Roundtable: Six Potential Candidates for SD Mayor -- So Far
The race for San Diego's next mayor is getting interesting. This week state senator Christine Kehoe announced she is considering entering the fray. That makes another Democrat with strong name recognition and plenty of political background running to replace Republican Jerry Sanders. Will it help or hurt her?
And what does the city need at this precarious point it its history? She joins a number of high-profile candidates already champing at the bit in the back field, though few have actually committed to run so far.
Guests: Dean Calbreath, economics reporter, San Diego Union Tribune
Liam Dillon, reporter, Voiceofsandiego.org.
David King, editor and founder of Sandiegonewsroom.com
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
This is the KPBS roundtable, I'll Alison St. John and with us at the round table today, we have City Hall reporter, Liam Dillon, from VoiceofSanDiego.org, Dean Calbreath, economics reporters with the San Diego Union Tribune, and David King, editor and founder of San Diego News Room. So the race for San Diego's next mayor is getting interesting. This week state senator Christine Kehoe announced she's considering entering the fray. That makes another Democrat with strong name recognition and plenty of political background running to replace Republican Jerry Sanders next year. Will it help or hurt her? And what does the city need at this precarious point in its history and she joins a number of high profile candidates already, chomping at the bit in the back field. Though few have committed to run so far. Here to fill us in is Liam Dillon. Dillon†-- or Liam, rather, who is in the lineup so far?
DILLON: This is actually really exciting, Allison, by the time this is all sort of said and done, we're probably gonna see about a half dozen or so bona fide candidates, and there are some really good story lines here. For the 50 time in a long time it look like we'll have two big name Democrats in terms of Christine Kehoe, announced this week she is forming am exploratory committee to see if she is going to run, and also Congressman bill Filner who's made some noise for a while that he was planning on runnings. And the city's been majority democratic for a while, and we haven't seen these sort of contenders see if they can use that to their advantage.
ST. JOHN: But the mayor has been for a while, right?
DILLON: You also have three major gay candidates in the race. Kehoe, city Councilman Carl DeMayo, and district attorney bonnie Dumanis. And then as well, you have at least two, maybe three of the kind of coaster Republicans that San Diego is kind of used to electing. And that's what the current mayor is, and Dumanis would follow in those footsteps, and so would state assemblyman David Fletcher, and David Faulkner as well.
ST. JOHN: This is theoretically a nonpartisan race. David, how much do you think party politics will play into this race in the voters' minds in the next year.
KING: Very much so. It'll follow along the lines of the kind of the pure partisan designation, but also where they stand on the issues. Are they with unions, are they strongly against unions or are they somewhere in between? In June, I think you're gonna have the race be focused excessively on the pension initiative. So you've got -- if Filner stays in the race, and Kehoe stays in the race, and both of them run, then Dumanis, Filner and Kehoe are gonna be against this pension initiative. I think it's gonna be hard against all three of them, and that will be the democratic position, no, it's not disturb the status quo.
ST. JOHN: Although Dumanis is not a Democrat.
KING: She's not, but she's not gonna have the support of the accident interests that participate in politics because they're gonna be strongly behind this. And it's also gonna make it hard for the mayor to support her while he's pushing this pension reform initiative if she's not on board with this issue. And she's not. She's come out and taken a position that she's not in support of this position.
THE COURT: So you think this will be a handicap among her and the business community.
KING: I think it might crowd -- definitely among the business community, but would it get her some union support. I think it'll create a crowd on the left, if dumanics, Kehoe and Filner are all in, I think it makes it hard for one of them to make the run off because it'll be so much focused on the pension initiative.
ST. JOHN: Liam?
DILLON: I think it's a little bit more unclear as far as Bonnie. She has a tremendous amount of support generally speaking among the downtown business community. And she has told me, her campaign has told me, she has 12 fundraising events scheduled? June. As many as 12, and I would shocked if she didn't put up a big number, mainly coming from that business community. And it'll also be interesting to see what she as a mayor winds up doing in terms of his endorsement. Just because Bonnie doesn't support the 401K measure, I don't think that writes her off as far as the mayor's support.
ST. JOHN: And also I was just gonna say you're not mentioning Fletcher who might be another --
KING: Oh, no, Carl DeMaio and Fletcher of course are in. I don't think Kevin Faulconer is running. So those are the ones I would say are gonna be in there, it's maybe five and maybe between Filner and Kehoe, after they explore it this month, maybe one of those runs or not. It matters who's gonna make the run off right. That's the key thing is to get through the feats, and if you're got everybody in the it's gonna be hard for those people not to split their support.
