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Gloria, Alvarez Unite As San Diego's Opposing Voice

San Diego Councilmen Todd Gloria and David Alvarez outside the Balboa Theatre after Mayor Kevin Faulconer's State of the City address, Jan. 14, 2015.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego Councilmen Todd Gloria and David Alvarez outside the Balboa Theatre after Mayor Kevin Faulconer's State of the City address, Jan. 14, 2015.

After City Council change up, the two Democrats teamed up to challenge the mayor

Gloria, Alvarez Unite As San Diego’s Opposing Voice
Gloria, Alvarez Unite As San Diego's Opposing Voice
During the city of San Diego’s financial struggles and mayoral sexual harassment scandal, partisanship tended to take a back seat. Now, political debate is back, and two city councilmen are leading the charge.
KPBS is profiling the nine people who make up the San Diego City Council, and sharing details about their backgrounds and their goals. They each represent a different geographic area of the city, but their actions affect all of the people who live in America's eighth largest city.

The spotlight was on Mayor Kevin Faulconer the night of Jan. 14. It was the State of the City speech and Balboa Theatre was packed. Officials from around the county attended to hear the first-year mayor’s grand ideas for San Diego.

But while Faulconer had the stage that evening, Councilmen Todd Gloria and David Alvarez were the final act.

After the Republican mayor’s speech, the Democrats held a joint news conference to give their response.

"What aspects of the speech did you like?" a reporter asked Gloria.

The councilman started off by saying he respects the mayor and believes Faulconer cares about the city, but he added that the speech didn't address the struggles of San Diegans.

"They're looking to us for solutions, and that requires details that sometimes require hard truths and there weren't too many of those in the speech tonight," he said.

A few weeks later, Gloria and Alvarez teamed up again to speak out against proposed electricity rate hikes.

"We’re concerned because SDG&E customers who are most effective at conserving energy are going to be punished by this rate," Alvarez said at the February news conference.

Last month, the council duo issued a joint statement questioning the role of the mayor’s stadium task force.

This is a shift from last year when as council president Gloria often palled around with Faulconer.

"As the council president you have the responsibility to lead the legislative branch of this city’s government, and that requires working closely with the mayor to ensure that the city is moving forward," he said during an interview this month in his council office.

That changed in December when Gloria was ousted as council president and replaced by Democratic Councilwoman Sherri Lightner in a controversial vote. Since then, he’s taken a different approach.

San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria speaks to the media at his weekly news conference, on Feb. 20, 2014.
Guillermo Sevilla
San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria speaks to the media at his weekly news conference, on Feb. 20, 2014.

Councilman Todd Gloria

Represents: District 3, which includes downtown San Diego, Balboa Park, Bankers Hill,Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Normal Heights, University Heights, North Park, South Park and Old Town

Age: 36

Personal: Single

College: Graduated from the University of San Diego

Hometown: San Diego

Career: Worked for Democratic Rep. Susan Davis before running for City Council in 2008.

Fun fact: Gloria is a bit of a neat freak. During a council recess, he spent his free time weeding alongside the state Route 163 entrance at Robinson Avenue in Hillcrest.

"I don’t think it’s radically different, but I do think my role has changed. And because I have to provide more of my time as oversight, more of my time as sort of accountability measures over the executive branch, you’re likely to see me point out those times when something is perhaps amiss," the second term councilman said. "Or like say in the case of the Climate Action Plan to be right along the mayor’s side to point out when he’s right."

Gloria pitched the idea of a climate plan during his State of the City address last year when he was interim mayor.

Alvarez said pointing out when something’s amiss is crucial to a council member's role.

“I think you have to have an opposing voice, you have to have questions and checks and balances. To the extent that Council member Gloria and I can do that is great, and if we can add more people to that process I think is good," he said.

Political consultant Tom Shepard said that’s the way San Diego's political system is supposed to work.

“Part of their job is to question the mayor," said Shepard, who ran the successful mayoral campaigns of Jerry Sanders and Bob Filner. "And I think the fact that Alvarez and Gloria have started to do that more aggressively is healthy."

That system he's referring to is the strong-mayor form of government that voters permanently approved in 2010. Shepherd led the campaign.

"The intention of that measure was to create this adversarial relationship between the two branches of government so that there’d be checks and balances, and I think to a large extent that’s worked," he said. "The kind of happy days approach that we had in the early 2000s where everybody slapped each other’s back and nobody talked about anything unpleasant — that's gone. There’s an open debate about things."

Both Gloria and Alvarez say they’ve individually contributed to that open debate throughout their time on the council.

“I don’t think anyone would characterize my first few years at City hall as being a wallflower,” Gloria said.

Councilman David Alvarez sits down in his home for an interview, October 2013.
Nicholas McVicker
Councilman David Alvarez sits down in his home for an interview, October 2013.

Councilman David Alvarez

Represents: District 8, which includes Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Otay Mesa, San Ysidro

Age: 34

Personal: Wife Xochitl, daughter Izel, son Javier Andres

College: Graduated from San Diego State University

Hometown: San Diego

Career: Social services worker, after-school teacher and staff member for Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny before joining City Council in 2010.

Fun fact: Alvarez played the alto saxophone in the SDSU marching band.

He pushed for a year-round homeless shelter and made infrastructure attractive with his sexy streets campaign.

And Alvarez was a staunch opponent to the San Diego Convention Center funding plan that was later ruled illegal.

“I think you saw me as a very strong voice, not in opposition but in really asserting my role as a legislator in the past," he said. "I think you’re seeing that Todd’s doing that now more frequently, but it’s nothing new to me."

The Convention Center is one issue he and Gloria actually disagreed on, but Alvarez said working together now is a logical step.

"We’ve got two voices rather than one on being the checks and balances, and I think that’s very important," Alvarez said.

Gloria said they both come from low-income families, so they’re able to find common ground on issues such as rising electricity costs.

“As two guys who came from families where that kind of increase would be harmful to the household budget, we would work together on that. We’ll continue to work together on issues. But I wouldn’t cast it to any greater architecture of any kind," he said.

But some think the duo does have a greater plan in mind. Gloria and Alvarez’s State of the City response caught the eye of San Diego CityBeat. In an editorial, the magazine claimed Gloria was considering a mayoral bid and had a running mate in Alvarez.

So, will Gloria’s name be on the 2016 mayoral ballot?

“I don’t know. The truth is a lot of people are encouraging me to do so, and that’s really heartening, which is similar to when I ran for City Council."

At the council president vote in December, dozens of Gloria supporters pleaded with the council to keep him as the body’s leader. Ultimately, Gloria’s Democratic colleagues put their support behind Lightner. Well, except for one: Alvarez.

"The political thing for me would be to not stand with Todd and say, 'Sorry, looks like you aren't going to take this. And I'm going to go with somebody else.’ But that's not what I do," Alvarez said at the December vote.

When Alvarez ran for mayor last year and lost to Faulconer, Gloria backed him up. So will Alvarez do the same if Gloria decides to run? He says he'd certainly consider it.

“I think Todd would make a great mayor. I think he’s already proven that he was a great mayor," Alvarez said. "He took us out of a very problematic time for the city, got us a lot of stability and laid a lot of the groundwork for Kevin Faulconer to come and continue the job that he, that Todd, had been doing."

Mayoral candidates can't begin pulling their nomination papers until February.

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