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Roundtable: “Non-Partisan” Mayor’s Race Heats Up

Aired 7/1/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

The primary election for mayor of San Diego is about a year away, but the race is already heating up. Several well known republicans and one high-profile Democrat are running.

The primary election for mayor of San Diego is about a year away, but the race is already heating up. Several well known republicans and one high-profile Democrat. And a leading candidate has attracted an opposition group with a $30,000 war chest so far.

Guests: Kyla Calvert, Education Reporter, KPBS News

John Warren, Editor, San Diego Voice and Viewpoint

David Rolland, Editor, San Diego CityBeat

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

PENNER: The primary election for mayor of San Diego is about a year away. But the race is already heating up. Several well known republicans are running, plus one high profile democrat. And a leading candidate has attracted an opposition group that already has a $30,000 war chest to spend. David, we're gonna start with who's in the race? Christine Kehoe dropped out. Who else?

ROLLAND: The high profile candidates that are in the race, are the people that are going to get the most votes are republicans Carl DeMaio, a member of the San Diego city council, bonnie Dumanis who is the district attorney, and Nathan fletcher, state assemblyman. And the high profile democrat in the race right now, the only one, is congress member bob Filner.

PENNER: Why did Chris Kehoe drop out? She's a democrat, she's well known, she's been in San Diego politics for years and years and years. City council, then assembly then state senate.

ROLLAND: She determined that it was not in her best interests and --

PENNER: What does that mean.

ROLLAND: My suspicion is that she did -- for several weeks she officially explored a run, and my guess is that she did some poling and she did some formal poling of likely voters and maybe some informal poling of donors and perhaps determined that she did not have a real good chance.

PENNER: John you have an opinion on that?

WARREN: It's not a question of party in the case of Kehoe. With Carl in the race and bonnie --

PENNER: Carl DeMaio.

WARREN: Carl DeMaio, bonnie Dumanis and Kehoe, that would represent the risk of splitting the gay vote three ways. And with one republican, even though they're republican, that's a further split, and even though she's a democrat, the democratic component would not be enough to overcome the conscious split. I think it's a conscious decision. I think it had more to do with gender interests.

PENNER: That is just an interesting comment. Let's see what our listeners think of that. John warren is saying that state senator Chris Kehoe who is a lesbian decided to drop out because the gay vote, because there are three candidates now who are gay, the gay vote would be split. It has nothing to do with party. That's john warren's opinion, I'd like to hear yours. 1-888-895-5727. All right so at this point Kyla, there's just one democrat left in the race. Bob Filner. Have you seen anybody else on the horizon who is a democrat who might possibly enter the race?

CALVERT: No, i haven't. It's interesting. We were talking earlier about the historical domination of republicans in the county, and the city of San Diego, democrats -- democratically registered voters far outnumber republicans, but they seem very comfortable with republican mayors in San Diego.

PENNER: We haven't had a democratic mayor, what? Since -- Maureen O'Connor?

ROLLAND: I believe so. Yeah.

PENNER: That's way back.

ROLLAND: And to answer your question, i have seen -- i know of a democrat who is not in the race. But perhaps is being talked about quite a bit. And perhaps could get in the race at some time. That would be donna Frye. I did a story on her --

PENNER: Haven't heard that name for a while.

ROLLAND: If you're paying attention, looking at the blogs, and twitter, she's being talked about quite a bit. And i talked to her a couple weeks ago for a story that we published last week, and she is not ruling it out. She is not ruling out a run. She is not there yet, but she said six months from now, she could be there. She said it all just happens in an instant with her. She wakes up one morning and says all the planets are aligned properly, and yes, i want to do this. But the problem here is that she goes way back with bob Filner, they're friends, close, tight, they've always been supporters of each other. He is the one she damages if she gets in the race.

PENNER: That is really interesting. In this case, friendship might trump politics. Is that what you're saying.

ROLLAND: Yes. I think she jumps in if she sees bob Filner's campaign in trouble. If she sees the possibility that the run off -- it's all about the runoff here. There's four major candidates right now. There could be more down the road. But only two of them get to the runoff in November. If donna Frye sees the possibility of Carl DeMaio and bonnie Dumanis being the two choices in November, if it's not too late, i think she jumps in the race.

PENNER: Let's -- what is the phrase? We're gonna take that flag and run it up the flag pole and see how our listeners respond to that. What donna Frye excite you if she decided she was going to run for mayor of San Diego? John are you excited?

WARREN: No, I'm not excited. I'm not moved, I'm not encouraged. And with all due respect, David, this would be a real first to see friendship override politics. Many people are friends, but when it comes down to the wire, I'm sorry, and i gotta go against you -- so i don't think she's gonna run. But he won't have anything to do with it, he being bob Filner.

