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The Race To Replace San Diego's Mayor

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This look at San Diego politics and the city's ability to solve big problems -- homelessness, housing affordability, infrastructure -- through the 2020 races for mayor and city council includes some speculation on what's ahead for Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The primary election is coming fast. We look at the candidates for mayor of San Diego and for city council districts one and seven. And we ask what this election means for the city and its ability to solve its big problems. So grab your sample ballot and join us because the KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:24 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:28 welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen, investigative reporter Claire Traeger, sir of KPBS and columnists. Michael Smollins of the San Diego union Tribune. Well before we consider who wants to be San Diego is a new mayor. Let's look at the man vacating the office. Kevin Faulkner was a veteran Councilman when fortune smiled in the form of Bob Filner, a scandal force Democrat Filner from office in 2013. Faulkner won a special election, coasted a real election, and is termed out this year. A lot has happened on his watch. And, uh, Michael, it's not over yet. Uh, we got more to come this year. Tell us about the proposed initiative. The mayor's backing, the big convention center. Deja VU all over again.

Speaker 3: 01:13 Well, it is, and it's the, the rock has been pushing up the Hill since even before he was on the council. He supported expansion of the convention center and the various iterations. Now, of course, the, this hotel tax increase would not only fund the expansion, but homelessness services and or services for the homeless and road repairs. Uh, it's, uh, still a tough climb. It's a two thirds vote majority. And in San Diego some people think that's just impossible to get under the best circumstances. They do have a pretty broad coalition on this. So the, there's, you know, a probably a better chance than before. The question is how much does this tied to his legacy? I mean, it sort of has defined him, uh, as you know, maybe the, the charges leaving and so forth. So if this goes down, is that, you know, sort of suggest a, a failed administration. Uh, but there's a lot else that he's done and, uh, it's been cyclical as we know.

Speaker 1: 02:02 Yeah. You mentioned the charges, he quote, lost the charges, talked a lot about this show on the show about that. Uh, but maybe that was a blessing in disguise and didn't fund the news.

Speaker 3: 02:10 Yeah. I don't know how much that really hurt him, you know, I mean, given how the ill will towards the chargers, I think most people felt like they wanted to leave regardless [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 02:18 and if we'd hook up, hook the taxpayers into a hundreds of millions on that deal, maybe that would have been, you know, the worst thing that could have happened. But on homelessness, a Faulker took a big hit in 2017 the hepatitis up outbreak, several people die. That was a nasty, yes.

Speaker 3: 02:32 Well, 20 people and like 600 were sickened by the disease and I'm assuming most of those were hospitalized. So yeah, that was a real dark time. I mean, it's very interesting because before then, Faulkner was sort of this, this new rising star in the Republican party. He was getting a statewide attention and building a statewide platform. Then that all hit and he really sorta had to retrench because you've got to take care of what's going on at home. Things have improved on the homeless front. People aren't in the streets, at least at that level. And you know, now as we've seen, he's sort of rebuilding the statewide platform, uh, potentially to run for governor in 2022

Speaker 4: 03:08 in, uh, the city, uh, uh, on the homelessness front, they've, they've opened some more shelters. The numbers actually got a little better in the County overall.

Speaker 3: 03:17 Yeah. The, well, the, the count as we know is it's apples and oranges. They changed the methodology, but the reality of it is that regardless of methodology, that if there was a huge increase like there was in San Francisco, LA, and other areas in California, we would have seen it here. So something's happening in a positive direction there. There's always a flip side. There was a report some time ago that showed people that actually were homeless and got into permanent housing, were falling back into homelessness at a larger rate or a greater rate than in other cities. So, you know, the record is definitely going to be mixed and they just haven't had the, uh, ability to get the permanent housing and people into them to the degree that they need to.

Speaker 4: 03:57 Yeah, I mean, do you think that he will, if he did run for governor or even just leaving office, would he be able to count handling homelessness as a win?

