Mayoral Candidates Look to the Future in Debate

Monday's televised mayoral debate brought fourth key issues in weeks before elections

By Lauren Steussy
|  Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012  |  Updated 2:42 PM PDT
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At Monday night's debate, no candidate let the topic of pension reform fall by the wayside. Gene Cubbison helped moderate the debate, along with Catherine Garcia and Scott Lewis.

At Monday night's debate, no candidate let the topic of pension reform fall by the wayside. Gene Cubbison helped moderate the debate, along with Catherine Garcia and Scott Lewis.

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Mayor's Race: Politically Speaking

John Dadian, a political consultant not involved in the mayor's race, and voiceofsandiego.org's Scott Lewis join NBC 7's Gene Cubbison to take a look at the race for the big office on the 11th floor of San Diego's City Hall.

Pension Reform: Politically Speaking

T.J. Zane, president of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a major backer of the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative, and Michael Zucchet, general manager of the city's largest organized labor group, the Municipal Employees Association talk with NBC 7's Gene Cubbison.
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In an NBC 7 San Diego debate Monday night, candidates shed new light to key issues in the mayoral race, and addressed surprising stances on several topics.

The debate featured the race's four major mayoral candidates -- District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Congressman Bob Filner, Councilman Carl DeMaio and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.

It was moderated by NBC 7 San Diego's Mark Mullen. NBC 7 San Diego's Gene Cubbison and Catherine Garcia and our media partner the Voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis asked candidates the questions. Panelists formed a series of questions tailored to each individual candidate.

You can watch all or some of the topics discussed at the debate here.

One of the debate’s most unique features was the topic of hypothetical scenarios. Each candidate was given a scenario and asked to respond.

Dumanis was asked which services she would turn to first if San Diego were to experience a major natural disaster.

“As mayor you have to have a calming influence on people,” she said, referencing the 211 notification service the city could use in the case of a natural disaster.

Fletcher responded to a similar question, but more about a financial disaster. When asked which services he might cut in this case, he avoided answering in specifics, but identified some “recession-proof”

DeMaio answered a question about staffing priorities within City Hall, should an influential constituent ask for his help. He used the example of a proposed City Hall renovation – “a brand new Taj Mahal for government,” he called it – to put taxpayer interests before city leaders’. He said he led opposition to the project and “got it killed.”

Filner answered a question about whether he would chose to outsource a service in the interest of saving money. He said he would consider it. Perhaps he could outsource under-performing assets, such as golf tournaments at Torrey Pines Golf Course, he suggested.

Tune in for a second debate Sunday May 20 at 6 p.m. The debate will be televised and live streamed on our website.

The topic of pension reform brought very few surprises, but managed to turn the heat up in the debate. First candidates discussed the fiscal risks and savings of the ballot measure Prop B.

An Independent Budget Analyst’s report found that Prop B would save the city about $581 million over 30 years when adjusted for inflation. That savings would come from a five year freeze on pensionable pay.

However, transitioning most city workers from a pension system to a 401(k) style plan will first cost the city $56 million when adjusted for inflation, the report said. And if the savings from the pay freeze is not actually approved and carried out over five years, the measure’s overall projected savings of $963 million would be “reduced or not achieved” the analysis says.

Filner stepped in early in the debate to comment on the initiative, raising tensions among all the candidates.

“What we have done in Proposition B is not reform at all and does not in any way save the pension system,” Filner said. “Yes we need to reform further. But Proposition B is a fraud. It does not do that.”

His three opponents – and panelists – fired back at him, criticizing his lack of a tangible pension plan.

“Did the dog eat your homework, Bob?” asked panelist and NBC 7 political reporter Gene Cubbison, referring to Filner’s need for documentation of the savings his illusive plan would provide.

For more of Gene's coverage of this election and the issues facing voters in just over a month, visit our Decision 2012 page, and watch episodes of Gene's Politically Speaking show.

As he has in past forums and debates, Filner insisted that he does have a pension plan, which includes refinancing the $2.1 billion debt at a lower interest rate using municipal bonds and capping six-figure pensions for new hires. But his insistence did not satisfy his opponents.

“First Bob, you don't have a plan, you have talking points,” Dumanis said. “And when are you going to let the voters see what your plan is? They're entitled to know what you stand for. Second I want to say, changing pensions to 401k not only shifts the burden from the city, it also shifts the risks. And that's one of the crucial things about it.”

DeMaio had several surprising responses to panelists’ questions about growth and development. While DeMaio has stated his opposition to using recycled sewage water in the past, he said he is open to the results expected in the city’s pilot project using the recycled water.

DeMaio also said if San Diego’s population continues to grow and the city and its suburbs become overcrowded, he would focus on enhancing public transportation and establishing more affordable housing by "streamlining business processes."

Fletcher's surprising answer came during the topic of the Convention Center expansion and a new Chargers stadium. He said a new stadium "won't cost taxpayers a dime" and that it will make money, not cost money. This surprised panelist and Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis, who questioned the assertion in a Tweet later.

See how our friends and followers responded throughout the debate on our collection of responses in this article.

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