San Diego’s shadow government poised to make its triumphant return.
By Andy Cohen
So that just happened. Not that it’s all that surprising that Kevin Faulconer beat David Alvarez in the mayoral special election last night. What is very surprising is the margin by which Faulconer beat Alvarez. It was expected to be squeaker of an election, with most polls showing a one to two point spread. Every poll considered to be credible had Faulconer with a one point lead and a margin of error of around four points.
Faulconer won by nine points, 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent.
First, let me just say that I must be a complete idiot. I stood up last November (figuratively speaking) in front of a packed house at a meeting of the Pt. Loma Democratic Club and definitively predicted that David Alvarez would win this election. The numbers were in his favor, and San Diego was in the midst of a political transformation.
This is why I got out of the prediction biz a long time ago. Not sure why I decided to wade back in, because I’m obviously not very good at it anymore.
But the actual results are fairly shocking. David Alvarez ran a pretty spectacular campaign. It was a demonstration of retail politics at its best. He made appearances all over town, venturing into portions that no one would consider his territory. He had an army of volunteers out walking the streets and knocking on doors to promote his candidacy. He talked to seemingly everybody who was interested. And, in a bit of an unusual turn for a Democrat, he had a considerable money advantage behind him.
His message was one of inclusion, of reaching out to the poor and developing the middle class; of investing in neighborhoods, and not just in adding additional police patrols to the more crime ridden ones. It was a progressive agenda that started with Bob Filner and continued (sort of, at least at the end) by Todd Gloria.
And yet somehow it went terribly, terribly wrong. How it went so wrong is something that San Diego area Democrats are going to have to figure out in the next few months before the June primary elections, because their strategy that seemed so sound imploded on them spectacularly.
I mean, really……nine points?
Republican Kevin Faulconer won, becoming the only Republican to run a major US city. How he won and why he won is a question that is going to be studied carefully for the next three-and-a-half years. What does this tell us about San Diego? And no, the answer is not as simple as “it’s a Republican town.” It isn’t. Is it a centrist town? Maybe.
San Diego has 265,357 registered Democrats. It has 176,009 registered Republicans, and 191,336 registered NPP (no party preference, or Decline to State). Republicans are outnumbered by 89,000 Democrats and 15,000 independent voters, and Faulconer still managed to win by nearly 23,000 votes. There is surely much to learn by drilling down into those numbers.
One thing we have learned is that gutter politics works. The Lincoln Club sunk to new, previously unimagined depths in its campaign to get their guy elected. Their racist tinged mailers and messaging painting Alvarez as “other” apparently struck a chord. The blatant dishonesty of both the Faulconer campaign and his Lincoln Club supporters was simply breathtaking in its scope. But it worked. It seems that San Diego voters don’t mind being lied to, or just aren’t well enough informed to know any better. The Faulconer-as-centrist message sure sounded good, and the voters bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Unfortunately that is not the reality of Faulconer’s record.
To win this election, Faulconer not only shied away from his Republican identity, he made like Usain Bolt and sprinted as far away and as fast as he possibly could. He stole the “neighborhoods” message from the Democrats, and promised to make neighborhoods a priority, although he never clearly defined what that meant other than bolstering the police department. He touted a message of inclusion. He touted a message of economic development by focusing on businesses—a very Republican message.
Faulconer will have to be held to his campaign promises of inclusion and neighborhood development. He will have to be prodded to make the kinds of investments necessary to grow the San Diego economy in ways it hasn’t for decades. And he will have to be held accountable for the way he handles the newly reinstated City Planning Department that his predecessor and BFF Jerry Sanders dismantled during his tenure. Faulconer talked a very good game, and only time will tell if he meant what he said. Personally, I have serious doubts.
The silver lining is that the City Council will likely appoint a Democrat to fill Faulconer’s vacant seat, giving the Democrats a veto-proof 6-3 majority at least through November. And if Sarah Boot can manage to beat Lorie Zapf in the midterm election next year, that majority will likely become permanent.
Even with a strong mayor form of government and a Republican leading City Hall, there’s still hope for San Diego.