San Diego’s Next Mayor: Does it Matter?

| April 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

There are four candidates for mayor of San Diego – City Councilman Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Congressman Bob Filner, and California State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.

DeMaio has consistently led in the polls, with Filner second, Dumanis and Fletcher trailing, although Fletcher recently ran second in one poll, a uptick attributed to his decision to leave the Republican Party and become an independent.

Whether that decision has staying power is unclear because it was made after Fletcher lost the Republican County Central Committee’s endorsement, which went to DeMaio.

The Central Committee’s “endorsement” was farcical because few people voted and fewer still live in the city, but it pushed Fletcher out of the party; a good thing, actually, as members of the Central Committee have been described by moderate Republicans (themselves increasingly marginalized) as a bunch of “right wing extremists.”

People involved in politics seem obsessive about polls. I don’t get it, since polls are driven by ever changing events and issues. The value of such polls is dubious at best at the national level and worthless at the local. But for media and political junkies they are the mother’s milk of politics (with apologies to Jesse Unruh).

When I think of polls, and I try not to, but it’s instructive to recall the spring of 1992 when President George Herbert Walker Bush had a 91 percent approvals rating (the results of America’s success in the Gulf War), the highest ever for any sitting president. In November Mr. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. It was then I decided to be done with polls until they actually count, which, in this year’s presidential race, means post-Labor Day, say, mid-October.

Local polls are even less reliable, because the only people paying attention are campaign consultants and political insiders, which is why who’s up and who’s down in our town’s mayoral race holds little interest.

That said, the mayor’s race is upon us as we decide June 5 which of the two candidates running survive to face a November finale, given that it’s highly unlikely any candidate wins more than 50 percent election day.

I believe Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner will be the two finalists and if it’s Filner against DeMaio in November Filner wins. I would say the same if it were Dumanis against DeMaio or Fletcher against DeMaio, because Carl DeMaio will not be elected mayor of San Diego. But what if he is? What if I am proven not just wrong, but egregiously wrong? If DeMaio wins he wins, but a win by him will mean little to me. I do not require the mayor’s favor – and never have.

Since this is a column of opinion do I have a mayoral favorite? I do. Bob Filner.

I have no personal aught against the other three candidates. All are able public servants, especially Dumanis and Fletcher, but Bob Filner and I have been friends for a long time and friendship wins.

I was significantly involved in Filner’s first campaign for public office, the San Diego school board. In that campaign, Filner, a professor at San Diego State (he holds a Ph.D from Cornell University), went up against the establishment and won.

He would subsequently serve on the city council of San Diego before being elected to Congress in 1992, where he has served for 20-years with distinction, including two-years as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, a committee of critical importance to San Diego; but in this instance, as in so many others, his chairmanship was dismissed for one reason and one only – Bob Filner is a Democrat and in our town the Republican Establishment routinely dismisses Democrats (as happened with Jim Mills, when he was president pro-tem of the California State Senate, the third most powerful political figure in our state, but shamefully ignored here).

In opinion pieces I’ve written and in speeches I’ve given, I’ve often contended San Diego is a town run by and for the interests of the Republican Party. That judgment reflects 39-years of involvement? in the politics and governance of our city. I always allow I may be wrong, as noted in my comment above about DeMaio, but not this.

It’s true, as a liberal Kennedy Democrat, I chaired two of the most significant political undertakings in San Diego’s history, the citizens’ initiative for the downtown ballpark and strong mayor government, neither of which would have succeeded absent bipartisan support, but participation in these two major undertakings by leading Republicans does not disprove my rule.

It is no small irony that a town bordering Mexico, a town founded by a Franciscan priest, a town with a majority Catholic population, with significant Hispanic and Asian populations, that such a town should be run by a White, Anglo, Saxon Protestant Establishment (WASP), but it is; and that Establishment has been exceptionally effective and adroit in protecting its interests –often at the public’s expense.

It is also an Establishment in denial; one insisting government doesn’t create jobs while ignoring that 71 percent of every job in San Diego County is government-related. I am hardly against jobs created through government/private sector initiative, but I am contemptible of the monumental hypocrisy that denies this correlation – and it is denied with impunity.

When Jerry Sanders steps down as mayor of San Diego – 3 January 2013 – it will mark 20-consecutive years of Republicans holding the city’s highest elective office. If either DeMaio or Dumanis wins it would mean 24-years of one-party rule in our town, a fact Nathan Fletcher’s election would alter in name only. Neither DeMaio’s nor Dumanis’ nor Fletcher’s election as mayor would change who runs San Diego.

Bob Filner is the only candidate whose election would means systemic change to the governance of our city – and people in power are terrified by that possibility.

Filner is not without his critics among Democrats, including prominent members of the Jewish community. Their dislike of Filner is associated with what they deem his brusqueness, but since I have never had that experience with him, ever, I cannot speak to its causes, but I am saddened it exists, because it could prove decisive June 5.

What I know and can affirm about Filner is this:

First, Bob Filner believes in a founding premise of the United States, that all men are created equal; a belief that sent him as a young Cornell University student south to Mississippi to protest the consuming evil of racism and de jure slavery, an act of courage that led to his arrest and imprisonment for two months in a Jackson jail. No other candidate has this history, and as admirable as I find Nathan Fletcher’s service to America as a U.S. Marine, I am moved by Filner’s act of conscience, considering it hugely heroic.

Second, Bob Filner has a body of political beliefs San Diego desperately needs. It is informed by progressive principles that take into account the needs of all our citizens, not just the privileged few. No small matter when weighed against those whose underlying commitment is to save the status quo. The Establishment doesn’t say that, of course, since they are not stupid, but that would be the results should either Dumanis or Fletcher be elected. DeMaio is a different issue, as he terrifies The Establishment from the right, as Filner terrifies from the left.

The local Establishment, viscerally anti-union, sees Filner favoring unions over business and the mere prospect of his election elicits dire warnings of Armageddon for San Diego. Don’t believe it, because the establishment is paranoid about unions and therefore paranoid about Filner – paranoia divorced from reality.

Yes, Bob Filner would be sympathetic to unions, a sympathy he or any other mayor should have (but DeMaio won’t because he is despises unions), but sympathy and subservience are not the same.  Besides, many of the same people who were silent while city manager government aided and abetted a pension system that remains a lethal threat to this city’s economic survival, have no standing to warn about unions. The game The Establishment plays is to blame unions for the pension catastrophe and to ignore their own complicity in the genesis of its unfolding.

Third, Bob Filner, as befits a Ph.D from Cornell, has a philosophy of government formed in deliberative study and thought. I doubt either Dumanis or Fletcher has anything approximating a systematic view of philosophy and its relationship to politics and governance, beyond standard Republican fare. I don’t think that’s true of DeMaio, but his studies have led him into adopting the views of Ayn Rand and her Libertarian followers; views which are, at their core, about privilege and wealth and dismissal of anyone rejecting their values. (I consider Ayn Rand and her Objectivist Philosophy as evil.)

Finally, if you are fed up with the way this city has been governed; if you believe The Establishment has offered little beyond Adam Smith’s 18th century bromides for 21st century problems; if the change you seek is substantive, systemic change for San Diego, then Bob Filner should be your choice election day.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He can be reached at,

Category: Local News

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