Kevin Faulconer's stint as San Diego mayor was filled with challenges -- from a Hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless to a failed convention center expansion to, let's not forget, the loss of the Chargers. But as his six-year tenure comes to a close Thursday, the Republican leader said he was proud of what has come from it.
"As I look back … I’m proud of the work we’ve done on homelessness -- moving that forward, helping people -- what we’ve been doing on infrastructure, street repair," Faulconer said on NBC 7's Politically Speaking. "It’s been nonstop, but I'll tell you, it’s been a real honor and privilege to serve as mayor of this great city."
The termed-out Republican was elected mayor in February 2014, beating out Democratic candidate David Alverez in a special election to fill the void left by then-mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in August 2013 after sexual harassment allegations. Filner later pleaded guilty to charges of false imprisonment and battery.
Previously, Faulconer served on the San Diego City Council from 2005-13.
Faulconer's last day as mayor may not be the last San Diego sees of him. According to his spokesman, Faulconer is "strongly considering" entering the 2022 race to be California's next governor, which could explain Faulconer's outspokenness against current Gov. Gavin Newsom and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, Faulconer's replacement, Todd Gloria, will be sworn in as San Diego's 37th mayor, the first person of color and the first openly gay mayor in the city's history. Gloria's election ends a streak of Republican mayors (other than Filner's short stint), with San Diego's City Council shifting to an even bigger Democratic majority.
No doubt Gloria and the new city council will also face their own set of challenges -- the largest budget deficit in city history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic; an affordable housing crisis; and tension over police reform and racial equality, to name just a few. But Faulconer has set the stage during his tenure on issues like homelessness, infrastructure and climate change.
"I think when I look back, really, I came in at a very difficult time in our city, and to [restore] trust in government and pride in our city and getting us back on track, a lot of successes were the team, not only my office but working with my collogues on the city council," Faulconer said. "You know, I really tried to set the tone as mayor. It’s not if you’re Republican or Democrat, but: What is the right thing that we should be doing for San Diego?"
Critics like attorney Cory Briggs, though, don't see it that way, calling the Mayor an "unmitigated disaster."
"Think about the water department, all the property deals gone bad (not just 101 Ash), the hepatitis deaths, and the spike in homelessness," Briggs said. "The city is in substantially worse financial shape than when he arrived, and that’d be true even if COVID-19 had never come."
Faulconer, the city and the county faced heavy criticism when an outbreak of Hepatitis A swept through San Diego's homeless population in 2017, killing 20 and infecting hundreds. The city's slow response to the emergency garnered national attention and forced leaders to address the years they spent neglecting a growing homeless population.
Alvarez, his one-time mayoral opponent and later city council colleague, said Faulconer's lack of leadership on the crisis would be remembered for years to come.
Years later, in anticipation of the coronavirus pandemic's effect on the vulnerable population, Faulconer and the city jumped into action instead of waiting for the disease to spread, turning the vacant convention center turned into a one-stop-shop homeless shelter.
"When we look at the momentum, the energy, the political will that we have collectively put behind this with one goal: How do we get people off the street, not just for a night for a week but for good?" Faulconer said. "Opening the convention center allowed us to take a look at what was working, what wasn’t in the grander homelessness system."
As a conservative leader, Faulconer has had to toe the line as the city has become more and more progressive. in 2015, Faulconer led San Diego in addressing climate change, passing an unprecedented plan to get the city to be 100% reliant on clean energy by 2035. The plan has also set a goal for the city to become at least 50% reliant on mass transit during the same timeframe.
“To have a climate action plan that will stand the test of time, for us to get where we will reduce those greenhouse gas emissions -- which we are by 25% -- we have a lot of momentum," Faulconer said.
Faulconer's time in office, however, was not just filled with successes. He failed to motivate San Diego voters to increase the city's hotel tax to pay for an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, which would have boosted the local economy; a controversial multimillion-dollar deal for a new city building was inked while he was mayor; and he was unable to negotiate a deal for a new stadium to keep the Chargers from leaving San Diego.
Of course, he was finally able to sell the Mission Valley stadium site to SDSU for $86.2 million. Briggs called it "the only good thing to happen on his watch."
Faulconer admits there were moments in his career that didn't go as expected but, overall, he reflects positively on his time in office.
"You always look back at things and say, ‘I wish I would have done something different or earlier,' " Faulconer said. "As I mentioned earlier, it’s a real ... honor to serve in this job and to surround myself with a team of professionals who want the best for this city."