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Alvarez, Faulconer Go Negative In First San Diego Mayoral Debate

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The two councilmen facing off to become San Diego's next mayor went negative at the first mayoral debate of the run-off election.

The first debate in the runoff election to pick San Diego’s next mayor was fast and furious, if not necessarily edifying. The KPBS/10News-hosted affair was less a debate and more a recitation of negative talking points. Both candidates hijacked as many questions as possible to point out how the other guy was bought and paid for by special interests.

City Councilman Kevin Faulconer went negative first, reiterating that his colleague and opponent David Alvarez has received nearly $3 million from organized labor, “the same unions that nearly drove this city to bankruptcy,” he said. Faulconer’s other go-to comment seemed to cast himself as immune from outside influence. “I’m independent,” he repeated more than a handful of times.

Alvarez fired back, saying it was Faulconer who was in the pocket of the downtown business elite, “the developers, the big corporations -- those who have enough money to have lobbyists, who have high-paid consultants,” he said. “Not everyday citizens.” Alvarez declared that Faulconer would do whatever his business buddies wanted, keeping powerful interests at the helm of San Diego.

The accusations went back and forth during the half hour debate. Republican Faulconer described Democrat Alvarez’s work on the Barrio Logan community plan as “a failure of leadership,” but failed to suggest how he would craft a compromise. Alvarez quizzed Faulconer about giving bonuses to his staff while voting against pay raises for cops and firefighters.

But the crux of the issue seemed to come down who was in bed with a baddie. Faulconer blamed the unions for the pension crisis that nearly broke San Diego, while Alvarez decried that underfunded pensions were pushed through by a Republican controlled city hall shilling for big business.

At the start of the debate, the men arrived in starkly different style. Faulconer came in surrounded by a team of well-heeled staffers, while Alvarez entered the room with only two casually dressed aides, his backpack slung over his shoulder.

A prospective voter could read this one of two ways. They could see the experienced Faulconer, running a tight and well-managed campaign and Alvarez unprepared, perhaps even too young. Or they could see Faulconer as already surrounded by the ruling class and king-makers of San Diego, and Alvarez as the plucky outsider who will fight for the little guy.

The narrative voters take away from that scene may well determine for whom they cast their vote for on Feb. 11.

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to the Midday and Evening Edition segments.


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