KPBS Special Series: The Race For San Diego Mayor
Monday, March 5, 2012
Long time District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis wants to be the next mayor of San Diego. She’s stressing her decades of experience working in San Diego. But her history may present some challenges as well.
The Race For San Diego Mayor
SAN DIEGO As San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis strolled through Little Italy with her dog Abby trotting beside her, it was easy to see she feels at home in the neighborhood and the neighborhood seems to embrace her as well. Shop owners and people on street shouted hello and gave Dumanis hugs.
Dumanis said she and her wife Denise often walk Abby through the historic Italian neighborhood. She likes that it’s easy to walk to places in Little Italy and she enjoys the many restaurants and dog-friendly atmosphere the area provides. Dumanis has lived all over San Diego, from the College Area, to Mission Valley to Rolando. She said her nearly 40 years in the city set her apart from her three main competitors.
"It’s different than someone who comes in once a weekend from Washington or Sacramento or who just came several years ago," she said. "So, I think I have a depth and breadth of experience, which no one else has, which gives me, I think, the relationships to get things done."
One of Dumanis’ priorities as mayor would be to restructure the make-up of the San Diego School Board. That would include adding four board members, who would be appointed by the mayor, and creating an independent financial oversight board. A similar measure to expand the school board failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the June ballot. But Dumanis said education reform is important, because a district on the brink of insolvency hurts the entire city.
"Education is at the core of everything we do in San Diego. And I have seen it as the district attorney," she said. "If you don’t invest in your education system early on, we pay for it in many ways at the other end."
Dumanis has been San Diego’s district attorney since 2003. She’s widely regarded as one of the most powerful politicians in the county. She cites experience running the DA’s office as one of her strongest qualifications for mayor. But Dumanis has also drawn fierce criticism for some of her decisions.
For instance, her office declined to file charges against Armando Perez after he was arrested for allegedly kidnapping and assaulting his estranged wife, Diana Gonzalez. Dumanis said there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case. A few weeks later Perez allegedly stabbed Gonzalez to death in a bathroom at San Diego City College. He was recently arrested in Mexico. Dumanis said her office has since established a high-risk team to work on cases like Gonzalez’s. But she said it’s her job to make tough decisions, even if the public doesn’t always understand them.
"Our office is charged with a duty. And that duty is to not file criminal cases unless we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. And where we can’t, again, the buck stops with me," she said. "And our attorneys make those decisions based on the information they have, the evidence they have at hand."
Dumanis said she’s happy to be held accountable for her decisions. And she said she has a proven track record of doing the right thing, not just trying to please people.
If elected, Dumanis plans to reorganize how the city’s run, fix the city’s infrastructure and work with city unions to help restore their pride in working for San Diego. But she might face an uphill battle. Dumanis, like the other two Republicans in the race, supports the pension reform initiative that would replace pensions with 401(k)-style plans for most new hires. She said it’s a necessary step.
"Our pensions right now are unaffordable, unsustainable. We have got to do something about that. If we don’t we cannot reach fiscal stability," she said. "But the important part is implementation. You need someone who has a history of implementing that can get real results and save real money."
An estimate last year by voiceofsandiego.org put Dumanis’ annual county pension at more than $200,000. Dumanis said she will not enroll in the city pension system and will donate her mayoral salary to educational programs.
But while her tenure has inspired controversy for some, it has also earned her respect with others, including possible voters. While walking in Little Italy, a man stopped Dumanis to tell her his son is a deputy DA in Well County, Colo.
"He's putting the bad guys away," the man told her.
"All right!" Dumanis replied before continuing on.
It’s that kind of enthusiasm Dumanis is hoping voters bring to the polls as she seeks to make her next mark on San Diego.
Full interview below:
Video by Nicholas McVicker