ST. JOHN: That's why I was interested that Kehoe would even decide to jump into the race when Filner was there, but maybe because the Republican field is already looking fairly crowded she felt like it wasn't such a risk to split the democratic vote.
KING: Well, if Faulkner doesn't run, and that's why I kind of push -- and especially I'm just talking about June, where will Dumanis be on the realm upon of conservatism here when what we're talking about here, the televisions will be flooded with commercials over this pension initiative and she's opposed to it. I'm not familiar with the business interest groups that will support her for this race. The ones who open up their checkbooks and write checks are gonna be strongly behind this pension initiative and probably behind a candidate who supports it.
ST. JOHN: And help us just to understand the June, this is a nonpartisan race, it's not gonna be one Democrat and one Republican emerging is it?
DILLON: It could be two Democrats, it could be two Republicans, it doesn't matter. Although from what I'm hearing, most people seem to think that this is almost going to be a democratic primary and a Republican primary. So you may see most likely one Democrat and one Republican come out in June.
ST. JOHN: Dean, do you think the way the economy is going will have a strong impact on who stands a better chance with the voters next year if the economy gets getting worse, could it favor one side or the other more?
CALBREATH: Well, yeah, and I don't know which side it would favor more, but I think that there's a good possibility. Right now, it looks like the pension is gonna be the big issue next year. But it's a good possibility it could be opposed by the general economy. If the economy goes down, and if you see more people mobilized to get into the partisan Republican and democratic primaries in June, that could seriously alter the race. Again, I don't know who would benefit, but it could make the race go on more partisan issues.
ST. JOHN: David?
KING: I agree with dean that in November it will be a presidential race, and at that point, it's a referendum on the president who's in office, and the unemployment numbers are still the biggest factor. So if unemployment is still around nine percent, Barack Obama will have a tough time, and the down ticket people who are Democrats will also have a tougher time 678 so we will really have two very different races, the race in June, and the race in November, and they will be focused on different issues, by and large.
ST. JOHN: So the candidates must be focussing on June right you.
DILLON: And I will say one thing that has shocked me particularly more than anything else, for those candidates who aren't at the city, is how slow they have been to address these pension or think about these pension and budget issues that have really dominated city politics if not for the last five years, maybe going as far back as 15 or 20 years. Back in 1996, Kehoe voted for the first of the city's pension under funding ills. That essentially started the city's financial crisis. Then when I talked to her yesterday, it served as a relatively straight question, whether she would take that vote back, she said she wasn't really ready to answer that. And that's surprising because you think that would be one of the first questions she would need to answer. Correct.
ST. JOHN: Right. Although also the 2002 vote is really where things got sticky when Diane Shapiro blew the whistle, that would be a more difficult one to get around as a politician in the 1996 vote which was back before really all these problems emerged.
DILLON: Well, I'd rather her say that is not you.
ST. JOHN: David you got a comment?
KING: I agree with you completely. I look at credible candidates, someone like Scott Peters, he's very bright, very articulate, did an interview with us, and gave very that you feel answers about everything, but she's not gonna run. And that's the reason. Because he was on the council in 2002, and those council members are the ones that are most identified with the pension under funding, and the deal is not only to under fund but to juice benefits at the same time.
ST. JOHN: Got an opinion or a question about the mayor's race? 1-888-895-5727 is the number to give us here thea the round table am so we've touched on money earlier. This is their first order of business, I guess, everyone is waiting to see how much money they raise in this first month. Leon, how important is this initial fundraising for them?
DILLON: It's really important, the consultant firm agent, Fletcher, told me that between Sunday, June 15th when the official campaigning begins at the end of the month, June 30th, you really have 24 days to make may statement. And the reason for that is that the financial disclosure period or the time when those financing numbers become public ends at the end of June 30th. So that's the only financing figures that the public will see and other campaigns will see really until the end of the year, and so people like who might have not as much name recognition like Fletcher for instance, really wants to put up a big number to show these a viable candidate.
ST. JOHN: And that would be not so necessarily for the voters but for other possible backers.
DILLON: Yes, the consultant for Bonnie Dumanis soaptly stated to me that June is not about the voters, it's about the donors.
