DeMaio, Filner Vie For Moderate Voters In Mayor's Race
On a clear day during the last week in September, Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio and San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders walked through a local, bayside park to a podium surrounded by a barrage of news cameras and reporters. It was a good day for DeMaio. Fellow Republican Sanders was endorsing him, despite the two being long time political foes.
"Only one candidate has demonstrated the detailed knowledge of our city that will be required from his first day on the job," Sanders said. "Only one candidate has the focus and the energy that will sustain him through difficult times. That candidate is Carl DeMaio."
Sanders’ endorsement was followed a few days later by the announcement that Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, a Democrat, was also supporting DeMaio.
But it wasn’t a bad week for Democratic Congressman Bob Filner either. A SurveyUSA poll from KPBS media partner 10News showed Filner with a double-digit lead over DeMaio and leading in nearly all of the demographic groups.
The politically-charged atmosphere around the mayor’s race is unusual for San Diego. Mesa College political scientist Carl Luna said that’s because San Diego voters are used to two moderate Republicans facing off, not a race between two people from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Luna said the way the power players in the city are lining up reminds him of a popular book-turned-movie.
"It’s kind of like that movie, Hunger Games, where you get the city center and the districts," he said. "You’ve got a downtown, pro-business, pro-Republican element, that group went strongly for Carl DeMaio. The labor unions are all going for Bob Filner. You’re finding the various social groups in town tending to gravitate toward Filner."
And to political observers, the divide isn’t surprising. Despite attempts to move to the middle, both candidates are seen as being firmly within the bounds of their political parties. Filner is viewed as a classic Democrat. Luna said Filner largely followed the party line while in Washington. At a recent debate put on by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the local Police Officers Association, Filner scoffed at DeMaio’s suggestion that he turn down his pension if elected.
"I work hard for my salary," Filner said. "Every working person deserves a pension, every working person deserves the security that 30 years of work, or whatever, are going to give that person. So, I ain't gonna turn it down. I earned that."
DeMaio, in turn, has staked his reputation on being a fiscal conservative. He champions outsourcing some city services in an attempt to save money. And he led the effort to eliminate pensions for most new city employees in San Diego, a cause that’s earned him political cred among conservatives. And despite his recent moderate talk, at that same debate DeMaio blasted Filner for the support he gets from labor unions and said Filner misrepresents how he’d spend taxpayer dollars.
"They would have gone to your special interest masters, the government employee labor union bosses, to continue unsustainable pension payouts," he said, "rather than restore the services that are important to our working families."
But politics is all about getting votes, and in general elections candidates try to appeal to as many people as possible. So for the past few months Filner and DeMaio have been working to bring out their softer sides and emphasizing their ability to unite people. DeMaio made his case at a recent KPBS debate.
"My coalition represents Democrats, Republicans, independents. From all around our city and all walks of life," he said. "We all love San Diego and that's a tie that unites. And it allows us to overcome disagreements from time to time and party labels."
Filner said he’s worked his way up from the local school board to Congress because he can work with people.
"You’re elected because you’re a leader, because you can bring those people together and get things done," he said. "That’s the hallmark of my career."
Whichever man is elected, he’ll have plenty to tackle right out of the gate. City infrastructure, civic projects and, of course, San Diego’s financial recovery will all be waiting for the new mayor on day one. And Luna said no matter what their political leanings, each could face the same personal challenge.
"Both candidates do have a tendency to have, let’s say, a profound sense of self, an ego," he said. "Whether they can contain that for the city stage will be important to see."