Speaker 3: 04:06 Well, it's interesting, Claire, because that's sort of the direction they're going. Uh, he, he's getting a committee together to shape an initiative to, uh, really repeal or pull back certain or criminal laws that he says a lot of people not to go to jail to get criminals out of jail earlier. And a lot of those are homeless. There's a big debate over how much is real there, but that's the direction he's going. And so, yeah, he's gonna run on homelessness, uh, to a degree and you know, the picture does look worse elsewhere right now, but that history is not long in the past. And that's going to come up. And as bad as things might be in San Francisco and LA, they haven't had an epidemic tied to homelessness like we've had.

Speaker 4: 04:48 And I think w maybe one of the challenges that Faulkner has faced in his time here is just defining his own brand of Republican because, uh, the Republican brand in San Diego has really suffered under prednisone, president Trump, and he's really tried to carve his own path, um, you know, taking on homelessness, taking on housing affordability and housing production. Um, but this, this, uh, effort to kind of take a law and order approach to homelessness changed the criminal justice reforms that passed, um, you know, with the approval of voters across California seems to be an interesting take that I don't know how it'll play statewide because people are certainly upset about homelessness. Um, but I'm, I'm not sure that, that, uh, you know, a majority of California and see that approach of, of using the police and, and using criminal justice laws and everything to, to solve it or to manage that crisis. The next thing it seems for Faulkner, as you're saying, right,

Speaker 3: 05:40 I mean, who knows? I wouldn't bet the house that he's going to run for governor, but certainly, at least not yet. But, uh, there are certainly building in that direction for that potential. That would be that whole long order thing is the platform party in California has, you know, crashed and burned over the years and they're just looking for some way to, to get back in the game. There's a whole, you know, effort to try to focus on quality of life issues and get away from the more polarizing things get away from Donald Trump. I mean, my personal view is that, you know, if Trump wins reelection and that's a real problem for Faulkner running in 2022, not that he's tied with Trump, but that's just, you know, going dumb.

Speaker 1: 06:14 Well, he's talking about building bridges, not walls. He really has pulled it away from him. Andrew, I wanted to ask you about the, uh, the council. I mean, a lot of people said super majority of Democrats Falker won't be able to work, uh, with this console. He's a lame duck and all. How's it really worked out?

Speaker 4: 06:27 Yeah, well I think that, um, the six votes, the six democratic votes on the city council has played out in a couple of different ways. They have, they have achieved a couple of policy goals that they, um, had to start with. One of them being the change to the city's inclusionary housing proposal, uh, that requires developers to shoulder a greater burden of, um, building affordable housing. Um, that passed with ultimately, uh, a compromised, uh, you know, version of that passed with the support of Faulkner. But I think that the fact that they were able to pass anything from the start is a reflection of their kind of greater strength. Having those six votes in the threat of a veto over, uh, of overriding his veto. And then the second big accomplishment from the Democrats is the affordable housing bonds. That's likely to be on the November ballot that also needed six votes. And it got exactly that many from, uh, only the Democrats on the council.

Speaker 1: 07:20 All right, well we'll talk more about that as we get a little closer to the election, but we're going to move on to some, some other local stuff here today since we're focusing on local and not what's going on in Washington. I understand there's a trial Republicans almost exclusive, hold on. The San Diego's mayor's office could end in November. In fact, it's possible the candidates squaring off in the general election could both be Democrats and Andrew explain, uh, for us here, uh, why the Democrats have a significant edge and the battle to replace mayor Faulkner.

Speaker 4: 07:47 Well, they're the largest share of registered voters in the city. There are more than twice as many, uh, democratic voters in, in the city as Republicans. Certainly. Yeah. And, and, uh, you know, that's a trend that we've seen across California. Certainly. Um, there's a change since 2016 when Faulkner was able to win in the primary election and in primaries, the, the voter turnout, uh, leans more conservative. So this time since we know there's going to be a November runoff, regardless, I think that's attracted a more competitive field of candidates. Um, as we mentioned, the Republican brand has really suffered under president Trump. And so, um, that's certainly played out here in San Diego. We saw that, um, in a city council race play out and then come in and Republican losing, um, in at least in part because of these, uh, attacks associating her with president Trump. And, um, you know, we've seen the candidates, um, with the most campaigning under their belt are the Democrats. We had a Republican enter the race really only at the last minute.

