San Diego’s two mayoral candidates set the tone for an accelerated campaign cycle Tuesday, marking the start of a busy fall season in local politics.
A Rotary Club debate in La Jolla was the first of more than 20 mayoral debates in the months leading up to the November General Election.
“Let’s put it this way: neither of them are golden retrievers,” said Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna. “They’re both more pit-bull of politics. They’re willing to fight for their values, and that can come off as aggressive.”
However, on Tuesday, the two candidates emphasized their more harmonious assets, shifting the tone of the campaigns. When the Rotary Club moderator addressed Filner and DeMaio about the “extremes of their parties,” both rolled off a list of favorable accomplishments and qualities.
“This is kind of funny,” DeMaio said to the debate moderator, “This question being posed to a gay, pro-choice environmentalist who takes on the downtown establishment time and time again. Look, you people can try to apply labels. But at the end of the day, what I've been fighting for is the issues that unite, rather than divide.”
DeMaio’s response coincided with an ad revealed Tuesday, boasting his ability as a “problem solver.”
Filner answered the same question by emphasizing his election success.
“Chairman for a major committee, United States Congress, deputy mayor of the eighth largest city in the nation, president of the second largest school district in our state -- how does that happen? Because I would bring people together and get things done."
Filner tweeted later Tuesday night that the debate itself was an example of his ability to reach across politicial parties.
At debate hosted by my opponents supporters.That's the difference between us.I'm willing because I know we have to work together.
— Bob Filner (@BobFilnerMayor) September 5, 2012
Certainly the attacks will still be audible in the months leading up to the General Election. During Tuesday’s debate, the two critiqued each other’s voting records and called attention to his opponent’s ability to create jobs in San Diego.
Yet a less aggressive approach in public debates will be necessary to gain undecided voters’ attention. More importantly, it’s a necessary quality for a San Diego “strong mayor,” who must work as a partner to the council, Luna said.
For example, the next mayor won’t accomplish pension reform without a likable personality. Either DeMaio or Filner will have to negotiate with labor unions already hit by lower wages and stricter benefits. A compromise will be necessary to implement the 5-year pay freeze called for by Proposition B, approved in June.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to get some cooperation from the city council,” Luna said. “You have to negotiate with the unions to get that pay freeze, and that’s going to take a lot of political maneuvering.”