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Carl Luna Handicaps San Diego Mayoral Election

Political scientist Carl Luna says San Diego voters are looking for a mayor with a vision, who is interested in doing more than pinching pennies.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is termed out, and four viable candidates have emerged in the race to replace him. The June primary will send the two top candidates to the general election in the fall.

The candidate field now includes Republicans Bonnie Dumanis, Carl DeMaio and Nathan Fletcher. The lone Democrat is Bob Filner. Political commentator Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, spoke with KPBS Morning Edition host Tom Fudge. Fudge asked him how partisan differences between candidates will affect an election that’s supposed to be non-partisan.

LUNA: Well, in this day and age even drinking a cappuccino is partisan, so our races will be Republican-Democrat. The Republicans are doing locally what they’re doing nationally: A split field. They’re not unifying behind a candidate. Meanwhile, Bob Filner, the lone Democrat, will have the best chance to unify the vote and go off to the runoff election in November.

FUDGE: When you look at Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher you think he has a particular problem in this race, and what is that?

LUNA: Nathan Fletcher does not have good name recognition south of Miramar Road. South of Miramar Road they think of Fletcher Parkway when they hear the name Fletcher. So he needs to spend a lot of time getting his name established before the voters rather than establishing why they should vote for him. This is something (Councilman) Carl DeMaio and (District Attorney) Bonnie Dumanis don’t have to focus on so much.

FUDGE: Getting back to the partisan nature of the candidates… San Diego hasn’t had a Democratic mayor since Maureen O’Conner in the late '80s and early '90s. Yet San Diego has become much more of a Democratic city. How will the partisan nature of the electorate affect this election in your opinion?

LUNA: When you have a substantial gap between Democratic-registered voters and Republican, the issue is who will show up. And during the primary election in June, will that pension initiative on the ballot cause a lot of pro-union Democrats to come out? Will the Republican national race still be hot, and will that bring out of lot of Republicans?

So depending on who turns out to vote it could still go to two Republicans going to the election in the fall. But it will be more likely a Democrat and a Republican.

FUDGE: But in terms of party registration, Democrats do have an advantage in San Diego, right?

LUNA: By the numbers they have about a 3-to-2 advantage over Republicans, and they make up around 40 percent of the electorate of the city. Independents are also a big voting block, and they tend to vote moderate or Democrat. That should also help a Bob Filner or, for Republicans, a Bonnie Dumanis.

FUDGE: So you think a liberal, pro-union Democrat like Bob Filner could be elected Mayor of San Diego?

LUNA: If you end up with a strong Democratic turnout for the general election in the fall, couple that with issues that came out during the primary involving labor unions and the rest, I think you could see a more energized Democratic base than you’ve seen for years in this town. The last time you saw a substantial inroad was Donna Frye’s write-in campaign. I think this will be much more organized.

FUDGE: Carl, what is your read of the San Diego electorate? What kind of mayor do you think they want in 2012?

LUNA: I think San Diego has been very beat up over the last decade. And while we still have pension problems, that need to be resolved, I think San Diegans are looking for a more positive vision. We always prided ourselves at being America’s greatest city. It would be nice to be America’s greatest and happiest city for a change. So, a more positive message.

And also a pledge to restore some of the basics: Potholes filled; library hours restored; police and fire maintained. I think this is going to be a bread-and-butter … a little mothering going on while San Diego nurses its wounds.

FUDGE: So you don’t think people expect the mayor to be the budget watchdog… who makes sure that the pensions are properly funded, that we aren’t spending too much money?

LUNA: I don’t think the people want a mayor whose only concern is pinching pennies. That’s why you have the City Council. You have staff to deal with that. You need a mayor with vision, but a realistic vision that extends beyond just the downtown area, and hope the light is at the end of the tunnel.

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