With three months left in San Diego's mayoral race, the future of the city's bayfront economy has just become a key battleground.
On Monday, Councilman Carl DeMaio seized on an issue that Congressman Bob Filner has staked out.
Both candidates tout the need for a dynamic waterfront that produces 'jobs, jobs, jobs!'
But in this Republican-versus-Democrat matchup, their perspectives and approaches tend to divide along management-versus-labor lines.
"We have many San Diegans who are unemployed, and too many San Diegans who are under-employed,” said DeMaio, the Republican who represents San Diego’s 5th City Council district at a noontime Shelter Island news conference. “And that's why we need to invest in economic strategies that pay a dividend and create quality, middle-class jobs."
DeMaio announced the endorsement of the San Diego Port Tenants Association, which represents about 200 industrial and maritime businesses, hotels, restaurants and trade groups that lease space from the Unified Port District.
The association says they all generate, directly and indirectly, over $10 billion a year in commerce and support 77,000 jobs.
But critics in organized labor say all to many of those jobs are low-level, or minimum-wage occupations.
This pushback, Susie Baumann, owner of the Bali Hai restaurant that hosted DeMaio’s event: "Tipped employees make, on average, $24 an hour, and I think that's something to be very proud of. We consider ourselves absolutely the pathway to the middle class."
Added DeMaio: "I think the discussion should be less on what jobs we don’t want to have, and more on 'Hey, let's just create a diversity of jobs in San Diego paying a number of different salaries’. A more prosperous economy will allow for entry-level jobs as well as higher-paying jobs, higher value-added jobs across the board."
Filner, the Democrat who represents California’s 51st Congressional district, scoffed at what he called DeMaio’s newfound interest in port issues.
"Now that he's running for mayor, he's discovered that the port exists?” Filner asked, rhetorically, in an Monday afternoon interview. “ I want to know what he has done before to make this happen."
When it comes to freight and cargo shipping interests, Filner is tight with Longshoremen and Teamsters.
While his call to expand those operations has raised questions about his grasp of them, he said he has the support of the majority of the seven-member Port Commission, and his campaign forwarded this statement from Commissioner Lee Burdick, one of San Diego’s three representatives on the board: “Bob Filner is the only mayoral candidate who fully appreciates the Port as an important and significant economic engine for our region.”
The two would-be mayoral rivals also speak of re-energizing San Diego's troubled cruise ship industry.
Filner claims he's got a head start, working on a bipartisan effort in Congress to amend legislation that's an obstacle to that.
Of DeMaio, he said: “He's going to try to figure out issues he should've been on for the last four years. I've been working on these issues for a couple decades."