ST. JOHN: David, do you have any comments on who you would say has got the potential to unlock the purse strings the most?
KING: DeMaio and Dumanis would definitely -- Carl DeMaio's been running for mayor for 10 years. Talk about the ability to dominate the debate here. And his pension initiative, it's by and large his, and the mayor came on board, but it's mostly his, is now gonna be the front row center issue. He definitely has been building support and there's donors lined up, and is ready to rake in the dough. Expect Carl DeMaio to raise a lot of money, and I agree with Liam. Bonnie Dumanis is a heavyweight in local politics, has are supporters, and will raise a lot of money. I think other people will do fine. These are all solid candidates, but those two will raise a lot of money.
ST. JOHN: But is DeMaio is sort of a one issue candidate in the voters' minds? Does he have a brad enough appeal?
KING: And want to change everything and tear down the system. And it's broad. Because people have been frustrated with San Diego City hall for a long time. I wouldn't say he's a one issue man, but he beats on public benefits so much, that is what he's well known for. But that is what people think about when they think about City Hall.
DILLON: He's absolutely an antiestablishment candidate. He doesn't really have a lot of friends in the larger political sphere. He's done a lot to alienate a lot of those folks so much he sort of fills the role that San Diego politicians have traditionall sat over the past decade, the role filled previously filled by someone like Donne Frye, on the opposite side of the isle, same with Mike Aguirre, and the question with whether someone who has a tremendous amount of skill and ability to get his message out there but sort of very antiestablishment message is gonna be able to break through that 50 percent threshold and be able to be elected.
ST. JOHN: Okay. 1-888-895-5727 is the number if you either want to take a risk and put out a prediction about how this race is gonna go or you have some observations for us here at the round tail. We'd love to hear from you. Now, Dumanis is somebody who's very well known and really established in the political establishment. But what does she have to do to really get voters on her side, did you think? Any of you? David.
KING: I think she's popular. Bonnie Dumanis has got to start addressing the City of San Diego deissues. Let's go down the list of everything she has said I won't comment on: Prop D, redevelopment, the city's budget. You're running for mayor am are you gonna address these issues? At some time she's gonna have to articulate her positions on these things. And the background noise is that she just doesn't have an opinion on these things, because it hasn't been her job, it hasn't been the focus of her attention. She's a prosecutor. So that's what she's gonna have to do. And kind of on that line here, this might be a refreshing change for people. Being able to raise money is maybe not gonna win the race here because people in San Diego have tended to elect people who we like to be our mayor. It's gotta be someone who's palatable. And when these debates start and the public starts paying attention a little bit more to this, and identifying who's who, and sees these people interact, I think they might gravitate to someone who's not necessarily the biggest fund raiser but someone that they can imagine being the city's chief executive, and working with all these department heads, is that Carl DeMaio? Is that someone like Bonnie Dumanis or is that someone like Nathan Fletcher? It's tough to say. Wait tell the debates start. And I think then the poling becomes meaningful.
ST. JOHN: Or Christine Kehoe.
KING: It could be anyone. I'm just saying the personalities are big. When Jerry Sanders ran for mayor and did a debate with Donna Frye. I just remember him saying something that made absolutely sense at all. He didn't suffer for that. Donna Frye suffered for it because she made this face, like, what? Are you insane? Who they trust, who they can believe in, and just seems like a nice, honest person. That will work for someone in this race, and it remains to be seen who that is.
DILLON: Yeah, I think David you're absolutely correct as far as Bonnie go. It took her a while to come out with a position on the 401K measure she hasn't developed an alternative plan, she keeps telling me she's working on something. But as you said, she's often criticized from other folks that I've heard for not really standing up and taking a formative position on any really major city issues and that goes for her as well as Kehoe now, they face the same questions, as well as Filner and as well as Fletcher, they're the people who aren't in the trenches every day. You're gonna have to come up with positions on things and come you go with them fast.
ST. JOHN: So when you spoke with Kehoe, Liam, did she suggest some issues that were really under lining her opinion, her decision to run?
DILLON: Oh, sure. In order to find out if you're viable, you have to ask people if you're viable, and the way that you most formally ask people if you're viable is you do a poll. Now, she didn't say she was going to do one. But she did say she needed to raise money to outreach to voters to make sure or to see what kind of level of support she has. And so I think that that's really where we're gonna see her decision come out.
