Congressmember Bob Filner
By Esther Rubio-Sheffrey | Downtown News
With the primary election set for June 5, Congressmember Bob Filner is the sole Democrat in the race to be San Diego’s next mayor. He is fond of saying his political career began in prison because he was one of many Freedom Riders arrested during the civil rights movement for attempting to register, educate and inform African-American voters.
Police took Filner, then 18 years old, into custody, which led to two months in the Mississippi State Penitentiary. While incarcerated, several Freedom Riders were nearly beaten to death and Filner said he feared for his life but never regretted his actions, nor has he stopped pursing an end to racism. “Racism still exists today in jobs, housing and education, and I continue to be involved in many efforts to eradicate [it],” he said.
Education is one of Filner’s biggest issues, having been a teacher at San Diego State University for 20 years before his election to the San Diego School Board in 1979. You might even call education his soft spot; it is a cause for which he strongly advocates.
“My children and grandchildren have all been enrolled in, and continue to attend, San Diego’s public school system,” Filner said. He also said he recognizes our school system is in trouble but, if elected mayor, he would not mediate or get involved in negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school board.
“I would work to make our city help the school district, especially before and after school hours,” Filner said, “and I would be a part of the political coalition to ensure more adequate state funding.” He said he also feels “rigorously accountable charter schools” can increase a family’s educational choice in a positive way.
Regarding higher education, Filner said our high schools and community colleges can lead the way on a national level by taking full advantage of the region’s bi-national geographic position, and added he would “work with the higher education system to provide tuition in exchange for local public service.”
Of the nearly two decades he has spent in Congress, Filner said he is proud of carrying the 21st century GI Bill to provide college and housing benefits to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He also said he is proud of its significance, and uses it as an example of the many ways in which he knows how to lead and build a consensus.
A highly debated component of the mayoral campaign is the city’s pension reform, most heavily advocated by fellow candidate, Councilmember Carl DeMaio. While all other major mayoral candidates support June’s ballot initiative, Proposition B, Filner said he does not feel it is the right path to take.
“It puts employees who do not have social security on a plan subject to stock market uncertainty, and it does not save a nickel for our budget,” Filner said, listing the top three proposals that are part of his plan to fix the pension crisis: “We cannot have any more six figure pensions; we need to refinance the debt to free up hundreds of millions of dollars; and we need work with employees on a five-year labor agreement.”
Concerning job growth, Filner said he feels renewable energy companies have the ability to create more jobs, pointing to local companies like Sullivan Solar and CleanTech as examples. “New companies will rise to meet demand if City Hall streamlines the permitting process, lowers fees and opens contracting opportunities to include more minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses,” Filner said. As mayor, he would also “mandate solar-powering of public buildings and establish more rigorous guidelines on water reuse,” he said.
Through his eyes, Filner said he embodies Democratic values but has the ability to represent Independent and Republican voters because fighting for the middle class has defined his career and he is not beholden to any special interest. “San Diego has tremendous potential,” he said, “and through experience, leadership and vision, we can create jobs, fix the infrastructure and have the livable city we deserve.”
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis
By Anthony King | Downtown News
San Diego District Attorney and 2012 mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis said she thinks being the sole woman running for mayor gives her an edge heading into the June 5 primary election. “I think it’s really an advantage because I think our approaches [as women] often are different,” she said.
“As a woman, by nature I am collaborative, I bring people together [and] I can multi-task,” she said. “I think we deescalate things more.” Dumanis did say functioning as mayor did not always rely on gender, and that for her, it is about representation, too.
Representing women professionally began at Dumanis’s first job as a junior clerk typist in the San Diego County district attorney’s office. “I was working in the office [when I] passed the bar, but I had to work during the day volunteering as a lawyer and then doing my regular job at night before I got hired as a lawyer,” she said.
Dumanis said she is aware the last elected female mayor, Susan Golding, served over 10 years ago, and said San Diego has not seen a woman “in the mayor’s seat” in a long time. At first, Dumanis said people questioned whether she was tough enough, as a woman, to be district attorney. However, she said she does not get that kind of stereotyping any longer.
Dumanis said when she initially elected district attorney, she was the first woman “at the table with all the chiefs,” and there were fears associated with her being openly gay. “I’m in an area that’s traditionally male, so I’ve broken a lot of glass ceilings and I’ve overcome… a lot of prejudice as well.”
Dumanis received her law degree in downtown San Diego at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 1976, and served 12 years as deputy district attorney. In 1994, after working as Superior Court referee, Dumanis was elected judge of the municipal court and served until elected as San Diego Superior Court Judge in 1998. She was elected to her current position as district attorney in 2003.