Speaker 1: 08:44 Yeah. Well, let's get into some of these, uh, these folks who are best known as probably about Todd. Gloria, start with him.

Speaker 4: 08:49 Yeah. So a Todd Gloria first elected to the San Diego city council in 2008, easily reelected 2012. Um, he served as the city's interim mayor for six months.

Speaker 1: 08:59 Well, on the job training.

Speaker 4: 09:01 Yeah. Uh, after the resignation of Bob fill in there, um, cause he was council president at the time. Um, in that time, he really champions and progressive, uh, changes at the city, raising the city's minimum wage, um, which ultimately made it all the way to, uh, of voter referendum. Um, but he kind of saw that through to victory. Um, he also revived to the city's languishing climate action plan. That's part of his legacy. Certainly. Um, he was, uh, was elected to the state assembly in 2016. He became majority whip there. Um, so a leadership role at the state. Um, he says he's really proud to have passed legislation protecting the LGBTQ community who would be the first openly gay elected mayor of San Diego. Um, and he's won a really broad coalition of, of, uh, support from the County democratic party, from the San Diego regional chamber of commerce and the, um, labor council. Uh, so certainly a support, um, from across the political spectrum.

Speaker 1: 09:57 And then Barbara, Brie doesn't have as long a political tenure. Tell us about her.

Speaker 4: 10:01 Yeah. So she had a career in journalism and a entrepreneurship. She founded some big companies. She's got a Harvard MBA, so she says kind of her, her brand is the outsider. And not a career politician, but somebody who's been successful on the business side of things. Um, she founded some organizations to promote, uh, women leadership, uh, elected to the city council in 2016. It was a big battle at that time. Republicans were hoping to, uh, retake that, uh, district one seat,

Speaker 1: 10:29 the LA Jolla area in the North.

Speaker 4: 10:30 Yeah. And so, um, you know, she, um, almost got a simple, a complete majority and the primary election, which was really a Testament to voters, you know, preferring her over the Republican candidate there. Um, she's, uh, the chair of the budget committee on the council, so that's been one issue that she's, um, worked on a lot. She's taken up short term rentals, although, and she did get the council to pass some regulations for short term home rentals, but um, Airbnb and the, that industry, um, gathered signatures and got the council that ended up rescinding it. So it's not really a legislative win on her part there, although she, she continues to talk about it and, and try to kind of use that as, as her PR campaign.

Speaker 1: 11:11 Ongoing problem. All right, we're going to, we're going to hear from these folks and now here we've got Todd Gloria first talking about how to address homelessness and then Barbara Aubrey with a different emphasis, same problem

Speaker 5: 11:23 because I recognize that there are a lot of people who are suffering and they want a mayor who sees here's them is going to act on their behalf, but importantly, who's going to go out and explain to other people that this is not bad for you? This can actually help make your community better. This can make your quality of life better if we're going to effectively address homelessness, we have to acknowledge that a lot of the increase in homelessness is due to mental health and substance abuse issues, which is accounting issue, which the County has neglected for decades and is finally starting to

Speaker 6: 11:54 address.

Speaker 1: 11:55 All right, close to the, the battle it seems is between, uh, those two main ones. Tell us about the other folks. Uh, running.

Speaker 7: 12:03 Yeah. It seemed like that was the battle until someone else jumped into the race, which is Republican Scott Sherman, who's been on the city council, he's now termed out, this is the end of his term.

Speaker 1: 12:14 And the reason being, if you see an R next to the name, the other two will splinter the democratic vote.

Speaker 7: 12:20 Yeah. I mean that's some polls out, which, you know, it's, you never really know with polls, but they're saying that, um, Scott Sherman has the advantage over Barbara, Bree, so that it might be Todd, Gloria and Scott Sherman, um, in the, in the general election. So some name recognition. Yeah, definitely. I mean he's, I think he's made a name for himself on the city council working on housing and he's kind of bringing, you know, more of a local conservative voice to, to, to the race. He's talking about bike lanes are stupid. And, uh, we should, you know, we should be spending money on roads, not bike lanes. Um, and bringing also that, that we need to do more on the enforcement, less on the compassion side on homelessness, which is an argument that other Republicans are making is,

Speaker 1: 13:07 and another candidate not terribly well known Tasha Williamson.