ST. JOHN: But no idea of issues where she might actually appeal to voters? Because I think voters want to know, well, why should we vote for you?
DILLON: I think she has a strong support in the environmental community, a strong support in the LGBT community, and again is coming from a perspective that frankly the majority of the city supports, at least as far as the voter registration goes. And just having the D next to your name might be enough to get you through June.
ST. JOHN: And it's so interesting that we have three gay candidates, already, pretty much in the running. How much do you think the gay community is gonna be a factor in this election?
DILLON: Gay community is typically known as sort of a very highly engaged with someone potential to raise some money as well. And so we'll see. I mean, it is worth noting that two of the Republicans potentially in the race are -- Republicans which is sort of different from what's typically expected. So we'll see how much of a factor that may be in terms of some of the supporter fundraising that may go on.
ST. JOHN: Dean 92 and I think in San Diego that's always been -- seems to have been less of an issue. It's almost never brought up. When Brian Bilbray was running against Christine Kehoe, it just wasn't -- an issue.
ST. JOHN: But in this case they have a pretty broad spectrum of candidates to choose from as well.
KING: So hopefully we've reached a day when straight and gay voters won't vote for candidates on the basis of either it's a straight or gay candidate. I think it's all just kinda been neutralized, which is nice, that it's not the issue.
ST. JOHN: Yeah, that does sound like the main point to make sheer. So dean, from the perspective the business community, how much does the mayor matter?
CALBREATH: I think that the mayor matters very much. The mayor is the face that San Diego projects out to the rest of the world. Not only to the rest of the country, to the rest of the world. The mayor takes -- goes on foreign trade missions with local companies. Often the mayor does negotiations with people across the border with other mayors across the country. I think it's very important for the business community that we project an image of moderation, maybe, and I think both on the Democrat and Republican side, a number of these candidates, Bonnie Dumanis is a moderate Republican, Christine Kehoe, moderate Democrat, I think that's very important, moderation, seriousness, and a grasp of the issues. And those are things that we'll be learning more about over the next yearment.
ST. JOHN: We haven't mentioned Filner, that's one of the candidates who hasn't said one way or the other. Do we have a sense that he's in or out?
DILLON: I think it's pretty clear that he's in. He keeps telling everybody around town that he's in.
ST. JOHN: And why is he running? Is redistricting threatening his district?
DILLON: No, I think he seems the sim way Kehoe does, for a legitimate Democratic candidate to legitimately taking the mantel of the city. And if you have someone perhaps not a moderate coming out of kind of the Republicans, if, say, DeMaio comes out, he may serve a better chance than against somebody like Bonnie or like Nathan Fletcher.
ST. JOHN: So does it strike you that with two strong Democrats, there's unlikely to be another person? What about Donny Frye? There's been some questions about whether she might even jump in again..
DILLON: She's always a wild card. I think anyone who tries to predict what she'll do winds up being wrong more often than they're right.
ST. JOHN: Okay. All right. Well, I guess I'd just like to sort of do a quick round up about what do you think of the most important issues that the candidates are gonna have to make a statement about to get the job, dean? Why don't you start?
CALBREATH: How to revive the economy. How to keep the economy going. Especially if unemployment keeps at the level it is now or chose to that level.
ST. JOHN: Okay. And leon?
DILLON: Pension and budget I think unless and until those problems are solved all of San Diego politics have been dominated by that for so long, unless there's a resolution, people have just got to keep facing questions about it.
ST. JOHN: And you've got to go back to dean, do you think the city's structural deficit could be resolved without more pension reform, or have they done as much as they can and they can't get by without anymore?
CALBREATH: They have done a lot. We can afford to do more, but we have already done a lot.
ST. JOHN: But could the city pull out of this spiral without doing more do you think?
CALBREATH: Probably it's a requirement that we do here.
ST. JOHN: Okay. And David.
KING: Ditty on what Liam said. The budget and the pension. Starting with the pension, and November the city's budget.
ST. JOHN: Okay. Thank you very much, gentlemen, and this is obviously something that will be talked about for the next year and more. Thank you. Stay with us, coming up on the round table, July fourth is justice a month away. And of course we take it for granted that fire works are part of the celebration. But a judge may issue a ruling today that jeopardizes the fire works in La Jolla. Should we be paying more attention to the impacts of shooting off explosive devices over our coastal waters? That's just ahead here on the KPBS round table.