Mayoral Candidates Bry and Gloria Are Two Democrats With Differing Views On City's Top Issues
The San Diego mayor's race is among the most consequential on the local ballot this election season, with big implications on city finances, housing and homelessness, transportation and climate action. And for the first time in recent history, both candidates in the runoff are Democrats.
Assemblymember Todd Gloria is generally considered the frontrunner against City Councilmember Barbara Bry. Gloria came in first in the primary, winning 41.5% of the vote compared to Bry's 22.9%. Gloria has also secured more high-profile endorsements from the San Diego County Democratic Party, business groups, labor unions and elected officials.
But the race appears to have tightened since the primary — Bry and Gloria were virtually neck-and-neck in an opinion poll commissioned by the San Diego Union-Tribune and 10News. The poll was criticized as overrepresenting Republicans and underrepresenting independents, though pollster SurveyUSA stood by its methodology.
Fundraising reports have also suggested a more competitive race than what was apparent after the primary. Bry significantly outraised Gloria from mid-February through the end of June. Gloria then outraised Bry from July to mid-September and ended the reporting period with more than three times as much money in the bank.
Gloria also has a lopsided advantage when it comes to independent expenditures, which are made by political action committees, known as PACs. Those committees, which candidates are forbidden from controlling, take money from individuals, corporations and unions and can often tip the scales in close elections with targeted mail campaigns. Bry has sought to turn Gloria's advantage with independent expenditures against him, casting him as beholden to special interests.
Who are the candidates?
In 2016, Barbara Bry was elected to represent City Council District 1, which covers the neighborhoods of La Jolla, University City and Carmel Valley. Prior to entering politics, the 71-year-old Bry had a successful business career, co-founding an e-commerce company and incubating other tech startups.
Her platform includes banning dockless scooter sharing companies and short-term home rentals. Among her proudest accomplishments are helping defeat the 2018 "Soccer City" ballot measure, demanding an independent audit of the city's overbilling of water customers and asking tough questions about the city's bad record on real estate deals.
Bry said she was motivated to run for mayor after she got to City Hall and noticed a culture of secrecy, where big decisions were made behind closed doors. If elected, Bry would be San Diego’s first female mayor since 2000, when Republican Susan Golding left office.
"I'm running for mayor first of all to bring accountability and transparency to City Hall (and) to lead an inclusive economic recovery as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exemplified our existing inequities," Bry said. "And it's why I believe my private sector experience is so important in creating jobs, in terms of how we're going to have an economy that's going to get everyone back to work."
Gloria, 42, was elected to the state Assembly in 2016 after serving on the City Council for eight years, including six months as interim mayor. He would be San Diego's first elected mayor who is openly gay and the first with Latino, Filipino or Native American heritage.
Gloria said he was proud of starting work on the city's Climate Action Plan, passing an increase to the city's minimum wage and navigating the budget crisis during the last recession. He said that experience prepared him to tackle the current budget deficit related to the pandemic.
"I served as the city's budget chair for six of the eight years that I was at City Hall, was able to take the city from massive budget deficits as a result of the Great Recession (and) turn them into surpluses and reserves that thankfully will help mitigate some of the cuts that will be necessary going forward," he said.
Housing and homelessness
Voters frequently cite homelessness and housing affordability as among their top concerns. And those problems could get even worse as the economic fallout from COVID-19 puts thousands of low-income households at risk of eviction.
Both candidates say they support building more housing near public transit to relieve San Diego's housing shortage, which has led to low vacancy rates and higher housing costs. But they differ on a critical issue related to subsidized affordable housing: Measure A.
Measure A would authorize the city of San Diego to issue up to $900 million in bonds to fund affordable housing. The money could be used for new construction, preserving rents on existing low-income housing or buying up market rate housing and making it affordable.
Bry said she has not yet made up her mind about Measure A because it would increase property taxes, a cost she said would be passed on to renters at a time when the pandemic is already making it difficult for many households to make ends meet.
"We still have many San Diegans out of work," she said. This ... could be a very challenging time to raise taxes."
Gloria supports Measure A, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass, saying that too often when San Diego is tasked with solving big problems, "later" becomes "never."
"Even in this pandemic, even in this recession, even with people marching in the streets, the most common thing that is shared with me as a concern by San Diegans is homelessness," he said. "They see thousands of our neighbors sleeping outdoors, unsheltered, and they want something done about. And this is a way we can do something about it."
Bry has attacked Gloria for supporting SB 1120, a statewide housing bill. The bill, which passed the legislature but died because it missed the deadline for a final vote in the Senate, would have allowed property owners to build duplexes on lots otherwise zoned for single-family homes. Bry has characterized the bill as Sacramento overreach, while Gloria has said it's a simple way to create more housing for the middle class.
Transportation and climate action
San Diego's next mayor will have a big say over the future of transportation in the county and its efforts to meet state and local climate targets. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is preparing a 30-year regional transportation plan with big investments in public transit, including new rail lines and rapid bus services.
A notable exception in SANDAG’s new vision from previous plans is that it will not include any freeway widenings. It does, however, envision new toll and carpool lanes to be built within the existing freeway network. State law requires the next plan to result in significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and car travel.
The San Diego mayor has a powerful vote on the SANDAG board of directors, and opposition from the next mayor could sink the transportation plan entirely.
Gloria supports the vision, though he said much of the details need to be worked out.
"We actually get the active transportation, the mass transit network, the highway network that actually gives consumers choices," Gloria said. "This is ... what we need to do under our obligations in our Climate Action Plan, it is necessary for our continued economic growth in San Diego and it's necessary to protect our quality of life."
Bry opposes SANDAG's current vision for the transportation plan, saying future technologies such as autonomous vehicles paired with existing transit would be more effective and that San Diego's topography makes the pursuit of new underground rail lines not worth it.
"I think the plan to drill under our neighborhoods to build all of this fixed transit is ridiculous," Bry said.