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Filner Takes Over Democratic San Diego

Mayor Bob Filner the day after the November 2012 election.
Mayor Bob Filner the day after the November 2012 election.
Bob Filner Sworn in as Mayor in Newly Democratic San Diego

Bob Filner was the man of the hour. He strode on stage, beaming, surrounded by his family as people clapped and cheered. This was Filner’s payoff after more than a year of campaigning. After taking the oath of office, Filner became the city’s 35th mayor and ushered in a more liberal government than the city has seen in years.

Filner Takes Over Democratic San Diego
It was an historic day for San Diego government. Congressman Bob Filner was sworn in as mayor. He’s the city’s first Democratic mayor in decades and he’s taking over with a majority Democratic city council as well.

Today’s inauguration leaves control of San Diego’s government largely in the hands of Democrats. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not likely depends on your political views. But political scientist Carl Luna says one-party dominance may not automatically provide a smooth road for the new mayor at City Hall.

“Filner is going to have to learn to cooperate and horse-trade with the council, “ Luna said. “Something he hasn’t had to do much of at Capitol Hill, he’ll have to do a lot more of at 202 C Street.”


In fact, Filner ran into some road blocks even before he was sworn in. His proposal to take money from a city reserve fund and put it toward public safety needs was met with resistance by newly-elected Council President Todd Gloria, a Democrat and Filner supporter.

And that is likely reassuring for San Diego County Republican Party Chair Tony Krvaric. He said voters missed a great opportunity to continue financial reform in the city when they elected Filner. And he’s concerned labor unions will regain a lot of the power they’ve lost over the years.

“Streets, infrastructure, services, libraries, all that’s been allowed to atrophy and we’re just on our way back. We’ve passed Proposition B. We now have a mayor who says, begrudgingly, he’ll implement Proposition B, which is a key portion of continuing down the path of reform,” Krvaric said. “We’ll see if he actually does that. We’ve already seen him dole out money that is not available.”

But where Krvaric sees a bleak future, labor leader Lorena Gonzalez sees tremendous potential. She said the San Diego Imperial Counties Labor Council has been working for two years on the San Diego city elections. In that time, she says union members fanned out across communities, talked with their friends and neighbors and worked to turn out voters, especially in Democratic strongholds south of Interstate 8. Gonzalez said now that they’ve scored a victory, she wants to make sure those people are heard at City Hall.

“We just want to make sure that those people who voted and changed San Diego through their actions get to reap that,” she said. “So when we talk abut neighborhoods, that those neighborhoods are empowered, that it’s not a one-shot deal. It’s not, they’ve elected a Democrat, and everything is going to be OK. It’s not because those communities have to continue to organize, continue to demand change so that there’s some equity in this city.”


Filner seems largely in line with Gonzalez’s view. He received major financial support from labor during the campaign. And Luna said Filner has made it clear the city’s priorities are going to shift now that he’s in charge.

“Bob Filner is already looking to open an office in Tijuana because is he wants to reciprocate with Tijuana having an office in San Diego; we’re a major border town,” Luna said. “He’s going to spend less time thinking about downtown, more time thinking about the neighborhoods. Pretty much write off any chance of a Chargers stadium. We’ll deal with employee’s unions differently.”

Still, Luna says, no mayor gets everything he wants. And as a reconfigured City Council tries to jockey for power of its own, Luna said we can expect a lot of the standard bickering we get no matter who is in charge.