With Filner’s days as mayor apparently waning, it’s a sure bet that San Diego’s “shadow government” will be restored to full authority by the candidates who would seek to replace him.
By Andy Cohen
Last November, San Diego—well, at least liberals in San Diego—celebrated the beginning of a brand new era in local government and politics. For the first time in over two decades the voters of this city elected a Democrat as mayor. But more than that, they elected a candidate that not only said he would change the culture at City Hall, he actually had the backbone to do it.
Bob Filner was the right candidate at the right time for a city whose policies for far too long had been dictated by the moneyed special interests, particularly the Downtown variety. Filner represented a whole new course for San Diego’s city government. Instead of a City Hall dominated by the local business and corporate interests, average San Diegans finally had a champion who promised he would care more about them than about the big hotel lobby or the big time developers who constantly had their hands out for public properties that they could profit from.
Filner stood up to the Tourism and Marketing District, insisting that if they were going to spend money to enrich themselves, then the risk needed to fall on their shoulders instead of the taxpayers’ if their tax scheme was deemed illegal by the courts. He insisted that Balboa Park could be returned to pedestrians, limiting vehicle traffic and opening the Plaza de Panama up for all to enjoy without spending $45 million and destroying a national historic landmark to do it. And for just over $300,000, he did exactly that.
After 30 years of promises and disappointments, he solidified plans to bring a long overdue transit center to City Heights, complete with rapid-transit buses to provide residents of one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city better, faster, and more efficient access to the major employment centers.
He delivered a solution to eradicate the stench in La Jolla Cove, and extended it to Bird Rock. He stood in the way of controversial developers receiving gifts of free public land, albeit doing so in controversial manner of his own.
Bob Filner promised to change the culture at City Hall, restoring city government to the people instead of the moneyed interests, ensuring that everyone got a fair shake. And he was well on his way to accomplishing that feat, even as he was viciously opposed by the powers he sought to diminish. Under a constant barrage of attacks from the likes of Doug Manchester, Joe Terzi, Terry Brown, the Lincoln Club, and even members of the City Council, he stood tall, refusing to back down from any fight. The “little people” of San Diego at long last had a champion.
Sadly, those days, brief as they were, appear to be coming to an end, and the Mayor has no one to blame but himself as the noose of sexual harassment allegations continues to tighten around his neck, and as more and more local officials—friend and foe alike—call for his resignation. It now appears to be a matter of when, not if, the Mayor will step down.
If and when that happens, given the list of likely suspects to seek to replace Filner as the top dog in San Diego, we’re apt to see a return to business as usual downtown. That means the big corporate interests are positioned to once again take control of the city as a quasi “shadow government,” as SDFP columnist Jim Miller puts it.
Of the potential candidates who are thought to be the frontrunners in a special election, only Donna Frye figured to continue what Filner had started in regards to changing the influence structure at City Hall. Frye is the only one with a history of standing up for the little guy, pushing back against the traditional power brokers. But she has already definitively declared that she will not seek the mayorship, although that could change as it’s entirely possible she simply didn’t want to appear to be a shameless opportunist in announcing a run before the body of Filner’s brief term has even been officially declared dead. She would surely be the top choice of the liberal base in San Diego, having won almost exalted status during her two terms on the City Council and her previous runs for mayor.
Then there’s Carl DeMaio, the declared Congressional candidate challenging freshman representative Scott Peters in the 2014 52nd District race. The Tea Party backed, anti-tax, anti-government zealot who lost to Filner last November most certainly is a shameless opportunist, making sure that his Cheshire Cat grin can be seen through every print and broadcast media outlet in the city. DeMaio has all but officially declared himself a candidate again, which could be good news for Peters, but would certainly be horrific news for San Diego. As Donna Frye herself once said, a Carl DeMaio administration at City Hall would most certainly amount to a Highway to Hell.
As the current City Council President, Todd Gloria would take over the mayoral duties on an interim basis should Filner step down, and it’s a sure bet that he would seek to make that change permanent. A San Diego Reader blog posited last week that Gloria had already printed up campaign posters, although his office denied the charge, and the Realtor in whose office the poster first appeared insisted that he made the poster himself “to be silly.” Gloria is another political opportunist who is brilliant at playing both sides of the fence, sucking up to the money while doing just enough for his district to make his constituents believe that he’s on their side. On social issues he may be solidly in the Democratic column, but on economic and governance issues he’s as conservative as the lobbyists want him to be. He has much higher political aspirations, and he’s not shy about sidling up to whoever will help get him there. He has certainly never been an ally to this current mayor, Democrat or not.
When it comes down to choosing between regular, every day San Diegans and the Downtown power brokers, Gloria will side with the money.
Jan Goldsmith—the current City Attorney who it seems, like Mike Aguirre before him, has designs on the 11th floor at City Hall—is another possibility. But his reputation took a nosedive recently after his office was humiliated nationally when they decided to prosecute a man for writing protest slogans on a public sidewalk with washable chalk in front of a Bank of America branch, all at the behest of BofA. You might have heard that Jeff Olson, the “Mad Chalker” in question, was quickly acquitted of all charges by a jury.
Which leaves us with Nathan Fletcher, who, when you look at it, might just be the best available option short of a surprise candidate emerging. The moderate Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat (I’m trying really hard to forgive him for signing the Grover Norquist pledge) had a change of heart late last year when he decided to join the Democratic Party, less than a year after he bolted from the Republicans. There are many who insist that the switch was merely out of convenience in an effort to keep his political aspirations alive. After all, he left the Party only after the County GOP spurned him for DeMaio in the 2012 mayoral race, and the entire state Party turned outright hostile toward him shortly thereafter. And when life in the independent wilderness got too lonely to bear, he decided to join forces with the Democrats.
It’s entirely possible, however, that he honestly found that his core values simply no longer matched up with the Republicans of today, and he found that he had much more in common with Democrats. No one is going to mistake him for a dyed-in-the-wool liberal anytime soon, though. And he too is likely to restore the traditional base of power that Filner fought so hard to dismantle. But in the end, he may just be the best of an undesirable lot.