Originally published November 19, 2013 at 5:04 p.m., updated November 20, 2013 at 1:39 a.m.
In a surprise late-campaign sprint, Councilman David Alvarez, a Democrat, passed ex-Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and is expected to face the top vote-getter, Republican Kevin Faulconer, in a run-off for San Diego Mayor early next year.
With 100 percent of precincts counted, Faulconer led with 44 percent of the vote, followed by Alvarez with 26 percent to Fletcher's 24 percent.
Fletcher, a recent convert to the Democratic Party, saw his several-thousand vote lead in an early count vanish.
Speaking at a party in Logan Heights, Democrat Alvarez all but declared victory after an update from the Registrar of Voters showed his surge in the count.
“The next campaign starts tonight," Alvarez told his cheering supporters. "We are moving this city forward in a way that represents all of us.”
Appearing at his party at the U.S. Grant Hotel, Faulconer — the lone Republican in the race — beamed with confidence.
Calling himself “a mayor you can trust to do the right thing,” Faulconer told happy supporters: “We’re halfway there. This campaign is just getting started, and that is the great news.”
The top two vote-getters will square off in February to determine who will replace former Mayor Bob Filner. He resigned in August amid scandal.
The San Diego Registrar of Voters noted late last night there remain as many as 34,500 mail or provisional ballots yet to be counted. That acted as a caution against calling Faulconer and Alvarez the winners in the race.
Still, Fletcher was subdued in trying to bolster supporters in a quiet party room in Mission Valley before the final count showed him as the odd-man out.
"I believe in the end we will prevail," Fletcher said.
Now the race is expected to slow down during the holidays, before the two candidates begin the final campaign to a February election day.
Brian Adams, a professor of political science at San Diego State University, said on KPBS-TV this evening that Faulconer needs a big lead going into the run-off in order to emerge the victor.
"The problem for Faulconer is he’s a Republican in a predominately Democratic city," Adams said. "And he’s going to have to overcome that in the general election."
Registrar Michael Vu said he expected a turnout of between 40 and 45 percent for the special election.
Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who spent less than $5,000 on his campaign, garnered just 4.5 percent of the vote.
The vote was to determine who will replace former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in August over sexual harassment claims. If no candidate earns 50 percent of today's vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be scheduled for early next year.
After Filner's resignation, candidates leaped into a relatively brief election season.
Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a Republican-turned-Democrat, was first to state his intention to run. He was followed by former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, also a Democrat, and two city councilmen, Republican Kevin Faulconer and Democrat David Alvarez.
Other high profile potential candidates, such as former City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, declared they would not run soon after the special election was announced.
Facing a truncated election season, campaigns quickly raised millions in donations, and spent feverishly on TV ads and mailers.
At the last campaign filing yesterday, the total amounts raised by each candidate and their independent expenditure committees were:
- Aguirre, $5,575
- Alvarez, $1,763,237
- Fletcher, $1,797,959,
- Faulconer, $1,252,523
Fletcher faced the biggest onslaught of negative ads, coming both from the left and the right. Fletcher, Faulconer and Alvarez all spent heavily on TV ads and mailers.
The four major candidates also participated in what seemed like endless debates that got more heated as the campaign progressed. Two of the final debates, hosted by the news website Voice of San Diego and KUSI-TV, allowed the candidates to confront one another, producing several tense moments.
The two emerging from today's primary vote will have to continue momentum over the holidays into the runoff early next year. The date of that election will be scheduled after the San Diego County Registrar of Voters and San Diego City Clerk certify today's election results.
The winner of that general election will serve out the remainder of Filner's term, and then can run for reelection for one more term in 2016.
Former City Attorney Aguirre was the dark horse in the mayoral race. He made little effort to raise campaign contributions and scored no major endorsements.
But Aguirre, who earned a combative reputation during his tenure as city attorney, toned down his approach and used self-deprecating humor to spread his message during appearances and debates. Aguirre focused his campaign on the city’s large annual pension payments, saying they crowd out opportunities for the city to spend money on other important things.
No one has contributed more than $1,000 to this campaign.
First term Councilman David Alvarez was considered the progressive's choice for mayor, with endorsements from the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council, Councilwomen Myrtle Cole and Marti Emerald and former Councilwoman Donna Frye. Alvarez also secured the endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party early in the race.
During Alvarez's campaign, he promised to improve neighborhood infrastructure and boost affordable housing. He played a prominent role in the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, a controversial road map restricting future commercial development in the neighborhood.
City Councilman Kevin Faulconer was reported to be hand picked by San Diego's Republican establishment to run for mayor. He received endorsements from the Republican Party of San Diego County, former Mayor Jerry Sanders and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as former City Council President Tony Young, a Democrat.
Faulconer's campaign emphasized his moderate stances on social issues, and focused on his plans to increase police staffing and improve roads. Faulconer also talked repeatedly about one of his early successes, passing the Mission Bay Park Initiative, which reinvests money from hotel leases in Mission Bay Park back into city parks.
Long Read: ‘Not The Loudest Guy In The Room’
Former state Assemblyman and current Qualcomm executive Nathan Fletcher took heat from all sides for his decision to join the Democratic party in May. The former Republican had become an independent during his unsuccessful run for mayor last fall.
While Fletcher did not have the Democratic Party's backing, he did receive key endorsements from prominent Democrats like Governor Jerry Brown and state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who was a longtime San Diego labor leader before heading to Sacramento. Fletcher's campaign focused on creating jobs, boosting police staffing and decreasing emergency response times.