Speaker 7: 13:11 Right? So she is a local activist, really well known from. I'm leading protests in the community, especially after, uh, Earl McNeil died and national city police custody. Um, and so she said that she didn't feel like there was anyone who looked like her in the race and anyone who was really representing or cared about, uh, Southeast San Diego. So she decided to jump in. And so she's bringing that voice to the race.

Speaker 1: 13:35 All right. And wait to speak in a voice as a nice segue here. We've got Tasha Williamson on what she represents and then Scott Sherman on the lack of middle-market housing,

Speaker 8: 13:44 bringing in a whole new tone, um, to, to this, uh, political landscape and that, um, I'm doing things that have never been done before. Uh, but the one thing that I'm going to be saying that we're going to be doing is giving back to the people.

Speaker 6: 13:58 Do you have people in, in subsidized housing, they start doing better at moving their way up the economic ladder and there's no place for them to go because they can't go from $700 a month to $2,000 a month.

Speaker 1: 14:12 All right. Uh, and as we mentioned, uh, because of the, the Republican dynamic there, a Sherman has a pretty good shot.

Speaker 7: 14:18 Yeah. I mean if you think, you know, I think there's about 25% Republicans in the city, but if all of them vote for the Republican candidate, plus he gets some no party preference, he, he should be in a good position to advance.

Speaker 1: 14:31 And then what happens now as we get onto the, the general Michael, well, it's interesting because Scott Sherman just changed the dynamics of the race entirely, almost because it was Brie and Gloria for what a year. How long have they been running? Two Democrats. He gets in, get cracked. Uh, he gets in, uh, in December, just before the filing deadline and now it's, it's a

Speaker 3: 14:52 race between Sherman and Brie for the second spot. The polls show, and I agree with Claire, polls are polls, but all of them show Todd Gloria far enough ahead that he should, unless some lightning strikes get into the November election, Barbara breeze, not a certain thing. Uh, she may, she will have more resources I think then than Scott Sherman. But I mean it's amazing sir Sherman got in and immediately he was competing with her or even ahead of her without really doing much. He's a straight shooter. Uh, he is conservative but more of a business man conservative and he's got a kind of a pretty good sense of humor. So we'll see how that transpires. Um, I think, like I said in the last several weeks of the election, we're going to see the Brie campaign more retool. She's been kind of, you know, focusing on Gloria is that the wise strategy and they got smart people on that campaign and they need to get through to November. And that's targeting Sherman. Right.

Speaker 7: 15:43 Well, the breaking news from my interview with Scott Sherman was he's always said, Oh, I'm not a politician. I just got into this because people ask me to, and then he said, okay, I guess I am a politician now. I've, I've been in it seven years and I'm running for mayor. So funny you should say that.

Speaker 4: 16:01 Also has these yard signs out that says Barbara, Bree, not a politician. I asked her about that in the interview and she said, well, I'm not a career politician.

Speaker 3: 16:09 Win, lose or draw for Scott Sherman. What he does do is he gives a legitimate Republican candidate. I mean it looked like there wasn't going to be one, which if you look at the history of San Diego would be phenomenal. Whether he wins in the primary or you know, if he gets to the November election, that gives a platform for him and some Republican themed ideas, whether he wins or not, at least that they've got, you know, a legitimate candidate in the fall election if that happens.

Speaker 1: 16:31 All right, well let's move on and turn to some key council races. Um, and we're going to get deeper into the main issues and challenges facing the new mayor and council. But let's start with district one, the race to replace Barbara Brie and Andrew start with the, tell us where that place is.

