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Filner Is San Diego's New Mayor After DeMaio Concedes

Bob Filner, San Diego's Next Mayor
Filner Is San Diego's New Mayor After DeMaio Concedes
GUESTBob Filner, San Diego Mayor-Elect

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, November 7th. Just as it was in the national election, it was a good night for Democrats in San Diego. Democrat Bob Filner will become San Diego's next mayor. Mr. Filner will join us today. Dave Roberts has been elected as the first Democrat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in almost 20 years. Dave Roberts will be a guest later in the show. And it's still very close, but Scott Peters is in the lead to become San Diego's newest democratic Congressman in the 52nd district. Joining me through the hour to analyze San Diego's election results is my guest, Carl Luna, professor of political science at Mesa College. LUNA: Good to be here. CAVANAUGH: Many San Diegans went to bed last night thinking DeMaio, Bilbray, and Scott Danon had won. Now it seems each has lost. Those early numbers came in from mail-in ballots. Aren't those early results usually right? LUNA: Well, it depends on how big the margin is. For Republicans to win, they have to front load the deck because you get a better Republican sample in those early ballots. The turnout in the demographics of the city means that every elections, they need a bigger lead in these mail-ins, and that's been eroded. CAVANAUGH: So when the first mail-ins came in in the mayor's race, there was only one-point defense, that spelled bad news for Carl DeMaio. >> That was very bad news. He wanted to be up by 5 or 6 at that point. CAVANAUGH: Registrar of voters Deborah Seiler is on the line. Has the precinct vote been completely counted? SEILER: It has. But we're estimating 10 to 15,000 ballots that have some sort of mark on them that require us to go through and make sure that we have properly interpreted all the marks on those ballots. Sometimes people mismark the ballot and strike out the mark. Instead of spoiling the ballot and getting a new one, they try to correct it. We go through them and try to make sure that we capture the voter intent. CAVANAUGH: Let me try to if I may mail down the mail-in provisional ballots that remain to be counted. How many are there? SEILER: About 470,000 mail and provisional ballots to be counted. Some of those had arrived prior to or on Tuesday and just haven't been able to be processed to go into the count election night. And most of those were dropped off at the polling places yesterday on election day. CAVANAUGH: Isn't that number awfully high considering the number of registered voters in San Diego County? SEILER: It's a very high number, yes. And the reason for that, and we issued this time over 900,000 mail ballots. And as of election night, we had about 5 how many returned. We will start pretty much immediately. But the bail ballots have to be verified. CAVANAUGH: And when are you thinking you're going to start releasing those results? >> We will start releasing additional results tomorrow at around 5:00. And we will release them every business day until we're finished. CAVANAUGH: 5:00 PM? SEILER: Yes. CAVANAUGH: Now, we heard that representative ares from Brian Bilbray's campaign have gone down to the registrar's office today. Do you know what they're asking for? SEILER: Well, I have not personally been meeting with them yet. But I'm assuming that they are just wanting to observe the count. CAVANAUGH: Observe the count. Okay. Based on your past experience, Deborah, do you expect these remaining ballots to be weighted Republican or democratic? SEILER: That's tough to say. We noticed that the returns as of election day were more heavily weighted toward the Republican side. But that doesn't necessarily hold for the late returning mail ballots. So a little difficult to say at this point. CAVANAUGH: Let me just ask one more question about this. We heard from the Peters campaign that more Republican than Democrats actually mailed in their ballots early so that there may be more democratic mail-ins left for you to count. Can you confirm if that's true? SEILER: What I can confirm is that there were more Republican returns as of yesterday. And there were about 88,000 that had come in that we had not been able to verify all the signatures for. Those could still be weighted toward the Republican side. But it's entirely likely that the late arriving mail ballots would be very equal in terms of the partisan makeup. CAVANAUGH: The last numbers separated Peters and Bilbray by about 700 votes. Are there any automatic recount rules in San Diego? SEILER: No, none. CAVANAUGH: When can a candidate ask for a recount? SEILER: After we've certified the election, which we will do on December 4th. Then the candidates have seven days to request a recount. CAVANAUGH: What was the turnout in San Diego County? SEILER: Well, at this point, as of last night, the turnout was about 52%. But we know with all of the outstanding ballots that have yet to go into the counts that turnout percent will rise substantially. