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City’s Political Changes Shift Some Priorities and Power Bases

No matter who wins San Diego’s mayoral runoff election in early 2014 between City Council Members David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer, it won’t change the noticeable shift in the balance of power on the council that has taken place the past five years or how it impacted the business community during 2013.

Alvarez, a Democrat, and Faulconer, a Republican, are expected to square off sometime in February; the date for the runoff election had not been set as of press time. The two emerged as finalists in a special election last month necessitated by the resignation of former Mayor Bob Filner in August following a series of allegations of sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, the City Council has shifted to favor Democrats. San Diego’s drift to the left was evidenced by votes the council took rejecting Wal-Mart big-box stores and adopting project labor agreements for city-funded projects. Local labor union groups pushed strongly for both issues.

Unions also pushed for the adoption of a plan for the Barrio Logan area to limit industrial development there (see related article on Page 8). That plan was challenged by the area’s shipbuilding industry in a referendum the council must either adopt or put on the ballot. Business interests say the limitations will result in the loss of jobs.

Although former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who served from 2005 to 2012, was a Republican, his tenure was marked by a nonpartisan management style that focused on healing the city’s ailing financial situation.

But that style clearly ended under Filner, who leveraged the city’s strong mayoral powers to push through his agenda, regardless of whose toes he stepped on, said Chris Crotty, a local political consultant.

“You can’t be a strong mayor and be a micromanager at the same time,” Crotty said.

Alvarez and Faulconer have adopted similar campaign platforms that seek more spending on San Diego’s neighborhoods, instead of focusing on its downtown. That’s because the fiscal constraints imposed under Sanders’ tenure — such as limiting library hours, closing recreational centers and neglecting the city’s deteriorating streets — have angered so many residents, Crotty said.

Faulconer, elected in 2005 and identified as a Sanders ally, captured 42 percent of the vote in November and is the clear frontrunner. Alvarez, elected in 2010, had limited name recognition but was able to overcome that with the strong financial and grass-roots support of labor groups.

Despite a Democratic majority in the city’s voter registration, if the runoff election has a similar turnout as the November vote, Crotty would expect Faulconer to win.

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