Speaker 4: 16:45 Yeah, so the, it's the city's North coastal neighborhoods, LA Jolla university city, chromo Valley Torrey Pines, a lot of, um, high paying, uh, biotech jobs in the life sciences industry. Um, UC SD of course, and it's one of the wealthier districts, much more expensive than the rest of the city. And who's running a up in district. We've got, it's the most crowded race that will be on the city's ballot in March. Uh, so there will be eight candidates. I spoke with the four candidates who had actually raised money as of the last, um, filing deadline, the disclosure deadline and the end of summer last year. So, um, we've got, uh, Joe, uh, Joe LaCava. He's a local, he's a civil engineer by trade, but he's a local activist and consultant on a lot of different issues on the planning board up there along, yeah, ran against Barbara Brene, but yeah, so he, he has run for elected office before, although he didn't actually compete in the election itself. He wasn't on the ballot then. Um, uh, there's a Wilmore, he's a small business attorney also. Um, had some, uh, has, you know, been active on some civic issues. I'm Erin Brennan, a retired city firefighter and Navy reservist. And, um, the fourth candidate I spoke with was how [inaudible] he goes by H. um, and he is a management consultant and also founded a nonprofit in San Diego that is, uh, provides a startup accelerator, um, services to, uh, minority entrepreneurs.

Speaker 1: 18:12 And we were talking before we came on the air, you've got the [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 18:14 a wide open race here, not a ton of big names on. And how do you handicap this race? Well, you know, we use the term small bore. How do you handicap it? You know, you should be careful about handicapping I think, but you know, the usual, you know, yardsticks apply, money raised and what kind of organization they have and you know, trying to get a sense for what kind of support they have in the community. How many people that have knocking on doors. Uh, you don't see a lot of television ads and city council campaigns like this. And so forth. But you know, you mentioned wide open one point that sort of an overview of all this. There's five city council seats that are open in this election. That means, which it never happens, but because people are running for other office, so a majority of the council will be new. The remaining council members have only been in office for two years. So you've got that tremendous turnover. You're going to have a new mayor. Granted, unless Tasha wins, it's going to be somebody familiar with city hall. But that combined with sort of an Exodus of longtime city staffers with institutional memories, the city is going to be in a really peculiar position. And to see how that all plays out is really going to be excellent point.

Speaker 4: 19:18 Well, I think that that's, that's just gonna mean that whoever ends up winning the mayor's race is going to be in a real position of strength to do what they want at the city. Um, you know, uh, managing to, um, get some more council members on their side. Um, you know, if, if, if the person who wins has a really clear policy agenda, they could, uh, co accomplish quite a bit. I think

Speaker 1: 19:38 my, one of those candidates, maybe Jola cava is you said have a little edge with, with an aim or,

Speaker 4: 19:43 Oh gosh, you know, I don't place bets on city council. You know, I think that he's, he's got a quite a bit of political experience. He's been, you know, involved in a lot of, um, issues around the city. He's spoken to a lot of the issues that are important to district one voters like short term rentals. He was really active on that issue. Um, so, you know, I, I, but again, no,

Speaker 1: 20:04 Laura has been around too. I mean, it's high. It's really hard to know

Speaker 7: 20:07 as the democratic party endorsed in that race.

Speaker 4: 20:09 Uh, no, they've, the, the four that I interviewed are the ones they've rated acceptable. Um, but we just found out recently that Wilmore was inter, um, endorsed by the San Diego regional chamber of commerce. So, you know, maybe that'll give him some edge if they form, you know, decided to give them a lot of money for that.

Speaker 1: 20:25 See what, see what endorsements might mean. Well, Claire, tell us about a distinctly different San Diego, our council district that's seven, maybe one of the most diverse districts in the city. Where is it and who lives there?

Speaker 7: 20:35 Yeah, I mean, I don't know, it's not diverse like that. There's a majority of minority people in it, but it's [inaudible] stretches from Linda Vista, mission Valley allied gardens, and then up to Tierra and Del Cerro. So it kind of covers a range of, of communities

Speaker 1: 20:51 and a lot of Asian representation in Linda Vista. That's been a very interesting community since it was developed during a world war two. Uh, so who's running? Uh, there, uh, we've got, um, uh, as a, as you say, abroad, uh, you know, area and I brought a different number of communities, but Scott Sherman we mentioned earlier is termed out. Um,

Speaker 7: 21:11 okay, we've got Nolisa who's running, he's the a Republican candidate. And then there are three Democrats roll cam PO Wendy Wheatcroft and Monte MacIntyre.