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because you haven't factored in the number of mail-in ballots that were turned in? SEILER: That's correct. The turnout reflects only the ballots that were counted last night. CAVANAUGH: Besides the 52nd congressional, are there any other races still too close to call? SEILER: Well, there are very close contests in some of the local races. I think until all the ballots are counted, we never declare a winner. CAVANAUGH: Okay. SEILER: And results certified on December 4th. CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for joining us, Deborah. I know it was a long night for you. SEILER: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: And a gentleman who also had a long night, mayor elect Bob Filner joins us now. Hello, congratulations. FILNER: Good morning. My scientific mind says if they identify December 4th, the inauguration for mayor is scheduled on December 3rd, so I wonder, you know, what happens in that case. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you, you are rather confident now that Carl DeMaio has conceded that there won't be a turnaround in the results of your election, right? FILNER: Well, mathematically it's possible. He would have to get over 55% of the electorate, and that has not occurred if in any of the counting we have had so far. CAVANAUGH: Carl DeMaio did concede the race this morning. We have an excerpt from that speech. He was asked what's next for you. NEW SPEAKER: Sleep. [ LAUGHTER ] NEW SPEAKER: Sleep and a lot of reflection. And thanking a lot of people. I've already made calls to mayor Sander, I've talked to Bonnie Dumanis. I have so many people to thank. I am so grateful for the thousands of San Diegans who stepped forward across party line. A lot of Democrats that said hey, you're my first Republican I've ever voted for. That means so much because I believe what it shows is that we can reach beyond labels. And it's very -- it made a big impact for me, as you can see. CAVANAUGH: That from the concession speech this morning from Carl DeMaio. Did Carl DeMaio call you? FILNER: Yes, he did. That was a very gracious statement that he made, and we talked before he made that statement. And he offered his assistance and support. He said he loves San Diego and wants to do whatever he can to help move us forward, and I thanked him and said I want to involve him and his supporters in moving our city forward. CAVANAUGH: Now, early on in the primary season, you talked to me, you talked to reporters telling people who were saying you weren't engaged in this race, that you knew how to win elections. So what did you do to win this race? FILNER: Well, are the same thing in every election I've won. I go from early in the morning till late at night, we talk to anybody who will talk to me. I go to community meetings all day. We're on the phone raising money, on the phone with the press, doing interviews. But it's mainly the visibility I think that marks me so much different. And as I was going through this election, a bus driver would yell out go Bob. It was clear that they not only understood they was running for mayor but that I was on their side. And that showed that my whole message of a change in power in how this city is run from a small group of people to a far more diverse group that is not only going to be advising me and be on boards and commissions and be on our staffs, but also get the contracts that the city gives out. We're a $3 billion operation. And the hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts, as much lip service as we give to small businesses, goes to a few guys. It's time to open up the small businesses of this city in the most direct way that we can. CAVANAUGH: San Diegans voted overwhelmingly in June for pension reform which you opposed. And San Diegans have now elected you mayor. And I'm wondering how do you explain that? FILNER: Well, I think there are different issues there. And people focus on different things. But as mayor, I have to implement whatever the voters pass. So I will implement prop B if it's validated by the Courts. In fact, I argued during the campaign that I could implement it better because I have a great deal of good relationship with employee groups. We can negotiate a 5-year pensionable pay freeze which will save a billion dollars for the city. And I I could do that in a far less dramatic and hostile fashion. And therefore rather than having an annual nightmare, an annual chaos, that we'll have labor peace that savings the taxpayers money. CAVANAUGH: And Carl? LUNA: Well, I find this campaign to be interesting in a couple of ways. I think the underscoring theme is the shifting demographics of the city. It's simply a more democratic town, and it used to be Republicans could count on a higher voter turnout to compensate for that. Their numbers have declined enough that that's no longer enough to be able to make it. Carl DeMaio was from the more conservative part of the party he want tried to go to the center. Bob Filner was able to beat him to the center early on. He kept a constant lead in the polls, ran a good campaign, didn't stumble despite some extraordinarily negative ads, some of the worst I've seen. CAVANAUGH: Right. This mayor's race did get really nasty at times. How after a campaign like this do you reach out to almost half of the electorate who didn't vote for you? FILNER: Well, if