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High-Profile Candidates Join Race For Mayor

The race to become the next mayor of San Diego is heating up. Democratic Congressman Bob Filner officially threw his hat in the ring yesterday. Filner joins a field that includes Republicans Bonnie Dumanis, Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio. State Senator Christine Kehoe is also considering running for mayor in 2012. Who else could join party? And, what do each of the official candidates bring to the race? We speak to San Diego Mesa College Political Science Professor Carl Luna about the mayor's race.

The race to become the next mayor of San Diego is heating up. Democratic Congressman Bob Filner officially threw his hat in the ring yesterday. Filner joins a field that includes Republicans Bonnie Dumanis, Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio. State Senator Christine Kehoe is also considering running for mayor in 2012. Who else could join party? And, what do each of the official candidates bring to the race? We speak to San Diego Mesa College Political Science Professor Carl Luna about the mayor's race.


Carl Luna, professor of political science at San Diego Mesa College

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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.

CAVANAUGH: A very interesting mayor's race is shaping up in San Diego. And your deep fried fantasies come true at the San Diego County fair. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The works of artist Paul Gauguin highlight a new exhibition about the south seas at the maritime museum. And we'll give you a preview of the attraction, the food, the music, as the county fair kicks off at the Del Mar Fairgrounds tomorrow. We begin tomorrow with another kind of preview. An early look at the up coming mayor's race in the City of San Diego. The start of the year long fundraising cycle in advance of the 2012 primary has appropriated an interesting array of people to announce their intentions to run. From the county's district attorney to a long time local Congressman. My guest is Carl Luna, professor of political science at San Diego Mesa†College. And good afternoon, Carl.

LUNA: Good afternoon. Good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of a race do we have shaping up for mayor of San Diego?

LUNA: A crowded race but one that'll become decrowded relatively quickly, I think.

CAVANAUGH: So we know so far that the people who have basically filed papers are Nathan Fletcher, Carl DeMayo, Bonnie Dumanis, and just recently local Congressman Bob Filner said that he was going to be running for mayor. And so what do you think is going to be the key issue in this race?

LUNA: The key issue is going to be who can get out first, and I think Bonnie Dumanis has the best chance to do that. Bob Filner may be leaving Washington simply because it's on fire and it may be a time to retire, and it gives him a way out, but I do not see him coming from Washington being a strong candidate for the local San Diego vote. My question will be will Christine Kehoe jump into the race, and that could make it interesting because you'd have a Democrat with credibility who could make a good run versus the Republican group that are running. And then it goes to the primary, and then to the run off in that fall.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to go down the list of candidates who've come out and said they're going to run. But the question also is why now? The primary is a year away. It's in 2012. Why does this start now?

LUNA: The money that you need to raise and the small donations that you have to get in under city laws. Also, you get out in front, and you haven't jumped in, it gives you a war chest, you can chase off other additional contenders down the pike. And it's kind of like presidential races. The 2012 campaign started sometime in December 2008. So these things just get moved up earlier.

CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about a woman who's been called the most successful politician in San Diego County. That's district attorney Bonnie Dumanis. What does she bring to the race?

LUNA: She brings name recognition. Everybody in the City of San Diego have seen her name on the ballot, whereas some of the other candidates have only run in their local districts. She brings a lot of credibility as a DA. We in San Diego tend to like military type, law and order types, Jerry Sanders as mayor, Bonnie Dumanis, she brings money coming her way, lots of endorsements, and she is the candidate to beat.

CAVANAUGH: A couple of early strong endorsements from councilman Kevin Faulkner, and from mayor Sanders. How important are they in.

LUNA: They are a good sign that to the other candidates, particularly Carl DeMaio, that the city establishment is rallying behind Bonnie Dumanis, and you get early endorsements. She's got law enforcement agencies endorsing her, that's gonna give her more possibility of making money, and it takes all the air out of the room.

CAVANAUGH: There was some speculation that because Kevin Faulkner and mayor Sanders agreed with Carl DeMaio on a pension reform plan for city employees that they would perhaps not go with Dumanis because Dumanis doesn't agree with that arrangement. How do you see that playing out as we move along on this mayoral road.

LUNA: Well, I think it's critically significant because if Carl DeMaio can't get endorsements on the big pension issue that he's running on. Excuse me, lost my voice there for a moment. Bonnie Dumanis seems to be -- she has broader legs, she has the availability to cover a whole variety of issues out there. And Carl DeMaio is one of those people that -- he's gonna get attention in the room, but when you're done, a big hunk in the room is not gonna like him. His negatives are as high or higher than his positives. Bonnie Dumanis is a feel good candidate.