Speaker 1: 21:21 Okay. So we have a report and we should note that this is nominally a nonpartisan, these races for mayor and city hall anomaly, nonpartisan, but

Speaker 7: 21:31 right. But [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 21:36 Chris, he doesn't, well, so a Republican likely to replace, but I mean the numbers, you got three Democrats.

Speaker 7: 21:41 Well, and now there's a majority of democratic voters in the district. So, you know, it's, it's, we'll have to see, it seems probably likely that the Republican has a good shot of making it past the March election. And so then it's the three Democrats are kind of duking it out to see who will compete against him for November.

Speaker 1: 21:59 All right. Now we do have, uh, some voices from, uh, from these folks here, and they're going to come one after another. I think we're starting with a Nollie Zaza, and then I'll have you introduce the rest of them and let's hear that

Speaker 9: 22:10 there's mental issues. There's substance abuse issues, there's alcohol related issues, there's relationship issues, there's so many different reasons why people are homeless. Um, and to have a one, uh, you know, offer one solution is, is, is not gonna is not gonna solve the solvable

Speaker 6: 22:26 Georgette Gomez said we're going to have a compromise plan on an inclusionary rate for housing costs. So when a new project comes up, uh, the developer has to set aside a percentage to keep the, either the rent or the housing cost, the purchase costs lower. We have to try to make our decision making process better. We really have to use a critical analysis process. So you have to first get all the facts, then you have to figure out if there are any best practices anybody has developed.

Speaker 1: 22:56 And, uh, who did we hear from there?

Speaker 7: 22:57 Oh, okay. We were missing someone there. But, um, so that was Nolisa starting out. And then RO will come PO, uh, Monte McIntyre and Wendy Wheatcroft as well.

Speaker 1: 23:07 Okay. So they touched on some of the issues here, but of course the chronic issues in the city, it's homelessness, it's affordable housing. It's a, a lot of the, uh, the issues that we talk about all the time and that the mayor's facing, of course,

Speaker 7: 23:21 right. Well, and I asked each of them, you know, what is your number one issue? And all of them had housing and homelessness up there. And so that was them kind of talking about what they would do. Nolisa also had this kind of common Republican talking point. Now it seems of, you know, we can't just do housing first, we need to do other things to address the problem. And then RO will compete. O was saying that he favored the inclusionary housing rate that was passed by Georgette Gomez and the city council. Um, and Mani McIntyre was talking, his issue was actually more about city hall culture and uh, and changing that.

Speaker 3: 23:56 Michael, well, you know, we often look through, even though city council races and local races are technically nonpartisan party, we'd say party politics plays a big role. But I think sometimes we, and I'm guilty as anybody overdo the partisan aspect of it. A lot of these things are, you know, municipal issues and sometimes the coalitions on the council change depending on the issue. I mean, you know, we all talked about the super majority and will Faulkner have problems? Maybe a little bit, but actually the one veto was not that he had in his entire tenure so far was not overwritten because he was able to get a vote. Uh, one of the Democrats to side with them. He's worked actually pretty well with some of the more liberal members of the council and not so much with some of the moderates. He and Barbara Brie are sort of on the outs and Scott Sherman and he haven't been in sync lately. Uh, so I mean that dynamic is there, the partisan dynamic, but sometimes given the, the issues of homelessness, roads and things like that, things shift.

Speaker 1: 24:52 All right, we're going to give you the last word there and then plenty more to come here. I should tell listeners and viewers that we've got a week's of this lined up here because the big California super Tuesday primary is coming up early in March, but that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. And I'd like to thank my guests and rebellion and Claire Traeger, Sarah of KPBS news and Michael Smollins of the San Diego union Tribune. And for complete information on the racist candidates and issues on the March ballot. Check out our election coverage@kpbs.org and before we close today, a word on the passing of Jim layer, longtime anchor of the PBS news hour. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for a newspaper profile during the 1996 Republican national convention in July and a little later at the presidential debate here at the university of San Diego. He was a giant in our profession, has exceptional experience, unquestioned integrity, and steady hand are sorely missed these days. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.