Originally published September 5, 2012 at 1:20 p.m., updated September 5, 2012 at 6:10 p.m.
Bright, twinkling lights dot the ceiling of the plush theater inside the Museum of Photographic Arts. Set against a darkly-painted ceiling, the lights create the image of a vast star-filled, sparkling sky.
Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner went head-to-head in one of the many mayoral debates before the November election. Watch the full debate here.
The decorations produce a calming effect, one that seemed to carry over into Wednesday’s mayoral debate. Whereas previous debates have been filled with heated exchanges and pointed barbs, this event had a more muted tone. The candidates, City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Congressman Bob Filner, still took shots at each other, but for the most part, they were subtle jabs.
Instead, both seemed more concerned with talking about the subject at hand: how can San Diego be a more innovative, creative city? That question was posed by the San Diego Innovation Alliance, who co-sponsored the debate with KPBS.
DeMaio stressed the idea that having a fiscally-sound city would allow San Diego to make gains in innovation and culture.
"I said, as we were putting together my Pathway to Prosperity, my economic and job-creation plan, that you need to see San Diego as the innovation capital of the world," he said. "And so the concept of innovation is woven throughout all 110 pages of our jobs plan."
DeMaio said companies are attracted to cities with creative workers, good schools and universities. He shared a story he heard from Texas Governor Rick Perry.
When Perry took office, the Boeing Corporation was looking for a place to put its headquarters. It was down to Texas and Chicago, and Boeing ultimately went with Chicago. When Perry asked why, he was told it’s because there’s a more lively arts scene in Chicago, which is important to Boeing employees' quality of life.
Filner agreed that improving transit, supporting the arts and streamlining bureaucracy would bring more business to San Diego. He said he has a vision for an entirely new economy here.
"We talk about a green economy in San Diego. We are, incredibly, moving into the blue economy," he said. "A technology and research with Scripps based on the ocean. So as mayor, by the way, my first creative and innovative thing is we will be the first city with an aqua economy, blue and green. Because that’s what we’ve got to do, we've got to look at things in a different way."
Filner also spoke of the need to utilize more of the city’s resources to watch over San Diego’s kids. He spoke of starting programs that would bring students to Balboa Park after school, so they’re not wandering the streets and getting into trouble.
He and DeMaio both agreed the city’s youth employment program should be expanded. But DeMaio criticized leaders, including Filner, who continue to exalt Balboa Park when it needs so many improvements.
"(It has) $200 million in deferred maintenance," DeMaio said. "Mission Bay, another jewel, untold amounts of deferred maintenance. Because, again, it gets back to the issue, when you have a mayor and a series of decisions where you’re not managing the finances appropriately, where you’re giving away pensions deals that are not sustainable. Where you’re not filling the potholes, where you’re not maintaining the infrastructure, then even these wonderful institutions that we all cherish are diminished."
Filner said he also wants to deal with maintenance issues in Balboa Park. But he chaffed at DeMaio’s repeated efforts to link arts and culture to fiscal stability. He said he understands a mayor should be fiscally responsible.
"But I’m sick of hearing, frankly, about this bang for the buck and this fiscal thing when we talk about arts, culture and innovation," Filner said. "I mean, these things are good for themselves, and we ought to have a mayor who understands that and can glorify it and can defend it. That is kids need to be educated in the arts and culture and not just in mathematics and engineering and science. It’s part of who we are as a people; it’s part of who we are as human beings."
DeMaio said going into debt to fund innovation will be repeating past fiscal mistakes.
The two candidates will have many more opportunities to get their messages across in the next two months. So far they’re scheduled to have multiple debates between now and November.