By Jeremy Los
Video by Jack Winemiller
Sept. 20, 2011- Congressman Bob Filner and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher headlined the first mayoral debate of the 2012 election on Saturday.
The two major candidates who participated differed sharply on policies, goals, and visions for San Diego during the lively debate during Politifest, sponsored by Voice of San Diego in Liberty Station on Saturday.
Filner and Fletcher have backgrounds that are polar opposites in the political area.
Filner, a Democrat, is a political veteran who has served in the U.S. Congress since 1992. A Freedom Rider in the Civil Rights movement, he has also served as a San Diego councilman and vice mayor, chaired the San Diego Unified School District Board, and as a professor at San Diego State University.
Fletcher, a Republican, is a former U.S. Marine with counterintelligence experience, serving in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He is a relative newbie to the political spectrum, having served in the California State Assembly only since 2008, but succeeded in authoring 21 bills signed into law and is best known for championing Chelsea’s Law in Sacramento.
Of the 14 registered candidates, only seven were present. Two notable no-shows were District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. According to the Union-Tribune, DeMaio has pledged not to debate while he works to gather signatures for a pension reform ballot measure by the Oct. 14 deadline. Dumanis reportedly said she has opted not to debate until after March 8, the deadline for candidates to file to run in the June 2012 primary.
While lesser-known candidates added off-beat views and zingers to the debate, the focus was on the two incumbent legislators who bring name recognition and political experience to the race: Filner and Fletcher.
Filner emphasized his plan to return San Diego to prosperity by making it the capitol of alternative energy in America. Filner called for the city to set an example by putting solar panels on public buildings and supporting our reigon’s growing alternative energy industries. “After a Filner administration, other cities will be looking at San Diego as an example of what a city can do…for elevating alternative energy to a major force,” he said.
Fletcher on the other hand looked to put emphasis on his resume as a leader as well as his ability to build relationships and gain trust. He also looked to highlight his ambition to tap into San Diego’s innovative potential.
“I was standing with Jerry Brown to unveil a new jobs package… it will help put people back to work and take the tax burden off small businesses,” said Fletcher, discussing his track record of building coalitions among diverse interests and passing legislation.
As with just about any political debate in the country today, the candidates took time to discus their plans to bring jobs to fledgling San Diegans. Filner’s plan looked to capitalize on some of our county’s natural resources in order to kick-start the city’s economy. He laid out some specifics.
“San Diego lost many good jobs when the aerospace industry went away,” Filner observed. “Let’s turn our port into a maritime center; we can employ thousands and provide good-paying jobs.”
Fletcher, who did not mention alternative energy or green jobs during the debate, told ECM afterwards that he is heading up a Select Committee on Jobs Creation. “Part of this is the energy sector,” he said, noting that the announcement was made at Sapphire Energy, a company focused on “green crude,” including algae-based jet fuels, to create a new industry sector.
Following the city wide blackout of two weeks ago debate moderators Gene Cubbison of NBC and Andy Donahue of Voice of San Diego, allowed the two elected officials –Fletcher and Filner –to address how they would prevent it from happening again.
Fletcher emphasized the need for back up generators in places to ensure that citizens have clean reliable water. “The incident drew attention to the city’s decaying infrastructure,” said Fletcher. “In California we need to be prepared for every possible disaster.”
Filner agreed with Fletcher and quipped that he’d name Fletcher Director of Emergency Preparedness if he were to be elected. Filner then elaborated, “The blackout showed how dependent we are on a centralized energy system…The solution is to decentralize, and use solar, wind and geothermal energy to make our region energy independent.”
On a major issue in this election– comprehensive pension reform – Filner and Fletcher offered drastically different viewpoints.
Filner pointed out that city workers cannot receive Social Security and that a proposed pension reform that would force them to rely on 401Ks dependent on the stock market is unfair and could leave some workers with nothing. He quipped that if the city’s pensions were reliant on stocks “You probably won’t need a pension, you’ll have a heart attack,” given the past week of plummeting stock prices.
“It’s a fraud,” said Filner of a ballot initiative supported by his opponent. “It says to employees who collect our trash, clean our water, etc. that we are throwing you under the bus.” He says it’s possible to save millions through less extreme reforms, while also boosting city revenues through job creation as a better alternative.
Fletcher on the other hand supports the measure, as he believes “it is time to take decisive action.” Fletcher insists that the plan could be implemented in a way that would be fair to worker and taxpayers.