you're focused on moving the city forward, you can do it. I've done it many times before. I was president of the School Board, and I was deputy mayor of the City of San Diego. And I had to reach out. I got elected to those positions by my colleague, and they were majority Republican, so they must have had confidence in my ability to lead and treat them fairly. After every election, you have to go through the process of bringing people in. I was just thinking back in all of my elections, I don't think there's a Democrat I've ever run against that didn't support me for mayor. So I've been able to return that -- what becomes a very intense personal situation in campaigns to ways that we focus on issues and build up -- we look at things, how to get things done. And you can work with people from any background or whatever their personality was when you focus in on getting things done. CAVANAUGH: Do you regret anything that was said by your campaign during this race? FILNER: Well, you're always going to second guess a whole lot of things. But it's over, and let's look forward and build this city to an exciting kind of thing. I think we're going to have an exciting time as mayor. I'm humbled by the task before me. To be intrusted with the leadership of one of America's great cities is a humbling experience. But I'm excited to get started and to really get a city involved in a way that most of the neighborhoods have never been involved before. CAVANAUGH: Although your office and the City Council is technically nonpartisan, you've got a democratic majority now to work with at City Hall. What are you looking forward to accomplishing with that advantage? FILNER: Well, I want to stress, it is a nonpartisan job that I have as a mayor, it's a nonpartisan council theoretically. The Democrats do have a majority, which makes it a little easier for me. But we're going to work with everybody, as I've done before. When we're talking about jobs, I want to concentrate on expanding and modernizing our port, on making our public buildings solar powered, for example. That takes everybody really working together. And I think if you look at the issues, forget the party, that for example the people who are elected who happen to be Republican stressed small business development a lot. Well, my solar energy plan is right in line with that. It allows small businesses to take advantage of what we call the green economy and really expand from that. You can't do the kind of solar installation of panels and photo voltaic cells, there are small businesses doing that. So I think they will join me in that because it gets to some of the things that they also feel very passionate about. >> One question I have is that Carl DeMaio was often listed like if he won the mayorship, he's on the short list for governor in 2014. [ LAUGHTER ] LUNA: Would you pledge that you plan to serve out your full term and maybe try for a second but not use this to parlay to governor and higher office? FILNER: You know, as you know, Carl, I come to this better prepared than virtually any other candidate for mayor. I have been on the School Board, twice elected to City Council, ten times to Congress. I'm coming back home to do the best job I can, maybe for two terms. We'll see what the voters think. But that's where I have to be focused on. As some reporter unfortunately informed me today, I may be the oldest one who's ever been elected mayor. So I don't think I'm going to be looking at those jobs the same way some of these younger guys were. CAVANAUGH: Do you expect a smooth transition from mayor Sanders' administration? How will you be working with them? FILNER: We've already started: The mayor very graciously called me today. His staff has been in touch with us to set up the people who would be the contacts, for example, for briefings and for transferring of materials and documents so we've already in just a few days set that process up. And they're going to be very helpful and very gracious about that. CAVANAUGH: My last question to you is how accessible will you be as mayor with the public and our listeners? Will we be seeing and hearing a lot of you? Is yours going to be a very public, viewable sort of administration? FILNER: Well, I think so. And that's been the hall mark of all the offices I've had. Will I am very visible. I will be in the media with regular TV and radio kinds of reports to the citizens. We're going to -- I'm going to have as my director of open government the only appointment I've made so far or have,a announced is Donna Frye, who as a councilman for nine years was extremely active in the issue of open government, transparency, visibility. So he will be directing us to do that. For example we hope three Saturdays a week I will be in the lobby of City Hall just saying hello to anybody who wants to stop in. I noticed there's a sign Maureen in front of the -- at the entrance to City Hall. Hours, 9:00-5:00, Monday through Friday. And I'm saying, that's when everybody works! So I want to be open for business in one of the evenings, be there Saturday mornings where people can just say hello to the mayor, any issues they have to bring up personally. CAVANAUGH: Congratulations, once again. FILNER: Thank you. CAVANAUGH: Thank you for coming in.

