Closing the Deal for David Alvarez: Your Vote Will Make a Difference

Perhaps out of the summer of scandal and the fall of discord, new hope can be born

AFT interns precinct walking

AFT interns precinct walking

By Jim Miller

With less than 24 hours to go until the polls open, San Diego’s special election for mayor has turned into a contest to see who will face Republican Kevin Faulconer in the run-off. A Datamar automated poll last Wednesday showed Faulconer at 44% with Alvarez pulling in at 25.3%, way ahead of Fletcher’s 15.9%. This was followed by yesterday’s UT poll that showed Faulconer ahead as well but with Fletcher up by two over Alvarez, 24% to 22%, a statistical dead heat.

The American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) final internal polling has the race to make the run-off at 20% for Alvarez and 14.3% for Fletcher with a big pool of undecided voters still waiting to make their call at the last minute. Thus, taking all of this into account, it’s most likely a dead heat leaning Alvarez heading into Tuesday. Alvarez can make the primary and win, but his voters have to show up for that to happen.

Bottom line: your vote matters a lot this time. We’ll either have a race between plutocracy and plutocracy-lite or we’ll have an opportunity to keep a bold progressive agenda alive in San Diego. It’s your choice.

We Can Redeem the Promise

Juanita Lopez

Juanita Lopez

A couple of weeks ago, the Chicano student group MEChA (whose leader is one of my American Literature students, Juanita Lopez) invited David Alvarez to speak to a packed room at City College. During his visit, Alvarez spoke about his story: how he grew up the son of working class parents, struggled with asthma exacerbated by industrial pollution in Barrio Logan, and had brothers who got into gangs. Ultimately, though, he made it to college, took a couple of classes at City College and then graduated from San Diego State.

He told them he didn’t always like his classes but he stuck with them and succeeded. Then he talked about a professor he had at San Diego State who challenged him to make the world better, and he offered that same challenge to the students in the room.

Alvarez spoke of his early work as an activist, social worker, and educator in the community and joked that he never thought he’d become a politician, but there he was.

His manner was easy, and he seemed happy to be speaking to students who came from a similar background and were working through the same kinds of struggles that he had as a young man. His take away point for the students was not “vote for me” but rather “if I can do it, so can you.”

AFT intern Daniela

AFT intern Daniela

What struck me about the event was not only how comfortable in his skin Alvarez was as he took hard questions from the audience, but also how much his story resonated with the students. Nearly every one of them who asked him a question started with “thank you for coming to speak with us” or “thank you for representing our community.” It was clear to anyone who was in that room that his story was their story.

And that’s why an Alvarez victory would be so important for San Diego. If the last mayoral election represented a historic victory for a progressive coalition over business as usual in our city, an Alvarez win would not just redeem the promise that Filner betrayed but embody an even bolder new direction for our city’s future.

David Alvarez is that future, and he stands for a progressive politics that will be transformative not because he is our savior but because he is one of us and will have an open door to all of us, wherever we come from, whether we have friends in high places or not. He represents a vital, inclusive, forward-looking San Diego that leaves no one behind.

Imagine that.

Perhaps out of the summer of scandal and the fall of discord, new hope can be born.

That’s what I think not just as I teach students like Juanita Lopez at City College, but also as I work with the AFT student interns who have been grinding it out for weeks on the campaign—it’s not about Alvarez, it’s about them and the future that they deserve.

AFT Interns Laura and Miriam

AFT Interns Laura and Miriam

Our interns have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of their neighbors as they either connect with people or have a phone hung up or a door slammed on them. Nevertheless, as they work and learn, I think, at base, they are holding on to the vision that making their city better is the right thing to do, that despite it all, in the end, there is a beloved community to be had if only we all can get there.

In my literature class, it’s the time of year when I teach the transcendentalists, Walt Whitman among them. Hence, as I stood in the back of the room watching the students question Alvarez and as I work with the AFT interns on the campaign, seeing them struggle and hope, I think of this line from “Song of Myself,” America’s great poem of radical democracy and utopian possibility:

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams

Now I wash the gum from your eyes

You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light of every moment of your life.

