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Democrat Faces Uphill Battle In San Diego Mayoral Race

Gretchen Newsom is pictured in this undated photo.
Gretchen Newsom
Gretchen Newsom is pictured in this undated photo.
Democrat Faces Uphill Battle In San Diego Mayoral Race
The announcement by Gretchen Newsom, a union political director and Ocean Beach Town Council president, has breathed a hint of life into the otherwise dormant mayoral election.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his first State of the City address at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2015.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer delivers his first State of the City address at the Balboa Theatre, Jan. 14, 2015.

“I’m a mother, I’m a sister, and I’m running for mayor.”

Gretchen Newsom, the relatively unknown president of the Ocean Beach Town Council and political director for the local branch of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, made that announcement on Oct. 24 at the San Diego County Democratic Convention — to the surprise of nearly everyone. She said she didn’t decide to run for mayor of San Diego until that day.


“It was spontaneous, but you know I’ve been having conversations for months and months with many different colleagues, friends and community leaders about who could and should run for mayor,” Newsom said. “In those conversations, some of my friends and close colleagues said, ‘Gretchen, you’ve got strong leadership skills, maybe you’re the leader we’ve been looking for.' So in that moment, I decided I could do this.”

Gretchen Newsom Announces Run For Mayor

Newsom is not without experience. She worked for former Democratic state Treasurer Phil Angelides when he chaired a commission investigating the 2008 financial crisis, and later, she worked for a consulting firm focused on sustainable communities. Now, she said, she wants to change the conversation surrounding the mayor’s race.

"First and foremost I want to make sure that San Diego is more affordable," she said. "And that means more investments in working families and affordable housing. And that’s why I’m a big proponent of raising the minimum wage."

Newsom is far behind in fundraising — when interviewed on Tuesday, she had not yet opened her campaign bank account. Mayor Kevin Faulconer, in contrast, had raised nearly $650,000 for his official campaign fund by the end of June, and $600,000 for the main committee supporting his re-election.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer Campaign Disclosure
Mayor Kevin Faulconer has raised nearly $650,000 for his official re-election campaign.
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The lack of other Democratic candidates in the mayoral race could be explained by Faulconer's relative popularity. In 2014, he defeated his Democratic opponent, Councilman David Alvarez, by 6 percentage points, and polls this year suggest he has a high approval rating.


“If he wasn’t doing such a good job, it would be probably a lot easier to find more candidates that want to run," said Jason Roe, Faulconer’s campaign strategist. “But I think the reality is that San Diegans are looking around, they like the direction the city is going in and they don’t feel need to replace or change things.”

The mayor’s critics say he’s simply avoiding controversy and not being ambitious in tackling the city’s many problems — like an infrastructure deficit of $1.7 billion. Roe dismisses that as partisan rhetoric, and said the mayor has accomplished plenty.

"I think he’s demonstrated a very nonpartisan approach to governance," Roe said. "He’s worked very closely with leaders like Todd Gloria on things like climate action plan. ... This is probably, I think in my history, one of the most cohesive governing coalitions that we’ve seen in a number of years."

Steve Erie, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said if Republicans can secure a quick and easy re-election for Faulconer, they can devote their money and attention to the District 1 City Council race, where Democrat Sherri Lightner can’t run again because of term limits.

“I call it the Republican reconquista... because then they will control all branches of government," Erie said.

Newsom said she’s privately received enormous support since her announcement — but the real financial and organizational support will come from the Democratic Party and unions. Both say they’re still exploring candidates before coming out with an endorsement.

Corrected: May 22, 2024 at 2:25 PM PDT
CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the margin of victory for Mayor Kevin Faulconer over Councilman David Alvarez. The story has been corrected.