Filner Is San Diego's New Mayor After DeMaio Concedes
Bob Filner shares his plans as San Diego's next mayor in a KPBS interview. Carl DeMaio concedes in a wistful press conference.

'Don't Be Disappointed'

At times wistful, gracious and proud, Councilmember Carl DeMaio today conceded the mayor's race to Democrat Bob Filner during a press conference.


DeMaio said that as recently as last Friday, he thought he was going to win. But he said a nationwide trend over the weekend spelled doom for his campaign.

"We wish we were here celebrating a victory," DeMaio said. "But I feel really good. I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish at the city and we are handing over to Bob Filner a city government that is on the right path."

DeMaio said he plans to stay in San Diego despite losing the election.

“I anticipate finding a good role to serve our city, so that we can move forward on the issues that I care passionately about; finishing the job of fiscal reform, restoring our services, moving our economy forward,” he said.

Beyond that, he wasn't specific about his future plans.


“Sleep and a lot of reflection," he said. "And thanking a lot of people. I’ve already made calls to Mayor Sanders. I’ve talked to Bonnie Dumanis. I have so many people to thank. I am so grateful for thethousands of San Diegans who stepped forward across party lines. A lot of Democrats that said hey, you’re my first Republican that I’ve ever voted for. That means so much. Because, I believe. I believe what it shows is that we can reach beyond labels. And it’s very, it made a big impact on me, as you can see.”

“For those that voted for me. Don’t be disappointed,” he added. “Look how far we’ve come. Look at what we have accomplished. Do not become cynical.”

Filner shared some of his plans as San Diego's next mayor on KPBS' Midday and Evening Edition.

“To be entrusted with the leadership of one of America’s great cities is a humbling experience," he said. "But I’m excited to get started and to really get the city involved in a way that most of the neighborhoods have never been involved before.”

Although the City Council will be made up of a majority of members of Filner's own party, Filner said, “we’re going to work with everybody, as I’ve done before.”

He pledged to be accessible to members of the media and the public, saying he'd sit in the City Hall lobby most Saturdays to answer the public's questions. He also said former City Councilwoman Donna Frye would be his director of open government.

The race between the Democrat Filner and the Republican DeMaio has been tight since the June primary, when two other candidates were eliminated. Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis endorsed DeMaio the week before the election. The Republican-turned Independent state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher did not make an endorsement.

The polarized DeMaio and Filner sat at opposite ends of many issues, including the Convention Center expansion, replacing city employees' pensions with 401(k)-style retirement plans, and the Plaza de Panama project for Balboa Park. They both believe a new Chargers stadium should be built without public financing and support desalination to increase the city's water supply.

On KPBS Midday, Filner said he would implement Prop B, the pension reform measure, if it is approved by the courts.

DeMaio and Filner's race was tense and sometimes nasty, with accusations and attack ads flying. DeMaio attacked Filner for missing votes in Congress, assaulting a baggage handler at an airport and for his plan to use city bonds to pay off pension debt.

Filner attacked DeMaio for what he said were connections to "downtown insiders" including U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester. Filner also called DeMaio's partner Johnathan Hale a criminal and suggested he was connected to the group that organized a water gun fight that destroyed the lily pond in Balboa Park.

On Midday, Filner would not say he regretted anything that was said during the campaign.

“It's over," he said. "You’re always going to second guess a whole lot of things. Let’s look forward and build this city into an exciting kind of a thing. I think I’m going to have an exciting time as mayor.”

Both the conservative DeMaio and the liberal Filner attempted to vie for moderate voters since the June primary. DeMaio scored endorsements from current Mayor Jerry Sanders, Democratic philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and many local business groups. Filner was endorsed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, Frye and groups like the San Diego police officers and the San Diego firefighters.

Filner, 70, has served on the San Diego Unified School Board and on the San Diego City Council. He was first elected to Congress in 1992 and ever since has held the seat representing South San Diego and Imperial County. He’s served as chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was the ranking member.

But Filner said Congress has become too dysfunctional and he saw an opportunity to be San Diego's first Democratic mayor in nearly 30 years.

Carl Luna, Election Aftermath

Corrected: April 22, 2024 at 4:21 AM PDT
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Peggy Pico, Patty Lane and Claire Trageser contributed to this report.