By Doug Porter
Gretchen Newsom announced her intention to run for Mayor of San Diego during the Sixth Biennial County Democratic Convention on Saturday, October 24th. She’s got a tough road in front of her.
Incumbent Kevin Faulconer is a public relations machine. He gets out of bed in the morning, and a press release crediting him with saving the world overnight (hey, the sun rose!) gets emailed. He’s got no major scandals swirling around him, is considered to be a rising star in the GOP, and has a proven ability to sidestep controversy.
Challenger Gretchen Newsom is not well known outside activist circles. She was among those considered as the interim replacement for Faulconer’s city council seat, is President of the Ocean Beach town Council, and works for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Today I’ll take a look at what else there is to know about the candidate, her values and the implications of her candidacy.
Thou Shall Not Make News on a Saturday Afternoon
After months of whining about the Democrats not having a candidate, much of the local media could hardly be bothered to report on her candidacy. Her Saturday afternoon announcement fell outside prime time for re-writers of press releases. And besides, she didn’t fit into the narrative of a more well-known Democrat being willing to fall on their sword for the sake of a few readers, viewers or clicks.
The UT buried the announcement at the end of a story built around Atty General Kamala Harris’ appearance at the Dems convention. Voice of San Diego’s Morning Report asked if we’re ready for another mayoral contest with ‘The One Who Loves Neighborhoods the Most’ as the likely focal point. Much of local TV went with a very brief City News Service report or some variant thereof, although KFMB did show a cell-phone video of her announcement.
No Catfights in Escondido
The biennial Democratic convention, bravely staged in the middle of the reddest part of San Diego County at the Escondido Arts Center, was attended by four hundred party activists. There was schmoozing. There were petitions and sign-up sheets. There were cardboard stand-ups of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
There were speakers….
Rep. Scott Peters, Escondido Councilmember Olga Diaz, County Supervisor Dave Roberts, State Senators Marty Block and Ben Hueso, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (standing ovation), San Diego City Councilmember Myrtle Cole, State Treasurer John Chiang, State Attorney General/US Senate candidate Kamala Harris (also standing ovation), Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Councilmember Todd Gloria, County Chair Francine Busby, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party Eric Bauman and Secretary of the California Democratic Party Daraka Larimore-Hall.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who is also running for US Senate, was invited to speak but declined due to a previous commitment.
There was a chicken-with-cream-sauce luncheon featuring cognitive linguist George Lakeoff, talking about family structures (strict father vs nurturing parent) and how they influence ideologies.
There were workshops featuring even more elected officials and experts. And, of course, there was subtext.
The great divide in the party right now is how to handle the split between incumbent Senator Marty Block and Assemblymember Toni Atkins, who’d like to take his job.
Block spoke in the morning. Atkins spoke in the afternoon. Other speeches were closely examined for clues as to where people stood. Mostly people were just left shaking their heads about what a waste of energy this contest would be.
Gretchen Newsom Stands Up
The other big subtext was about a non-contest. As in, the Democrats didn’t have anybody willing to take on Republican Keven Faulconer. It’s “the polling,” everybody said, referring to surveys showing the incumbent mayor with favorability ratings over 60%.
What they weren’t talking about was a recent poll coming out of the Block camp (he’s behind, generally) showing that the issue of taxpayer support for a new football stadium was more emotionally charged (in a negative way) than most people realized.
What that polling showed me (and I have no idea where Newsom stands on the stadium) is there could be pathways to victory for Democrats. The only sure path to defeat in the mayoral contest lies in not having a candidate at all.
It was during one of the afternoon workshops at the convention that Gretchen Newsom made the announcement about her candidacy for mayor.
My name is Gretchen Newsom.
I’m a proud member of IBEW Local 569,
I’m a community leader in Ocean Beach,
I’m a mother, a sister,
and I’m I’m running for mayor.
Newson’s announcement caught many, if not most, observers by surprise. Here’s her account, via Facebook on how this decision came to be:
Over the past few months I’ve been having conversations with friends, leaders, and community members about who could run for mayor and stand up for our communities.
Leading up to the democratic convention, we all watched with disappointment as our leaders declared their candidacy for other offices. The conversations became more difficult and I could see people beginning to feel hopeless. In a few of these conversations, my close friends and colleagues suggested I have strong leadership qualities and might be the person we were looking for. As I was sitting in the audience at the convention last night listening to our members and leaders, I became inspired to take action.
I decided in that moment that I could be the spark, represent our values, and speak up for our communities. As the last of the candidates was addressing the audience, I took a deep breath, approached the podium, and announced that I am running for Mayor…
One person caught off-guard by the announcement was Labor Council President Mickey Kasparian.
— Scott Lewis (@vosdscott) October 25, 2015
My sources close to the Labor Council insist this announcement was more about the internal process of endorsement than casting any shade on her candidacy.
I’m not so sure. My guess is that labor has some people they are having discussions with running for mayor. There certainly has been a bit of buzz around town about Nathan Fletcher considering a Third Time is The Charm candidacy. It’s been reported that Faulconer’s backers have been doing polling about the former assemblyman…
In any case, I’m personally thrilled about Gretchen Newsom running for mayor. I like her as a person. She’s a lot deeper as a candidate than just the “union” and “community” activist labels.
Going Beyond the Labels
It just so happens that the definitive work on her background is a story written by my editor/colleague Frank Gormlie for the OB Rag.
