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KPBS Hosts Mayoral Debate

San Diego Mayoral Debate

KPBS hosted the first televised debate on Thursday among the four major candidates vying to be the next mayor of San Diego.

City Councilman Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Congressman Bob Filner and state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher squared off over plans for pension reform, a new Chargers stadium, the Convention Center expansion, transportation and infrastructure improvements and small businesses.


With less than two months until the June 5 primary, the candidates made some points they have made many times before—sometimes using the same direct quotes—but also displayed a new willingness to sharply disagree, leading to moments of bitter disagreement in the debate.

In a segment that allowed candidates to ask questions of each other, Dumanis asked Filner why he has not released his alternative to the Comprehensive Pension Reform initiative, now called Proposition B.

She said Filner has said Prop. B does not save money, but the city’s Independent Budget Analyst said it would save $990 million.

“You’ve actually said you’ve done an analysis,” Dumanis said to Filner. “Why don’t you show us your plan and the proof that your plan does what it will say it will?”

Filner said the Independent Budget Analyst said there would be no savings from Prop. B, and that potential savings come from “a hope for” no salary increases for five years.


“You can’t do that in referendum,” he said. “The referendum doesn’t do that.”

Filner also faced questions over his pension plan from U-T San Diego reporter Craig Gustafson, a member of the debate’s media panel.

Filner said he has outlined his pension plan several times, calling for capping pensions for new hires at $106,000, forging a five-year agreement with labor groups and refinancing pension debt, which he says will save $550 million.

Gustafson asked Filner when the public would see the specifics of the plan.

“I just stated the pension plan, Craig, I just stated it,” Filner said.

“My plan, as I said, is I cap pensions, I refinance and I negotiate a five year labor pact,” he added. “Is there something about that that you're missing there, Craig?"

DeMaio and Fletcher also squared off by asking each other questions.

Fletcher asked DeMaio why he criticized Fletcher for accepting the endorsement of the San Diego Police Officers Association.

“You’ve said that you wouldn’t take the support, because you wouldn’t take support from anyone that you as mayor would have to negotiate with,” Fletcher said. “You say that yet you’ve taken more money from lobbyists, developers, than anyone else. Have you met with them behind closed doors?”

DeMaio said while Fletcher says he wants to end attack politics, but he has “running one of the most negative campaigns San Diego has seen.”

As mayor, DeMaio said he would bring a “new openness and transparency to City Hall, and any sort of approvals will be done in public.”

DeMaio later said he believes in transparency and asked Fletcher, “are you currently under investigation for an ethics violation, and if so, what is the nature of the investigation and the violation you’ve alleged to have conducted?”

“As usual Carl, your facts are off,” Fletcher responded. “I’m not under any investigation by the Ethics Commission.”

Fletcher said it was ironic DeMaio would bring up transparency because DeMaio was fined by the Ethics Commission for breaking campaign finance laws.

Filner declined to ask any candidates questions, saying that was the audience’s job.

The candidates also discussed whether they support expansion of the Convention Center, even if it includes the recent City Council decision to switch the center’s marketing to the private agency ConVis, whose members are hotel and restaurant owners. All candidates said they support expanding the convention center. Filner accused DeMaio for his vote to switch to ConVis without holding a public vote on the decision, but DeMaio defended his action, calling it a “bold decision”—one of many he would make as mayor.

When asked by Ann Tartre of the Equinox Center what they would do to improve the city’s transit system, most candidates spoke about improving the condition of the roads. Fletcher added that he has also released a bike plan to improve the city’s bike paths.

In response to a question about how they as mayor would help small businesses, Dumanis and DeMaio said they would cut “red tape” at City Hall, with DeMaio noting he was the only small-business owner running for mayor. Dumanis also said she would promote “San Diego first,” and would aim to use and promote local businesses.

KPBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma and 10News anchor Steve Atkinson moderated the debate. Candidates answered questions from a panel of reporters including KPBS metro reporter Katie Orr, 10News anchor Kimberly Hunt and Gustafson, as well as questions submitted through KPBS’ Public Insight Network.

KPBS broadcast the hour-long debate live on radio at 2 p.m. with a replay on KPBS Television at 6 p.m.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.