Using her position as district attorney, Dumanis focuses her campaign on initiatives she said she would implement if elected mayor. “Number one, we’ve got to get our fiscal house in order,” she said. “Number two, we’ve got to reorganize the city, streamline the process and make it business friendly. When we do that, we will bring jobs here… particularly small business because that’s who employs most of the people in San Diego,” she said.
“We have to have a mindset [and] a change of culture that makes it easy for people that are starting a business to start it, and [for] people that have a business to maintain it or expand it,” Dumanis said. She also said the region was full of “entrepreneurial spirit” and was a hub for technology and science, but lacked the finances available to support the industry.
“Venture capital is not as readily available in San Diego,” she said, “so as mayor I’m going to have to go out and talk to venture capitalists to [tell them] why they should invest in San Diego and stay in San Diego.”
Also of concern for the District Attorney is making city offices more culturally and ethnically diverse, and Dumanis said the relationship between San Diego and Tijuana is critical in making this happen. “Diversity has always been something that’s been a part of me and about everything I have done,” she said.
“One of the critical components is having a U.S.-Mexico commerce special assistant; somebody that is trained in Mexican law and [is] bilingual to work on those issues because we are all one region,” she said. These issues, Dumanis said, include making importing and exporting easier both for professionals and private citizens. “It’s good for commerce, but we are so much a part of each other’s fabric that we need to work together,” she said.
“We have to make sure that government reflects the people that we serve,” Dumanis said, adding, “It has to be reflected in the city government but it also has to be reflected in the attitude of the leader of this city. That is a critical component, and it’s part of the richness of San Diego.”
Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher
By Esther Rubio-Sheffrey
with Anthony King | Downtown News
When Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher announced March 28 he was leaving the Republican Party to run for mayor as an Independent, many felt this was the right decision for the Marine-turned politician. Fletcher’s move sparked many to leave the traditional political parties, including the formation of “Movement to the Middle,” a coalition of local business leaders re-registering as Independents to “end partisan gridlock.”
“What Nathan [Fletcher] did was an incredibly bold move that gave voice to what so many of us were already feeling,” said Donovan’s Steakhouse President and CEO Dan Shea in a press release. Shea is a founding member of Movement to the Middle. “You can sit around complaining, or you can stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to accept this anymore,’” he said.
The Assemblymember’s move also makes the primary election on June 5 important, as voters in San Diego will be deciding on which candidates move to the November general election. The mayor’s office is non-partisan, and the top two candidates in June – regardless of political affiliation – will appear on the November ballot.
Fletcher was elected to the Assembly in 2008 after 10 years of active and reserve duty with the U.S. Marine Corps. In his role in the Assembly, Fletcher oversaw several pieces of legislation into law, including bills for veterans, pension reform, jobs, the environment and health care. One piece of legislation, Chelsea’s Law, is a bill Fletcher said makes him most proud.
“We partnered with an amazing family, a motivated community and we led a broad delegation that passed one of the most sweeping pieces of public safety legislation in California history,” Fletcher said of the bill.
“It is certainly difficult in Sacramento,” Fletcher said, “but if you your cause is just and if your approach is honest, nothing is impossible.”
Outside of his work in the Assembly, Fletcher said his work in the Marine Corps helped shape his drive for politics, including his experience as a leader.
Esther Rubio-Sheffrey: Was there something about your U.S. Marine Corps service that inspired you to pursue a career in politics? If the inspiration came from somewhere else, please share.
Nathan Fletcher: My decade in the Marine Corps is something I will always treasure. I worked in counter-intelligence, in counter-terrorism [and] as a team leader on the front lines of the global war on terror.
I was responsible for the lives of my men. We made life-and-death decisions, at times under direct enemy fire. Those experiences lend perspective to the rest of your life. They give you strength to draw from in times of crisis and confidence to make decisions when there’s no margin for error.
Combat teaches you a lot: about leadership, about teamwork [and] about life, Lessons you can’t learn anywhere else [and] ones that I apply on a daily basis and shape who I am.
After I finished with the Marine Corps I still wanted to tackle tough problems and make a difference. I had a desire to work to improve people’s lives [and] fight to protect the American dream in California…. That took me to the California legislature.
ER: Many Marines say there is no such thing as an ex-Marine, would you agree? If so, which specific Marine Corps values and traits continue to influence your daily life, both personally and as a politician?
