Having been elected to public office could be a great advantage for five of the 37 "potential" candidates who have filed papers in San Diego's mayoral race.
But having fought City Hall and won also might offer someone else a boost at the polls on November 19.
"I have no baggage; I have nobody that I owe allegiance to except the residents,” said Bruce Coons, the candidate who fits that profile.
It was in long legal battle over the heart of Balboa Park that Coons generated a lot of recent name recognition for himself.
His non-profit group-- Save Our Heritage Organisation-- took the city to Superior Court, where a judge derailed a controversial $45 million makeover plan for the park’s Plaza de Panama, bankrolled by billionaire Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs.
In June, the plaza became more pedestrian-friendly after dozens of parking spaces were removed at the order of then-Mayor Bob Filner– a far cry from Jacobs’ proposed bypass bridge and pay-parking structure.
Coons, a former high-tech manufacturing executive, said his mayoral priorities would tilt toward improving the quality of life for the city’s neighborhoods and residents.
"Nobody seems to talk about that,” Coons said in an interview Monday with NBC 7. “They’re always talking about somebody else-- the visitors coming here, or the companies coming here."
In the case of Plaza de Panama, Coons noted that polls showed a vast majority of San Diegans and community planning groups rejected the more costly and expansive approach to calming traffic there.
"The citizens have always been marginalized and ignored in San Diego,” he said. “And that’s just what happens on about every issue. The Balboa Park issue is one of those. We probably had the greatest minds in San Diego together, with different solutions to the parking problems in Balboa Park. But nobody listened to us.”
Coons said his mayoral administration would pay deep respect to the wishes of grassroots constituencies-- especially the planning groups which he says officials at City Hall tend to dismiss as holding only “advisory” powers, despite the fact that members are elected by their neighbors.
"The first three things I'm going to ask and every issue and development that comes before me that's not according to plan and zoning,” Coons vowed, “is, 'What do the residents say about it? What do the community groups and planning groups say about it? And does it improve the quality of life for San Diegans?'"
Coons’ relative familiarity in civic circles as a preservation activist may get him invited to more high-profile debates and forums that otherwise would beckon to candidates besides the so-called “Big Five”: Councilmembers David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer, former Assembly Members Nathan Fletcher and Lori Saldana and former City Attorney Mike Aguirre.
"I think we need a new vision in San Diego,” Coons said. “We haven't had a vision in San Diego for more than 50 years."