Left unasked was: ‘boxers or briefs?’
By Doug Porter
Just about the first thing the finalists in the mayoral contest did following their victory parties was to issue a joint statement announcing there’d be six (and only six) debates prior to the runoff election. Twenty some-odd bouts in six weeks during the first round campaigning (two of which were scheduled simultaneously in different parts of the city) were just too many. The term ‘debate fatigue’ crept into the local lexicon, and for good reason.
I attended the taping for the second of the six final face-offs on Friday hoping for some new insight into the mayoral race. The dictates of writing five columns a week make data collection always a pressing matter for this writer. After all, there’s only so many times you can point out that Kevin Faulconer is running from the “Republican” label, even as his campaign is orchestrated by the overlords of America’s Finest Plantation City.
I’d seen the ads, been disgusted by the mailers, pondered the contributors lists and gagged as I read the UT-San Diego editorials.. Now it was time to size up the candidates in a mano-a-mano situation. I’ll spare you the details, lest I seem unappreciative of KUSI’s broadcast involvement.
It is/was KUSI’s party: air time is 8pm on Monday (1/20).
This story is mostly about what wasn’t said, in part because most of the news was to be found in the silence between the notes being played on the stage in the Air and Space Museum atrium. Nobody scored a knockout. Nobody gaffed. The candidates knew their roles and played them well.
Keepers of the Flame
This second debate was brought to us by the Chamber of Commerce and the Central Labor Council, the entities most representative of the ultimate visions clashing in this contest. Unlike last time out (2012), these candidates are safer institutional choices.
Bob Filner got support by convincing local constituencies of the inevitability of his candidacy. He proved to be a political disaster, one that potentially could damage the Democratic brand in this market for years to come.
Carl DeMaio’s tenure (given his propensity for combativeness) likely would have been no more gratifying for his backers. Papa Doug Manchester went so far as to have his minions craft an editorial warning when DeMaio briefly considered entering the race. And Carl got a follow up “attaboy” pat on the head as a reward for playing nice.
Thus the candidacies of the City Councilmen listed on the February 11th ballot were successful in large part via their ability to hew towards the agendas deemed important by the real players in San Diego politics.
Even though “all politics is local”, the essence of the political struggle echoes what’s going on in Washington DC. Kevin Faulconer is John Boehner without the fake tan and bloodshot eyes. David Alvarez is Barack Obama’s brother from another mother.
Setting the Scene
My initial challenges involved getting past the guardians of the gate. Having a public event is, after all, a bit of inconvenience for the museum workers whose routine is disrupted when a couple of hundred people believe they’re entitled to saunter past the entrance.
Gate keeper #1 had the job of directing the paying customers to the cashier and pointing the interlopers to the inner sanctum. It was all it bit confusing, for her and for me. Time for a flashback…
…A couple years back I had a nasty fight with cancer. It would seem as though I won the war, but there were casualties, to wit; my vocal chords are gone along with my good looks. I now “speak” using an implanted bit of plastic. Volume control and not sounding like I’m trying to talk underwater are two issues. Six weeks of radiation and the surgeon’s valiant efforts left my face a little lumpy. Then there are the times when I go to speak and nothing but a croak emerges….
So when the nice lady directing traffic at the door to the museum inquired about my intentions, my prosthetic decided to squawk instead of talk. She decided I was deaf and BEGAN SPEAKING REAL LOUDLY… I smiled, pointed towards what I’d guessed was the entrance to the atrium and was waved through.
Gate keeper # 2 was a smiling young man tasked with slapping wristbands on people entering the debate area. The poor guy just freaked–sometimes that happens when I encounter strangers. He apparently couldn’t decide whether or not I belonged. (I’d taken a shower, shaved and even put on my very best black jeans for the occasion.) After blocking me from entering even as he was doing the banding thing with other folks–the nice blond lady smiled and apologized for cutting in front of me–, he relented and in I went.
Being relatively early, I found a great seat right at the back of the mosh pit, a no-mans land between the seating areas allowing the platformed cameras a clear shot at the stage. Clustered over in front of stage right were the suits and ties of the Chamber folks. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith flitted about, befitting his newly minted status as defender of the faith for the Church of the Holy Status Quo.
Stage left was populated in large part by “nons”- non-labor, non-chamber types and even a few non-whites. Then there were the cheap seats located behind the whiteitude of the Chamber-types, which I soon learned were for the more boisterous labor types. The beginning of a sound check was momentarily painful as technicians learned to grapple with the “Point Loma pauses” built into any event occurring in the airport’s flight path.
Let The Debate Begin
On one end of the stage was our announcer/moderator. At the other end were the three KUSI talking heads (Ross, Sandra and Steve) designated as the askers of the promised “drilling down” questions. In the middle, behind KUSI branded podiums, were the candidates. Former Mayor Jerry Sanders and Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Richard Barrera warmed up the crowd, thanking everybody for attending and saying kind words about their organizations, democracy, mom and apple pie.
After we were all warned about getting too rowdy (“Good luck with that”, quipped Barrera), it was showtime. The stage manager counted down to “action” and beseeched us all to clap as the taping began.
