Mayor Kevin Faulconer is getting a new chief of staff: Out is Stephen Puetz. In is Aimee Faucett, the vice president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Puetz took a job with Axiom Strategies and will work on high-profile national campaigns but will remain in San Diego. He told me the mayor asked him to stay through the recent budget negotiations.
Puetz and Faucett are both longtime aides to Faulconer. But both represent different sides of Faulconer’s political brain. Puetz is a career political consultant, the strategist behind Faulconer’s successful campaign for mayor and a movement conservative with a feisty, ideological approach. He also ran former Councilman Carl DeMaio’s mayoral campaign.
Faucett is the consummate San Diego insider – an establishment Republican in San Diego less closely identified with political campaigns and Republican Party activism. She previously was deputy chief of staff to Mayor Jerry Sanders and is one of the former Sanders aides who maintains major influence on San Diego’s right-of-center policy agenda.
“I’d say we’re way more on the same page than not, and I consider her a friend,” Puetz said of Faucett. “She’s certainly going to provide a healthy different perspective. Five years from now [Faulconer will] look back and say it’s healthy he had some transition.”
Faucett was not immediately available for comment but confirmed the move.
When Faulconer ascended to the mayor’s office, after the downfall of former Mayor Bob Filner, he had to choose between Faucett and Puetz and their different approaches. Faucett would tie him to the direction Sanders had set. Puetz might have better set him up for political success and promotion, as evidenced, perhaps briefly, with Faulconer’s apparently brief flirtation with a race for governor.
Now though, Faulconer’s agenda is drifting. He avoided major controversial decisions for his first two years and sailed through a re-election campaign. But then he endorsed the Chargers downtown stadium measure – a tax increase he had previously sworn off. That plan failed.
Then, after decades in San Diego, the Chargers left.
The day of the Chargers’ announcement, in January, Faulconer set his sights on a special election this year for a hotel-room tax increase and Convention Center expansion.
“This is the only legitimate plan that guarantees we can move forward with this critical project,” he said at his State of the City speech.
He expanded the reach of the hotel-room tax to make sure it generated more funds he could use to fund homeless services and street repairs as well. But the City Council humiliated him by rejecting the special election despite an unprecedented public relations blitz from him to win them over.
Faulconer also enthusiastically embraced a plan to redevelop Qualcomm Stadium with a soccer stadium, entertainment district, hotels and thousands of homes.
That idea is also almost dead.
Puetz said the mayor has focused on his constituents, not his donors. He pointed out Faulconer is on the opposite side of major Republican donors – like developer Tom Sudberry – who are opposed to SoccerCity.
“My agenda has always been helping move the city forward to ensure the mayor has been in the best possible light,” Puetz said.
The firm Puetz will work for is led by Jeff Roe, the architect of Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. Puetz will also be able to work more closely with his longtime friend Chris Hansen, a native San Diegan, who is now coordinating Republicans’ U.S. Senate campaign strategy.
Meanwhile, Faulconer is absorbing a barrage of criticism about the proliferation of homelessness. East Village, perhaps the most promising neighborhood for growth and economic rebirth in the city, has also developed into San Diego’s own Skid Row. Parts of it look like a third-world village of misery and mess.
Faulconer passionately argued that he was trying to address the situation with the tax increase and claimed he had gone to the mat to fight for support for it among Republican allies. It’s unclear whom he blames for its failure at City Council. Some local labor union leaders opposed the initiative and stated plainly they did not get the assurances they needed that the project would be built with a project labor agreement they could support.
Faulconer agreed the building would probably be done with a union agreement but somehow could not get a deal done before the City Council took a vote on the special election. When it rejected the plan, Faulconer reacted with uncharacteristic fury, demonstrating a power to unilaterally modify the city’s budget even the City Council seemed unaware he had.
It seems like a deal could have been had with critics of the Convention Center and the soccer stadium plan. Nonetheless, Faulconer’s most ambitious and uncharacteristically risky political moves resulted in failure.
Now he’ll have a new staff leader. Faucett may make other changes.
Faucett will take over July 17.