Originally published February 11, 2014 at 8:04 p.m., updated February 11, 2014 at 11:54 p.m.
Kevin Faulconer was elected by a wide margin over fellow Councilman David Alvarez in the race to replace disgraced former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner.
The veteran Republican councilman soundly defeated his Democratic opponent 55 to 45 percent (with 86 percent of the vote counted.)
Faulconer said he spoke with Alvarez after both men had addressed their supporters and said on Twitter that he looked forward to working with his mayoral opponent, who returns to City Council.
It was expected that Faulconer would lead early because voters who mail in their choices tend to skew Republican.
But the large, steady lead through the evening buoyed Faulconer's supporters.
Faulconer took the podium at 10:42 p.m., sounding very much like the city's new mayor.
"We know that this city has gone through a lot in the past year, but we knew that as San Diegans we were better than that," Faulconer told his cheering backers at the Grant Hotel. His observation pointedly referred to the scandal that drove his predecessor from office.
"Together we sent a very strong message tonight: That this city needs to have an independent leader and that the city will stand up and work together; (that San Diego needs to) have a mayor that will strongly continue the reforms that you, the voters, voted for. That every San Diegan has chance at success, and has a seat at the table."
Faulconer's lead was 13 percent after mail-in ballot were tallied; but closed to a still-heady 10 percent with the vast majority of precincts reporting.
Democrat Alvarez stepped to the podium in a Barrio Logan market shortly after 10 p.m. to thank his supporters. It wasn't a concession speech, but it had echoes of that.
"You believe as I do that San Diego is an inclusive city, a city that stands for working families," he told cheering supporters. "We are on the verge of accomplishing great things.
"While we do not know the final outcome tonight, this much is clear: We have changed San Diego. And we are just getting started."
Alvarez added that the important thing is for San Diegans to, "move forward together as a city, not as Democrats and Republicans; old versus young, not (as those) north of I-8 versus (those) south of I-8, nor as workers versus business interests .... But as San Diegans."
Alvarez ended his speech with gratitude expressed in Spanish and supporters tried putting on a brave face, saying many more votes remain to be counted. But the glee was building at Faulconer headquarters downtown at the Grant Hotel.
Tuesday's runoff election was scheduled on relatively short notice after November’s special primary vote narrowed the field to the top two finishers.
The race to replace Filner, who resigned over sexual harassment claims in August, generated national attention in its final weeks with a story in The New York Times and a late-game endorsement of Alvarez by President Barack Obama.
In a full-circle development, it was announced Monday that Irene McCormack-Jackson—the top Filner aide whose revelations of sexual harassment energized the campaign to oust him—settled her lawsuit against the former mayor and the city. McCormack-Jackson will get $250,000, according to her attorney and the San Diego City Attorney’s Office.
Meanwhile, the two men vying to replace Filner replaced their relatively genial relationship during the primary with sharp-elbowed confrontation in the past few weeks.
The election turned ugly as both campaigns and the independent committees supporting Faulconer and Alvarez went on the offensive, sending out negative mailers and running attack ads on TV.
Each candidate has described the other as a tool of the interests behind him. Faulconer has said unions are trying to buy the election by backing Alvarez, while Alvarez has painted Faulconer as anointed by the city's business insiders.
Both candidates and the independent committees supporting them have raised millions during the special election, but Alvarez has raised slightly more. Some of his biggest backers were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the United Domestic Workers of America.
"I think that the Faulconer campaign out to be credited with a tremendous ground campaign, I don't think that the much vaulted turnout by the Alvarez campaign actually came to fruition," said T.J. Zane, the president of The Lincoln Club. "I think that perhaps in the end when things are evaluated you'll see that the Faulconer campaign outperformed on the ground as well."
Zane said he thinks The Lincoln Club's mailers, some of which were criticized as being subtly racist or stating inaccurate facts about Alvarez, played a role in Faulconer's win.
"As much as our intent with sending those mailers was to educate the public on issues that we felt were important, and as much as some people viewed them as negative, we viewed them as hard hitting facts," Zane said. "History will be the judge on the accuracy or inaccuracy of the statements that were made within them."
Because both candidates are on the City Council, a win by either means an empty council seat. That seat will be filled by appointment, not a special election.