CAVANAUGH: Let's move on to Carl DeMaio. Who does he appeal to?

LUNA: Carl DeMaio appeals to libertarians, he appeals to the cut taxes, cut pensions, cut city government side, conservative Republicans and that's gonna be his basis opening in the primary. His beast hope is he can get into a run off for the following election with Bonnie Dumanis. If Christine Kehoe gets into the race, that could be a different calculation. But I think DeMaio has his only shot is to get into the runoff, and he's going to have a really hard time picking up independents in the fall campaign.

CAVANAUGH: What does his strategy need to be to get that far since this is such a crowded field so early?

LUNA: He's going populace, he's going antigovernment, which is a popular thing to do, except notice when they're talking about cutting fire stations, cutting hours, cutting library, people got very upset. There's a myth in this country that people don't like government. They don't like other people's government. They really like their local library. So he can get attention in the primary. It's gonna be a harder time to for him to get that critical amount to go into the fall, if you're talking major budget cuts to the city to balance off its budget.

CAVANAUGH: We're talking about the San Diego's mayor's race, the City of San Diego, and it's getting crowded early as we've mentioned. I'm speaking with Carl Luna, professor of political science at San Diego Mesa†College. Another person who says they want to run for mayor of San Diego is Republican assemblyman Nathan Fletcher. And his political future, his political name recognition really was boosted when he became known for legislation after the Chelsea king and amber DuBois tragedies in the North County. What are his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate for mayor of San Diego?

LUNA: His strengths, as you said, was the law enforcement angle coming in on the child abduction case. Weaknesses, as you pointed out, that's North County, and North County doesn't vote in the city election. And a lot of people south of Mira Mesa boulevard, when they hear the name Fletcher, they're gonna be thinking Fletcher parkway, they're not gonna be thinking a state representative. So he has a name recognition problem, he doesn't have a strong fundraising establishment south of Mira Mar Road. So he's gonna have a hard time really making inroads into the main core of the city of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: And can he actually differentiate himself from the other Republican candidates, Bonnie Dumanis, Carl DeMaio?

LUNA: Yes, he can differentiate himself from Bonnie Dumanis by being a more conservative Republican, but he's gonna be fighting can Carl DeMaio over the same support. Bonnie Dumanis has the advantage of independence, and while this is a nonpartisan race, nonpartisan doesn't really buy you anything at Starbucks these days. It's a partisan political environment.

CAVANAUGH: I was gonna talk about that, because yes, the office of the mayor of San Diego is not a partisan position. And yet we are talking about Republicans and Democrats. And so is that basically just a nice myth that we continue here in San Diego? Because people do vote for Democrats and Republicans instead of just the person.

LUNA: Outside of head librarian for the City of San Diego, I think everything's pretty partisan these days. And you get into the primaries, with the parties lining up, that's why the Christine Kehoe or Democrat factor is important for what that will do with the independent voters. Bob Filner I think is weaker on that score than Christine Kehoe. You've got the labor unions, city municipal employees' associations, they're gonna be looking for a contender, and root now, Bonnie Dumanis is the best they've got.

CAVANAUGH: There seems to be a lot of surprise in the idea that Bob Filner, a long time Congressman from San Diego's south bay has decided to run for mayor of San Diego. Did you see that coming or is there any sort of logical sequence of events that really explains that?

LUNA: Not that I've really been following. Bob Filner made a few noises before about coming back home, and it may well be he's done with his time in Washington. I have not seen one way or another whether or not he's said that he's not, and maybe you know, if he's not gonna run for Congress at all, he might be doing both and just feathering his nest.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. Daniel is calling us, good morning, and welcome to Midday Edition.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I'm calling 'cause I want to know what the gay factor is here. We've seen a lot of stepping up in our city of the gay power. One-third of the City Council and most of the mayor's office controlled gay -- by the gay issues, and now we see them getting involved also in making up a new district. And one last note, I really think that the new district should be an ombudsman district, and I don't care if it's an Asian and a woman, but I think we really need to go back and see what we're doing here rather than just having another piece of the puzzle being put in. We need somebody to look at it for the whole city because the mayor isn't there, and he's not doing it 'cause he's not on the City Council.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call. And I want to pose the question to you, Carl, it doesn't seem to really make that much difference if you're a gay candidate anymore. Isn't that really the headline?

