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Bob Filner Says San Diego Needs To Make A Clean Sweep At City Hall

KPBS Special Series: The Race For San Diego Mayor

Evening Edition

Aired 3/8/12 on KPBS News.

Congressman Bob Filner of the 51st district has a shot at being San Diego’s first elected Democratic mayor in nearly 30 years. Filner draws support from union members, but he’s facing an electorate divided over the benefits city workers receive.

— To help him unwind after a long day, Congressman Bob Filner sometimes sits down at the piano.

"It’s the one thing you can (do) after a long day of work, it doesn’t matter how well you play, and I don’t play very well, but your mind is somewhere else," he said as he played a few notes. "You’re just fooling around with techniques that have nothing to do with political ideas or anything else, so, it’s a great stress remover."

The Race For San Diego Mayor

Meet The Candidates

Filner began taking lessons as a child and picked it up again while he was in high school in New York. The 69-year-old father of two said he’s partial to show tunes from the 1940s and 1950s. He begins to play "If I Loved You" from the musical "Carousel."

"It was a simpler time. It takes me back to my first girlfriend where we went to the carousel," he said.

Times are not as simple for Filner now. He’s served on the San Diego Unified School Board and on the San Diego City Council. He was first elected to Congress in 1992 and has held that seat ever since, representing South San Diego and Imperial County. He’s served as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and is now the ranking member. But Filner said he’s leaving that behind and running for mayor because he’s ready for a change.

"Washington has become very dysfunctional. You can’t do very much and if you’re a member of the minority party, as I am, it’s almost impossible," he said. "And I look back at my hometown where I lived for 40 years and said, you know I haven’t seen leadership in the city, in the mayor’s office, for three decades."

But after initial excitement that a viable Democrat was getting into the race, some of his supporters began to fret over his seemingly lackluster campaign. Alternative weekly newspaper San Diego City Beat even wrote an editorial urging Filner to pick up the pace. But Filner brushes off those concerns. He said he’s had plenty of experience winning elections.

"We know how to raise the money, we know how to do the campaign, we know how to tactically do this," he said. "So I will have the money for this campaign, we will have the volunteers. We have dozens and dozens and dozens of volunteers now. And we will win this election."

If he does win, Filner has several priorities for the city. He said he’d like to take greater advantage of the Port. He wants San Diego to act as a regional leader and he wants to begin investing in neighborhoods. And Filner said San Diego has to gain back many of the middle class jobs it lost when defense contracting firms scaled back their operations here.

"We have high tech and we have service jobs. We need to provide jobs for skilled working people over the vast range, as it were, of our economy," he said.

Unlike his three Republican challengers, Filner does not support the pension reform initiative on the June ballot. But those hoping he would provide an alternate measure for the ballot are out of luck. Still, he said he has a plan that includes capping pensions.

"I could do the parts of my plan without a referendum," he said. "I could put caps on the first day I’m mayor. I could negotiate a five-year labor agreement. If the council agreed with me, we could issue pension obligation bonds."

Filner said pension obligation bonds would allow the city to pay its pension debt over a longer period of time. He said that would lower the payments and free up money to be put in the city’s General Fund. It’s an idea that would likely gain traction with unions who are fighting to maintain pension benefits. Critics say it’s an example of Filner pandering to the labor organizations whose support he counts on.

"People know I’m an effective leader and nobody controls me. I’m in nobody’s pocket. I’m an independent person and everybody knows that," he said. "Yes I have the support of labor unions and I’m proud of that because those are the working people of our city. But nobody tells me what to do."

Filner said he’d work for all of San Diego, though he wants to see what he calls the downtown power structure broken up. Filner said San Diego has become more ethnically and politically diverse over the years and in fact a majority of voters in the city are registered as Democrats. Filner’s hoping those voters will turn out to the polls in June and push him into November’s general election and beyond.

Full interview below:

Evening Edition

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 8, 2012 at 7 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I thought Filner did a good interview, not anything stellar, but good.

I still think he shouldn't just assume that because he has been successful in running for public office in the past that this is going to be a breeze - he needs to be fired up.