And they were off… David Alvarez took exactly zero seconds to start reciting tangentially relevant (I’m being kind) talking points as the first question (What exactly is San Diego’s financial status?) was asked. Kevin Faulkner gave the query a one sentence acknowledgement before starting to unpack his script.
From there on out it was like watching an endless volley at a tennis match. Back and forth they went, jabbing and bobbing and weaving. At times the various groups in the audience cheered on their candidate, only to get The Look from the talking heads on high.
I was actually kind of glad at several points during the ninety minutes of back and forth that the candidates were mostly sticking to their scripts…Glad because the questions were either off-the-charts horrible or just plain trite. Left unasked was: “boxers or briefs?”
The bottom of the barrel came as Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpacio was quoted, calling San Diego a sanctuary city. The word “illegals” was also bandied about from the panel. Neither candidate rose to that bait. KUSI is such a cesspool of reaction.
While I have nothing but admiration for the technical crew from KUSI, the dolts dispatched to act as panelists were beyond ignorant. But they looked good while they were doing it
Kevin Faulconer laid out a bit of unintended humor, talking about Jan Goldsmith being the kind of guy he’d want as a tough negotiator in dealing with the Chargers about building a new stadium. If you did a word cloud for Faulconer’s comments, the word “independent” would be the standout.
David Alvarez got a chuckle when he turned to his opponent and said, “You know, it’s okay to be a Republican.” Faulconer avoided the word like the plague. Alvarez’s word cloud would be more metaphorical, building on “I was poor, I know what it feels like”.
Teflon vs Truth Will Be the Ultimate Arbiter
As I said above, nobody “won”.
Kevin Faulconer was slicker, all wrapped up in Reagan-esque teflon. He was also condescending, reminding me of Mitt Romney as he repeatedly addressed his opponent as “my friend.”
David Alvarez had the most passion in his voice when he talked about the future of the city and his commitment to his beliefs. His choirboy looks at the start belied the kind of mental toughness and determination on display during the debate.
If you wanted to score the debate on who actually answered the most questions, the score would be tied at 0-0. But, then again, the questions being asked were superficial/predictable/inane and there was so little followup (it happened exactly once from the panel) it’s hard to point the finger at either candidate.
As far as I’m concerned, the elephant in the room in this debate and in every other election around the country is growing economic disparity. In San Diego, 28% of full time workers earn less that the amount of money required to live self-sufficiently. Real earnings for the bottom 90% of the workforce nationally have declined, and this fall started well before the real estate collapse.. ‘Trickle down’ has turned out to be ‘pissed on’.
The singular issue capable of piercing ‘Mr. Independent’s’ non-stick coating is reflected on the ‘net pay’ line on the paychecks of the vast majority of those lucky enough to have jobs. Call it “minimum wage” or “living wage” or “decent pay”; this issue is at the heart of our mayoral campaign. Kevin Faulconer’s gospel of job creation needs to be exposed as a pathway to poverty wages.
The GOP/Chamber side has played its fear (they’re coming for your JOBS!) and loathing (he isn’t one of us) card well, paying the disenfranchised to spread their message under the guise of checkbook democracy (the Barrio Logan & the Zombie Tax initiatives) along with a direct mail campaign designed to evoke subliminal vestiges of bigotry.
What these campaigns to roll back City Council votes lack is any actual evidence, and while it’s probably a little late to stop their minions parked in front of grocery stores, facts, as opposed to conjecture (which is all they have), could go a long way towards derailing the memes they’ve been propagating. I say this because yelling “lies” at the proponents of the measures doesn’t seem to be gathering any traction.
You’d think the maritime industry could have coughed up a little dough for a diploma mill to generate a “study” suggesting job losses if the Barrio Logan community plan is implemented. The City of San Diego has a an actual study promising over four thousand more jobs. The union representing the workers at the shipyards changed their mind on the issue once they discovered there was no truth to the job loss claims made by their bosses.
You’d also think the Chamber of Commerce could dredge up a negative (non builder sponsored) academic evaluation of linkage fees (aka the Job Killer/Zombie/Beat Your Kittens Tax) since 60% of all cities with a population of over 25,000 utilize variants of that income stream, which dates back to the post-World War Two era.
The best ‘evidence’ they can come with (so UT-San Diego can report it as ‘news’) are murky anecdotes about what they think some other city or city councilman is pondering. Or a guy who says he’s already made plans to leave town even though the law hasn’t taken effect. (Kinda like the guy in Utah who says he’s fasting until gay marriage is repealed.) This Brookings Institute study posits that linkage fees actually create jobs. Go figure.
The choice in this election was an easy one for me. I voted for David Alvarez because he stands for things I believe in like economic justice and neighborhood empowerment. But if I didn’t happen to write about politics, I’d have to say this debate had no value as an educational tool.
The narrative defined by the local media as “reality” imposes limitations on virtually any of the forums that preclude actual insight into the candidates as human beings. You’re gonna have to look deep inside and decide who represents your values.