Todd Gloria’s State of the City Address paved a path for Dems, Alvarez to re-embrace a progressive agenda for San Diego.
By Andy Cohen
This has been a rather strange special election cycle. On the one hand we have a conservative, Republican candidate that can’t run away fast enough from the San Diego Republican Party—indeed, the Republican brand in general—who tries to sweep that identification under the rug at all costs. On the other hand, we have a progressive Democratic candidate who has seemed a little bit shy about brandishing his more liberal credentials.
That latter situation may have changed with iMayor Todd Gloria’s State of the City Address (no one, except for maybe GOP head henchman Tony Krvaric, expects Kevin Faulconer to claim the Republican mantle—at least not openly until after the election). For the first time since the 2012 mayoral election, a San Diego pol made the case for a complete departure from the Business as Usual crowd that is clamoring to return to power—and undermine San Diego’s elected government.
In November 2012, San Diego chose a different path. In a way, the eighth largest city in America finally grew up. Throughout its history, San Diego governance had been geared toward business interests. All resources were marshaled toward economic development with a top-down philosophy with faith in the benevolence of those in power. Infrastructure was left to crumble. Neighborhoods were left without basic services, and the poorer the neighborhood, the lower the priority they were given. The city was investing in these business interests in the hope that eventually their success would trickle down and allow our elected officials the flexibility to pay more attention to the little people. Until then, the folks in Barrio Logan and City Heights and Lincoln Park and Encanto and San Ysidro would just have to wait.
They got tired of waiting, and empowered by a huge registration advantage for Democrats, voters chose a different way of governance. Instead of the city telling them what they needed, they chose a system that empowered them to make decisions affecting their own neighborhoods, and a city government that was willing to work with them. For the first time, San Diego would have a city government that focused on the middle out, instead of the top down. Instead of investing exclusively in business interests, the city was going to foster economic development by investing in its people. Instead of giving developers carte blanche to operate however they wanted, the needs of the community would be given due consideration.
Improving the quality of life for a broad swath of residents would become a priority instead of growing the bank accounts of the already wealthy. Bolstering transit options was brought front and center. Efforts to make San Diego a clean energy pioneer began in earnest. Public parks and libraries once again were given precedence. Infrastructure was being discussed not just as an expense, but as a tool for economic development. San Diego was going to become a bike friendly haven.
And then it stopped. When Bob Filner was forced from office for his inappropriate and despicable behavior toward women, suddenly the platform he ran for office on became just as toxic as the man. If Bob Filner was for it, then we had to be against it, and all of the reforms he had begun to enact during his brief tenure were about to be undone. Civic leaders who stood behind the policies Filner was elected on were suddenly terrified of them and backed away. They were afraid that standing firm behind their own principles would be interpreted as standing behind Bob Filner; that the Lincoln Club and San Diego Taxpayers Association and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce would attack them as if they were willing to excuse the behavior that got Filner effectively thrown out of office.
They were afraid that prodded by Lincoln Club attacks, voters would be unable to separate Bob Filner the man from the governing principles he had represented as mayor. Voters would forget why they elected him in the first place. It’s an important distinction, too, because it was his own personal failings that cast him in disgrace, and not his political priorities or the agenda he ran for office on.
Just as Kevin Faulconer was running away as fast as his feet could carry him from the GOP label, David Alvarez kept the agenda San Diegans voted for in 2012 at arm’s length for fear of being too closely affiliated with Filner and thus playing right into the Lincoln Club’s hands.
Making matters worse was interim mayor Todd Gloria’s unwillingness openly support the more progressive policy agenda for San Diego that had begun to take shape. He too seemed to be running away from the Bob Filner stigma since the day he assumed the duties as mayor….although how much of the agenda he actually supported was a rather large question mark to begin with. And as the city’s appointed interim leader, voters were intently looking to him to reset the direction the city’s government would take. But despite bringing stability back to a chaotic political environment, he offered no real indication of which side of the fence he stood. And he refused to offer any kind of endorsement in the race to finish Filner’s term.
Two things happened to change that. The first was Gloria’s State of the City Address, where he laid out a vision for San Diego that had a very familiar ring to it. The second came two days later, when Gloria threw his full support behind David Alvarez in the February 11 runoff election.
Suddenly it was again okay to stand with workers and the middle class instead of submitting to the business interests that sought to regain their outsized influence on city government. Using the clout he had earned while in the mayor’s office, Gloria made the liberal agenda cool again, talking about infrastructure for the masses, solar panels on city buildings, a higher minimum wage, access to affordable housing, and more dedicated bikeways. San Diego should become a clean energy pioneer. He proposed a zero waste initiative and a renewed emphasis on potable recycled water. And he made public transit a top priority. He removed the stain of Filner’s personal failings from the policies he believed in.
Gloria also admonished the forces backing Kevin Faulconer that are seeking to undermine the authority of San Diego’s elected government in order to once again claim it for themselves. He stood firmly alongside the residents of Barrio Logan who had worked for five years to secure a less noxious environment in which to live. And he reaffirmed the City Council decision to make workforce housing a priority.
It was a liberating moment for an electorate that was beginning to feel abandoned, and it seemingly gave David Alvarez the green light to re-present the agenda voters had chosen in 2012. The only question that remains is whether the voting public is still on board.