This is especially true with Dirty Carl in the race.

Dirty Carl is notorious for dirty campaigning, and is going to sling poop in all directions like a psychopathic baboon to try and get what he wants.

I really do think Filner is the best choice for mayor.

He seems the furthest from the status quo.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | March 8, 2012 at 7:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

KPBS should do a piece on the gay community and the current mayoral race.

I find it fascinating, and think it may be unprecedented in our country - a large city with a sizable gay population, four mayoral candidates, two are gay Republicans and the lone Democrat is straight.

The gay community usually supports Democrats, so it will be interesting to see if having two gay right-wingers running somehow splits the gay vote.

It will also be interesting to see if Dumanis and Dirty Carl try to court the gay vote.

It seems like both Dumanis and Dirty Carl walk a fine line - remaining openly gay in their private lives, but in public pandering to known homophobes.

And the interesting thing is the homophobes seem OK with it.

I remember when Dumanis was running for District Attorney, she used to be a regular on right-wing talk radio shows and they loved her.

Of course her being a lesbian rarely if ever came up amongst the homophobic hosts like convicted felon Roger Hedgecock and backwoods neanderthal Rick Roberts.

Since Dumanis took an extremist right wing position on everything **except** prop 8., they seem willing to accept her.

Then there is Dirty Carl who seems to have been fingered as the hand-picked choice of anti-gay activist and media-hijacker Papa Manchester.

How will Dumanis and Dirty Carl reconcile these unsavory alliances with the gay community when they come and ask us for our support?

**My advice to Mr. Filner:

Go out and court the gay community. Most gay people I know are NOT one issue voters, and would prefer to see a gay-friendly straight candidate who is progressive, as opposed to a right-wing gay candidate who is draconian and panders to homophobes.

I don't think any gay person wants San Diego's second gay mayor (Toni Atkins served, and very honorably I might add, as interim mayor for a brief period so I consider her the first) to be a walking contradiction like Ms. Dumanis or an immature drama queen who will embarrass out city like Dirty Carl.

I'd rather wait longer and see someone more progressive like council member Todd Gloria run for mayor in the future instead of having a hot mess like Dumanis or Dirty Carl get elected now and likely stain the reputation of gays serving in office with their inept leadership styles! **

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Avatar for user 'wes'

wes | March 8, 2012 at 8:10 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I listened to this story on my drive to work this morning. The introduction stated that no Democratic candidate had won a San Diego mayoral election is 30 years. This was, of course, not the case. Maureen O'Connor, although perhaps not a close friend of Bob Filner, was indeed a Democrat.

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Avatar for user 'Katie Orr'

Katie Orr | March 9, 2012 at 9:21 a.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

HI everyone, thanks for the comments.
Wes- I'm aware Maureen O'Connor is a Democrat. She was elected Mayor in 1985, which is about 30 years ago.
Peking_Duck_SD - I did a story on the number of gay candidates potentially running for mayor last summer. Here's the link:
My editors and I spoke about whether to emphasize the point in this series, but we came to the conclusion that it's simply a part of who these candidates are and not especially relevant to whether they're qualified to be mayor.

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Avatar for user 'evavrgs'

evavrgs | March 10, 2012 at 12:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

I never thought I'd be saying this, "go Bob", I liked what he said about investing in neighborhoods. No one, mayoral candidates, has even bothered to make it even a mention at all in their campaign, speeches, interviews, but Bob Filner, and I like that. Keep going with the neighborhood platform make this campaign real to us, regular folk.

I never liked his harshness when dealing with people or issues, but he did get some things done. He wasn't my congressional district rep., so I never really paid attention to his political views, just his personality and it turned me off. BUT now that he's running for mayor, real now, he does have the experience and he doest't take crap from anyone, and he does know his district and I'm assuming his people in that district--so he knows neighborhoods especially ours (usually at the BOTTOM of priorities). Personalty doesn't matter--does he get the job DONE! Yes, I think possibly he could. Never mind how I vote Demo or Rep it's not making a difference this election.

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