“It (Pension reform) will provide the fiscal foundation we need for the future,” said Fletcher, drawing boos for the pro-labor voices amongst the crowd.
Filner, a former educator, also indicated the mayor should be a leader in supporting public education and assuring that children have appropriate care. He wants to see the city forge partnerships with businesses and sports teams for after-school programs, a concept he pioneered while on the San Diego Unified School Board. Fletcher did not mention education issues in his remarks. Filner also spoke of the need to address homelessness and poverty, while Fletcher emphasized reducing regulations on businesses.
While the debate centered on the two prominent candidates, some lesser-known candidates drew cheers and at times, chuckles. Former Navy Search and Rescue Swimmer David Cardon proposed that the city “live within its means,” while also proposing some out-of-the-box solutions to the city’s financial crisis including parking meters at the beaches and allowing Indians to build a casino on Torrey Pines. Steve Greenwald, a doctor, called for decriminalization of drug offenses to provide treatment for addiction instead.
However, professor and entertainer Loch David Crane stole the show as he played to crowd and fired off endless rounds of quips, calling for marijuana legalization, bashing immigrants, and more.
“It’s time to change the water in the bong of city government,” proclaimed Crane, describing the cities stance on marijuana.
Crane, a proclaimed 30 year pot smoker who flashed his medical marijuana ID card, aims to promote medical marijuana as well as the economic benefits of hemp. He stated, “The industrial uses of hemp will help create revenues.”
One area on which Filner and Fletcher seemed to concur was on medical marijuana regulation.
Filner emphasized that allowing sick individuals to turn to medicinal marijuana is the right thing to do. “If you have a relative with cancer, you want them to have anything that will help,” said Filner. “It’s time to craft fair regulations on dispensaries so people in need of medicine would have access to it.”
Fletcher said he, too, was sympathetic to needs of those suffering. As mayor, he indicated he would respect the will of voters who approved legalization of medical marijuana 16 years ago in a statewide ballot initiative. “We will implement the law consistent with state law,” he said, but clarified, “I don’t support the sale and distribution of marijuana for recreational use.”
Rob “Girly-girl” Harter took the most drastic stance on the issue, proclaiming, “Let’s devote a section of downtown and call it Little Amsterdam. Tourism will pour in!”
Prospective mayors were also asked their thoughts on a new Chargers stadium. All proposed different solutions, but nearly all agreed that funds should come largely from the Spanos family or private funding sources.
Filner said he would be a “tough negotiator” and added that the Chargers need to provide some benefits for the city. “Why not part ownership of the Chargers?” he asked. Fletcher said a stadium needs to be used year-round, not just a few days a year when the Chargers play home games.
The moderator from Voice of San Diego also asked candidates to name examples of excellence from other cities they have visited that could be emulated here.
Fletcher cited Chicago’s Millennium Park as a model that might apply to Balboa Park, also citing an innovation center in San Jose and “amazing things for the arts” in Philadelphia and Miami. Filner praised world trade centers in Dallas and Miami, as well as the River Walk area in San Antonio, but added that other cities “will be looking at San Diego as an example” if he is elected mayor. Crane praised promenades in Paris. But candidate Hud Collins noted dourly that with double-dip recession nationwide, “There isn’t one city we can look to as a model.”
After the debate, ECM asked the two leading candidates if they would support steps taken renew the emergency police and fire helicopter services that have been cut by the city, cuts that have impacted mutual aid for East County.
Filner voiced support for renewing helicopter services. “My plan to solve the pension fund would free up to $120-200 million,” he noted, adding that these funds or other new revenues could be used for restoring helicopter cuts.
“Public safety is the highest priority of government,” said Fletcher, who highlighted that helicopters in the sky helped keep a gunman off the street with a loaded gun following the shooting of Officer Henwood. “It needs to be at the front of the line.”
In these tough times for San Diego and across America, candidates sought to infuse hope into the hearts of those in attendance, while providing sharply different visions of the future for San Diego under their leadership.
View our videos of the debate, taken by Jack Winemiller. Videos include opening statement for each candidate, plus highlights of responses to each of the questions posed:
David Cardon - Statement
Hud Collins - Statement
Loch Davis Crane - Statement
Bob Filner - Statement
Nathan Fletcher - Statement
Steve Greenwald - Statement
Rob Harter - Statement
Comprehensive Pension Reform
Ideas for San Diego from other cities
Thoughts on Power Outage of 9/8/11