NF: You are never an ex-Marine, only no longer on active duty. I learned many lessons in the Marine Corps. I learned how to lead a team, how to make life-or-death decisions and a great appreciation for those who have served.
Councilmember Carl DeMaio
By Margie M. Palmer | Downtown News
Councilmember Carl DeMaio is one of two Republican candidates vying to become San Diego’s next mayor. During the June 5 primary election, he will square off against three other major candidates: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Republican; Congressmember Bob Filner, Democrat; and Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, Independent. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.
Margie Palmer: We’d first like to congratulate you on your endorsement by the Republican Party of San Diego County. At the same time, you’re facing three other big-name mayoral hopefuls come June. What do you feel most differentiates your campaign from the others?
Carl DeMaio: I don’t see this as a race against any particular individual. I’m running against downtown and government insiders that have taken over city government and gotten sweetheart deals. I’m running against a system that has failed taxpayers. I am the only candidate that has outlined plans on how to reform local government in a way that will benefit local taxpayers and I’m the only one who has put them into action. This is why I left the campaign to qualify the CPR [Comprehensive Pension Reform] ballot measure.
MP: It wasn’t that long ago that union leaders filed two separate lawsuits in an attempt to keep CPR off the June ballot. Were you surprised at that course of action?
CD: Not at all. I was surprised they used such a desperate tactic to try and deprive reform. Due diligence had been done and the ballot measure had been reviewed by multiple sets of lawyers. We did our homework ahead of time and the law is very clear. I think this is just a pattern of behavior you will continue to see and the next mayor has to be completely committed to vigorously implement CPR once it’s passed.
MP: News outlets were quick to pick up the story about the 80 percent increase in $100,000-plus pensions in the past two years. What has caused this percentage to rise so quickly?
CD: It’s all because of pension spiking. City employees are good at using the system and add and pad all sorts of specialty pay, add on pay promotions and bonus pay to their highest compensation before they retire. The calculations at which pensions are paid out are based on a much higher level of compensation than their base pay. This is specifically addressed in the ballot measure and it ends this type of spiking. Pensions will only be based on base salaries and there will be a diligent capping on pensionable pay.
MP: Do you have projections at what the number of people receiving $100,000-plus pensions might look like in five years?
CD: It’s going to be a heck of a lot smaller. Implemented payouts will drop pretty significantly because we will be constraining high pensionable pay amounts. Each passing year the impact of CPR will become more and more pronounced as pensionable pay amounts are more today. The plans of current retirees can’t be changed. Once a person is retired their pension is set in stone. This is why we need to move quickly. Each passing day more people retire and those payouts cannot be changed under current law. That’s not to say we won’t pursue reforms. CPR will affect current employees and new employees on an ongoing basis.
MP: Some people were astonished to learn the top pensioner takes home more than $300,000 annually. Has your office received calls or e-mails to this issue? How are the labor unions responding to this being highlighted?
CD: There is even one librarian that is taking home $234,000. The unions are saying that these people were management employees; that many are rank and file and that the average pensioner receives far less than that. This is a cherry picked comparison when compared to what they’re earning compared to their last salary. The average city employee who retires at age 67 receives 129 percent of their highest salary for life. It’s indefensible and unsustainable and the unions are using all the smoke and mirrors arguments they can to support the continuance of the current system. All of their arguments in favor are easily refuted based on the actual payout reports. Each year when you confront them with the hard dollars they run away and try to peddle out misinformation. The bottom line is that this is not a sustainable system and no amount of shell games or spin will change that.
MP: Are you concerned a change to the system will impact the ability to hire and recruit city employees?
CD: I’m a businessman. I recognize the importance of offering attractive salaries and benefits to not only recruit, but to retain quality employees. I’m not suggesting we cut arbitrarily. I’m suggesting we make sure that salaries and benefits are no better or worse than they are in the private sector. I believe CPR accomplishes that. I think that current city employees are not happy about reforming the current pension system because their payouts will be lower, but there is benefit to solving this problem now and avoiding the city having to file for bankruptcy. Right now, the city is being held hostage and our goal is to show a fair and equitable reform.
MP: If CPR does not pass, what impacts would that have to the city’s financial status in both the short and long term?
CD: First and foremost it has to pass. It’s more important to me that I’m successful in fixing and reforming the pension system than becoming mayor, although the two are linked hand in hand. If I’m elected, I can hit this from the ground running and I am committed to fully implementing pension reform. I am very pleased to see the level of support we’re seeing in the polls. People from all party backgrounds are stepping forward to help with us in campaigning for CPR.