LUNA: That's part of the headline all this. You've got gay candidates in the race, the gay community has different groups they can support, different candidates. I think Bonnie Dumanis, she's like the -- gender postgay issue like Barack Obama was postracial. She can unify across the board. Gay, the straight communities, it doesn't really matter as much in this race, I think.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get back to the candidacy of Bob Filner for mayor of San Diego. He hasn't been vocal on a lot of local issues. He's been, as I say, a long time Congressman. So where is his base of support?

LUNA: In his district back in his office with the lobbyists in Washington and his staff. And she's gonna have a hard time again establishing north of mission valley for support in the area. People know him as a congressman man, he's a polarizing figure then between Republican and Democrat. I think he'd have a much harder time hitting up the moderate voters to be able to establish himself up in the main corridor of the City of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: He seems quite confident if you read articles about his talking about his candidacy, with his ability to raise funds, about his ability to get elected, and about his ability to run as an outsider. When do you think of those issues?

LUNA: One positive always been confident, sometimes the confidence hasn't matched up with the reality. He's been in a safe district for about the last two hundred years running in the south bay. This is gonna be a much more bruising fight. And I tend to doubt that if Donna Frye couldn't take you over the senator that Bob Filner could.

CAVANAUGH: What about Christine Kehoe?

LUNA: Christine Kehoe has more of that center vote lined up she's got a good reputation in the city, in addition to state wide. I think she would be a more likely contender. The question is, does she want to get mixed up in this if Bonnie Dumanis seems to be walking away with it early on?

CAVANAUGH: And I want to make the point that Christine Kehoe is a former San Diego City Council woman, now a democratic state senator. So what would she bring to the race, though, that as a Democrat that's different from Bob Filner.

LUNA: She brings the local connection, having been on the City Council. She brings the local politics that goes into becoming a state senator. She has a funding base here dedicated to that. A hunk of bob one's support comes from outside of the district because he's a Washington Congressman. I'm not sure how well that'll translate into San Diego politics. And she brings the fact that she would be a democratic voice, she can get labor unions behind her, they can get progressive environmentalist behind her, and grab some of that center vote that Bonnie Dumanis will be depending on.

CAVANAUGH: Who know a lot about politics know that so much of it is determined by fundraising, money, money, money. And since this crowded field, this field is crowded already by so many candidates, are we gonna see a weaning out pretty early on determined by how the fundraising goes?

LUNA: That typically happens, and I think Nathan Fletcher would probably be the first to fall on the request for the mayorship, if he can't get money lined up pretty quickly, he's gonna look weak.

CAVANAUGH: And what -- you think Bonnie Dumanis will be the top money fund raiser?

LUNA: I think she'll be the top fund raiser. I think the poles as they start to really congeal are gonna show her as a front leader. Unless there is some scandal, there's some issue that comes up that nobody's aware of right now, but she's won county wide for district attorney, she's got a good solid representation, she can poach the best votes out of what you need to get out of that San Diego pool.

THE COURT: Now, I started out this conversation saying this is a very interesting race for mayor. You don't seem to actually completely agree with that because you think that there's a career frontrunner.

LUNA: A year out, anything could happen. You could have other people throw their hat back into the ring. Donna Frye might come back. But I'm trying to think of on the short list who might make this more interesting, and there's not a whole lot of names that are out there, people who seem to want the job. That being the case, Bonnie Dumanis has the best resume for who you'd want to have any city where you've got a twelve point advantage to the Democrats actually in registration. In a presidential election year, you're gonna have to have a candidate that can reach out to that middle. I think Bonnie Dumanis has a better chance of it. I hate to be a spoiler on it, but I think the race is fairly quickly gonna go toward her, and we'll have to think of other races to talk about to be more interesting.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you, we're so early out, I'm sure we're gonna hear a lot of different opinions about this mayor's race. But I want to thank you, I've been speaking with Carl Luna, professor of political science at San Diego Mesa†College. Thank you Carl.

LUNA: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Coming up, explorations, novels, and works of art all have shaped our image of the south seas as an escape to paradise. A new exhibit at the maritime museum sorts out the facts and the fantasy. Still ahead, holy fried Kool-Aid doughnuts, the San Diego County fair starts tomorrow. It's 1220. This is KPBS Midday Edition.

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