekeeper for him, but … he needs to have more visibility of some of the other groups here in southeast San Diego.”
Connelly also mentioned another group, Pastors on Point, was dissatisfied with its access to the mayor, but later said he misspoke by including that group.
I reached out to, presumably, the gatekeepers themselves: Faulconer’s press secretaries Charles Chamberlayne and Craig Gustafson.
Not long after, I got an email, unprompted, from Elder W.A. Benson from Total Deliverance Worship Center in Spring Valley. He leads Pastors on Point, which was also part of the endorsing coalition of pastors. There are no problems between his group and the mayor, he said:
“Pastors on Point has a great relationship with the Mayor and his staff and we are happy to be at the table with the Clergy Coalition which is Pastors on Point, UAAMAC, CUP, Progressive Baptist, Voice and View Point and others. We have never made any comments to anyone about failed meeting nor problems with gatekeepers … Our Mayor has welcomed us and have provided answers and directions to us and he personally meets bi-monthly with the Coalition with an agenda.”
Half an hour later, Gustafson emailed me to say the mayor held quarterly meetings with “pastors” and listed four dates, including Wednesday:
“Mayor Faulconer has made it a point to run a very inclusive administration, with one of the keys being his terrific relationship with a large coalition of pastors from southeastern San Diego. He meets with them quarterly to seek their input on issues affecting their communities. The mayor also meets regularly with similar advisory groups representing the Latino, LGBT, Asian Pacific Islander and Chaldean communities.”
That’s an awful lot of damage control for what were mostly positive statements by one pastor.
Last week, before all the hubbub, Connelly told me he’s been impressed by the mayor’s efforts to give Encanto a leg up. He credited Faulconer for his “visible” community efforts in the neighborhood “that we probably would not have gotten with the other candidate.”
Connelly said he surprised himself when he voiced support for Faulconer last year.
“I’ve never endorsed anybody; I’ve never told our congregation to vote for anyone.” He helped gather a group of 30 pastors to vet the candidates, which first backed Nathan Fletcher before he lost in the primary. City Councilman Alvarez, who represents District 8, didn’t curry their favor. “His impression to us was he’s not going to give much favor to the Fourth District,” Connelly said.
Faulconer seemed different.
“As a matter of fact, he says, I would like to meet with you on a bimonthly basis as an advisory group,” Connelly said. “And it went good for, I think, the first three months. I went out of town for vacation all the month of July and I haven’t been but to one since then, but he’s been pretty faithful in meeting with them, with some of the major pastors.” The next one is scheduled for Wednesday.
Connelly said the issue lay outside of those quarterly meetings.
So here’s where the confusion between the mayor’s office, this coalition of pastors and one of its vocal members seemed to bubble up. Connelly laughed when he called me to clarify that Pastors on Point, Benson’s group, hadn’t specifically told him about any trouble reaching the mayor. “I’ve never gotten so many emails,” he said after Benson’s and the mayor’s office’s flurry.
When we first talked, I asked Connelly whether he’d seen the mayor make a significant effort to spend time around his neighborhood. “I haven’t seen him down here. He did come before the election – in fact he came to our church. Now, I’ve not seen him but I’m pretty sure he’s been down here. For the most part I don’t know because I’m not really one of the major political players here,” Connelly said. “That’s why I kinda got to focus on what the Lord’s calling me to do.”