Here are a few key paragraphs (go read the whole article at the OBRag!)
From Humboldt, Gretchen was admitted to the California State Executive Program, a prestigious fellowship opportunity through Sacramento State in a 12 month program.
She interviewed with the State Treasury office – Phil Angelides was State Treasurer then – and she was hired on as staff. Angelides was taking on then-governor Schwarzenegger, and Gretchen got involved in policy analysis, legislative affairs and communication tasks. And in his gubernatorial campaign in 2005-06, Angelides asked Gretchen to be his deputy policy director.
“It was an eye-opener,” Gretchen told me, all this state politics, with its grind, the working around-the-clock, operating with a 24 hour news cycle, traveling up and down the state with the candidate – her boss.
After Angelides’ loss, he asked Gretchen to stay and help with starting a renewable energy program – which she did for another year. She – and [husband] Kris – accompanied Angelides to Los Angeles where he became the chair of a fund to build affordable housing with Magic Johnson. Kris loved LA, Gretchen said, because of all his work in film. They lived between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, and had their son, Leif, there. Leif (rhythms with “safe” – it’s Swedish) is now 5 years old and goes to OB Elementary Kindergarten.
They ended up living in LA for a year and half. Then Angelides got a call from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and again, Gretchen was asked to be on his staff – to be a special assistant and senior administrative officer – which she indeed accepted. So, the family moved to Washington DC, living in the Southeast Quadrant. After 18 months of heavy urban life, Gretchen and Kris were anxious to move back to California. Gretchen in particular told me she missed the rural-ness of our state, the wide-open spaces, the empty beaches ….
Newsom’s Program to ‘Raise’ San Diego
During her announcement, she discussed wanting to “raise” San Diego, saying she wants to create a government that is more responsive, affordable, innovative, sustainable and empowering.
Five Priorities to RAISE San Diego
- Create a San Diego that is more RESPONSIVE
Local government should respond to the needs of our communities. Our community groups are laboratories for finding solutions to improve our neighborhoods, but they aren’t being heard by the current mayor. For example, instead of celebrating street benches built by community members, the mayor is ripping them out.
To make our city government more responsive, I propose creating a meaningful role for town councils and neighborhood groups to inform city decisions and ensure that city actions provide solutions that we want and that we need.
- Create a San Diego that is more AFFORDABLE
We need a city that is affordable for everyone. If you work here, you should be able to live here. If you make a career here, you should be able to retire here. That is why I support the creation of more affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.
The current mayor opposes an increase to the minimum wage and opposes providing earned sick days that allow hard working people to take care of themselves and their families. Our economy doesn’t work unless it supports everyone who lives here, and San Diegans deserve a mayor who supports them.
- Create a San Diego that is more INNOVATIVE
San Diego’s economy is driven by innovation. We can lead the nation as a hub of innovation if we prioritize investments in training people. Unfortunately, that is not a priority for the current mayor who is instead focusing on corporate interests.
To become a world-class city, I propose we prepare our young people to be successful in the 21st century and drive the innovation economy. By training our own to become the best and the brightest, we will also attract the talent and investments to expand our innovation economy.
- Create a San Diego that is more SUSTAINABLE
San Diego is positioned to be a global leader in addressing climate change and sustainability. Coastal San Diego is living the reality of climate change everyday and we know we can’t wait. What we do here can and should set a national example.
The water hasn’t risen to the mayor’s office on the 11th floor of City Hall, but it’s rising in our communities. Businesses in Ocean Beach are piling sandbags higher every year. That is why I have been active in finding solutions and propose the city develop an infrastructure plan that protects our natural resources, provides for water independence, and prepares for extreme weather conditions from droughts to floods.
- Create a San Diego that is more EMPOWERING
For too long, downtown politics have drowned out the voices of our communities. It will take all of our residents to build a better San Diego. We need to empower and uplift all communities to ensure everyone has a voice in the solutions that will transform our city.
Participation in our democracy is one way that people can have a stake in the decisions that affect their everyday lives. I propose a city government that is transparent and seeks the input of residents on all major decisions.
–Make San Diego a place where people thrive, not just survive.–
But Can She Beat Kevin Faulconer?
It comes down to turnout.
The June, 2016 primary will include the referendum on the City Council’s bill to raise the minimum wage. More than 170,000 people in San Diego will get a $1.50 per hour pay raise if it passes.
At this point, I’m starting to hope the Bernie vs. Hillary contest will live through next spring, which could also drive Democratic voter turnout. Maybe she’ll get lucky and nothing but nutcases will be left standing in the GOP presidential contest, which could depress their turnout.
I can pretty much predict what the local establishment response to Gretchen’s campaign will be: condescending. I can only hope that San Diego’s voters take notice of the smug sense of superiority coming out of city hall, enabled by their access-loving friends in the local media.
On This Day: 1825 – After eight years and at least 1,000 worker deaths—mostly Irish immigrants—the 350-mile Erie Canal opened, linking the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Father John Raho wrote to his bishop that “so many die that there is hardly any time to give Extreme Unction (last rites) to everybody. We run night and day to assist the sick.” 1985 – Approximately 110,000 people marched past the U.S. and Soviet embassies in London to pressure the two countries to end their arms race. 1998 – A federal judge refused to issue an injunction against the sale of MP3 players. The device is used to play music downloaded from the Internet. The Recording Industry Association of America had brought the case to court.
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