It’s not about you or me or David Alvarez or any one set of interests: it’s about all of us and our hope for a future better than the one that threatens to kill these young peoples’ dreams in their infancy because they don’t have the money to pay the cost of admission.

That’s the Alvarez story: “If I can do it, you can too.” No better tale could be told to our fine city.


Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.


  1. avatar says

    Teacher Jim Miller links the hopes and dreams of his students and his own hopes and dreams FOR his students with the real possibility that Latino native son David Alvarez will be San Diego’s next Mayor.
    I appreciate this column. Miller calls us to the heart of this important election, to remember the value of every vote conscientiously cast and the power of faith in and work toward utopian ends. The notion of San Diego as “the beloved community” is radical and wonderful.

  2. avatarLori Saldaña says

    Thank you for your columns. Over the last two months, you have eloquently pointed out the contradictions and challenges of the choices San Diegans needed to make.

    You helped present a positive, aspirational vision of David’s campaign. His supporters have presented a bold, progressive vision for San Diego that many believed we were finally achieving in 2012. After a painful, but hopefully cathartic, detour, we are back on track.

    Here is my take, shared elsewhere last night and updated this morning, on what we have seen since August, and where we need to go:

    The votes haven’t been completely counted, but things are looking good for David Alvarez, who overtook Nathan Fletcher at 11 pm on Election night, just in time for the final evening news broadcasts.

    This result makes me and many others very, very happy, and very proud of the work done by David and his supporters. He has inspired volunteers and voters in this short campaign, and silenced those who underestimated not only him, but his energetic and unconventional support base.

    The commonly heard charge that “David (or any other progressive) can’t win” because of being outspent/too liberal/too young/inexperienced is a cynical tactic. It is designed to devalue, undermine and demoralize the emerging vote of young people. These millenials are embracing and fueling grassroots/progressive campaigns around the country (Elizabeth Warren comes to mind) that are people-powered vs. wealth-endowed. They are a force of the future that must be respected.

    The “can’t win” message also seeks to discourage the participation of older, more traditional but still idealistic voters, who want to reduce the impact of big money on elections and government, and who seek to elect people whose policies are supportive of the working as well as the monied class.

    And finally the “can’t win” argument is often code for pointing out and invalidating candidates who don’t look like “traditional” elected officials. It allows criticism of “viability,” without needing to openly discuss the underlying ageism/racism/sexism/classism/corporatism of our political system.

    Let’s hope we are seeing the end of these “progressives can’t win” arguments. They play on voters’ fears vs. aspirations- a tactic that has been used effectively in other campaigns when moderate/conservative candidates of both parties focus their pitches on funding for public safety, the war on drugs, defense/terrorism etc. and ignore broken infrastructure, education and social services.

    Remember the motto “we are the 99%” from not so long ago? It’s still with us, but as with any truly grassroots cause, it is morphing and evolving with the flow of time. It’s not like the local economy has recovered and everything is OK for everyone. It’s more that no one wants to discuss the local economic divide directly, even as food insecurity and homelessness in America’s Finest City increases, and federal funds for “Navy Town” dwindle with sequestration and the slow end of a decade of war.

    Instead, the code phrase in the current campaign is “put neighborhoods first” which is a subtle variation of “Main Street vs Wall Street.” Of course, the neighborhood of, say, Mission Hills expects very different things from City Hall than Golden Hills. It will be interesting to look at the final primary voting results, neighborhood by neighborhood, to better understand who shares this vision and acted on it in the primary.

    This vote analysis (no doubt to be provided by INews source and/or Voice of San Diego’s capable researchers) will help us better understand and appreciate how, for the last 60 days, David inspired progressives and overcame the moderate wing of his own party.

    In 2014, he needs to continue to inspire, PLUS unite Dems and assure the party leaders who sat out the primary election (are you listening Todd Gloria and Sheri Lightner?) that it is “safe” to support David.

    In closing: It’s time to fulfill the vision so many had in 2012: a Mayor who will work for all of us. It’s time for San Diego to move beyond the hurt feelings and 20th century version of “America’s Finest City,” which was based on the disappointment of being left by the GOP at the altar of the 1972 National Convention. In 2014, progressives, working families, and young people will help our city move, fearlessly, into a more diverse, vibrant and progressive 21st century.

    Se puede? Si, se puede!