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let's hear from Shawn in San Diego. You're on with the panel from the roundtable this afternoon. Go ahead please.

New speaker: I'm kind of in a really odd position because as a gay man, i would love to see a gay person in the office. On the other hand, as a very, very liberal guy, I'd really -- I have to put my money where my mouth is for the first time ever, which is kind of an odd position to be in. So I don't know what I'm gonna do.

PENNER: You have a whole year to decide, Sean. What's going to -- what is it that's going to make up your mind? What is the focus of what your concern is?

New speaker: Well, it's really hard to put a finger on it. It's like i guess how the black people felt when Obama was put in office. Having a gay mayor of San Diego would be really terrific. I'd really, really like that. But on the other hand, i don't agree with most republican policies, and it's a hard position to be in. On the one hand, republicans here in San Diego are not quite the same republicans that you might find in, say, Alabama or Mississippi or something. But we still have to live with their policies. And I'm not often fond of them.

PENNER: Okay, thank you very much for your comment, Sean. Before we go on with our phone calls, there is one republican who has many high profile supporters from both parties, and that's district attorney bonnie Dumanis. Kyla, i don't know if you've been reading about it. There is a not Dumanis campaign going out that's collected $30,000. And it seems as though its opposition is based on the district attorney's strong objections to marijuana crimes or crimes associated with marijuana dispensaries, and that kind of thing. I'm wondering whether a one issue opposition campaign can really defeat a candidate.

CALVERT: I doubt it. Especially if it's the marijuana issue. I think -- there is a small group of voters who do get passionate about that particular issue, but i think we had prop 19 and the electorate in general is not interested in decriminalizing marijuana in general or being softer on it. So i can't see that taking her off the rails.

PENNER: Thank you. Let's hear from Dave in Chula vista. You're on with the editors.

New speaker: I just wanted to comment on donna Frye getting into the fray. I don't think it's even possible or -- i don't think it's politically possible for her to be a good candidate based on the fact that she has been part of the establishment for so long and brought no fundamental change. She would be effectively targeted by all the other candidates for her lack of leadership and ability while she was on the city council.

PENNER: Thanks for your opinion, Dave. And David Rolland your comment.

ROLLAND: Strongly disagree with that. Donna's problem, if she gets in the race right now, up until now she hasn't proven she can get over that 50% hump. She's got tons of name recognition. She transcends having to do a lot of fundraising to a certain extent. She ran for mayor a few years ago, and at that point she was not able to overcome jerry sanders. But donna is unique. I take offense to the -- that she's an establishment candidate. She is not. If she wasn't able to in fact -- she has been able to change on some issues, especially transparency in government. But in order to -- you could say she was not able to create big enough coalitions to do major changes. But at the end of her tenure, which is several years after she ran for mayor, she showed a really interesting maturity level and an ability to be swing votes on several really high profile issues. One would be the downtown library. She basically provided the swing vote on that one.

PENNER: I had mentioned that politics had come into this race even though it's technically a nonpartisan office. Still politics are part of it. And the local head of the democratic party has warned democratic elected officials not to endorse a republican mayoral candidate. There's just one high profile democrat running right now. And that is bob Filner, so john is Jess Duraphyl -- he's the head of the democratic party. Is he basically saying it's Filner or nobody?

WARREN: He's trying to. But it doesn't matter. The two people -- one letter was sent to Mary sessions who is the mayor of lemon grove because she helped before to help Dumanis. She says frankly the democratic party hasn't done anything for her in the last ten years, and it doesn't make any sense what he says. The reality of San Diego is that you can't impose any future penalties on present politicians and expect them to be.

PENNER: One political analyst, Kyla -- told ten news that because the field is so wide now, he expects the campaign to get dirty. San Diego's mayoral campaigns have not really been dirty. Are we the kind of community where we can expect some low stuff to come out?

CALVERT: Well, I'm from Chicago actually. So I'm inclined to say politics is -- yeah, i have very little personal confidence in people's ability to stay above the fray when it comes to politics. So i don't think it has very much to do with geography.

PENNER: We just have seconds left. I noticed that the only pole that I've seen lately was a KGTV poll that showed Carl DeMaio ahead at 22%. I'd like to get your comments whether poles at this point mean anything.

ROLLAND: Poles don't mean anything at all because people are just going off of name recognition. There's a whole campaign, a whole year to go, things will happen. I'm not gonna say it'll get dirty, but it will get hard ball.

PENNER: Thank you very much. David Rolland, San Diego city beat, john warren, San Diego voice and viewpoint, and Kyla Calvert of KPBS. This has been the midday roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.

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