With the clarity of hindsight, it is easy to see David Alvarez lost the election for mayor a month ago, if not earlier.

In November, when he managed to best Nathan Fletcher for second place in the primary, Alvarez entered the runoff with a decided disadvantage. His allies embraced the underdog feeling.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoBut the runoff was coming just three months later. And the campaign mostly took December off. Yes, obviously work was being done. Organization-building, neighborhood-walking (in total, our house was visited eight times) and other efforts were under way.

For the most part, however, the campaigns hibernated through the holidays. There was no advertising, no press conferences, no big announcements.


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And so, Alvarez’s disadvantage carried over into January. Unfortunately for him, in early January, ballots started arriving in voters’ mailboxes.

When the mail-in votes were counted and the totals published at 8 p.m. Tuesday night, Faulconer had a 13-point lead. Alvarez may have lost the election before he even really started running in it.

Even if he had a chance, though, when he finally ramped up his campaign, he took a curious turn.

Instead of pivoting to the center and working to win over voters who had chosen Fletcher, Alvarez went to the left. His campaign made a decision that this was a Democratic town. The win would come not from poaching other voters. It would come by getting Democrats to the polls.

It was not Alvarez who had a press conference with former Fletcher supporters, it was the Republican, Kevin Faulconer. It wasn’t Alvarez who touted support from people in the other party, it was Faulconer.

The Alvarez campaign held forth on issues like bicycle infrastructure, assault weapons bans, public transit, gender equality and solar power.

For people who prioritize these issues, this was wonderful. But it’s hard to imagine Alvarez hadn’t already won them over. His only outreach to the business community was a notice that he had formed a business advisory group.

In fact, Alvarez supporters’ main argument against Faulconer was that Faulconer did not support major progressive priorities, like a substantial increase to the minimum wage. Again, that’s an attack that resonates with progressives.

Perhaps not so much with more moderate voters.

Unions financed most of these attacks, dumping more than $4 million into the race.

That investment now looks like a colossal miscalculation, unless it has a long-term benefit in capacity-building and a return that I can’t understand right now.

Mickey Kasparian, the leader of the largest union in San Diego, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the president of the board of the Labor Council, did not have any regrets.

“I wouldn’t do anything different,” Kasparian told NBC 7 San Diego late Tuesday.

While Alvarez went left, Faulconer did everything he could to highlight how he was much more than just a Republican. He touted endorsements from Democrats. His supporters held signs that said “Democrats for Faulconer.”

Compare the official Alvarez ballot statement mailed to voters with Faulconer’s. The Republican stressed over and over how nonpartisan he was. Alvarez stressed how progressive he was.

On the surface, it seemed to be working. Polls showed the race tightening. The Democrats mobilized in a way I have never seen. Resources were brought in. Democratic stars from across the country came to rally volunteers. Even the president signed off on an endorsement message.

But again, Alvarez likely had already lost.

Despite their disappointment today, it’s not all bad for Democrats in San Diego. Quite the opposite. This is a city with a decided Democratic advantage. Faulconer won, in part, by showing how acceptable he was to Democrats. He rejects many of the most divisive social stances around which the national Republican Party sometimes rallies.

Faulconer won’t be able to govern with a conservative reform agenda. Faulconer will mostly serve as a bulwark, either stopping progressive policies emerging from a City Council with a super-majority of Democrats that might last past this year or making them more palatable to the business coalition that loves him.

Faulconer will do what he does best: get along with people. The city will cruise like it did through the Sanders era.

Progressives will not get the wish list interim mayor Todd Gloria laid out recently. But Gloria and Faulconer, who like each other fine, will now negotiate for a few years.

And that’s apparently just fine with voters.

    This article relates to: David Alvarez, Government, Kevin Faulconer, News, Politics, Share, Special Mayoral Election 2014

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    21 comments
    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    You have to remember that old joke. "How do you tell if a politico is lying?"  The answer of course is "the politico is lying if words are coming out of his or her mouth."


    Furthermore, a politico is never wrong. He can rationalize any behavior or point of view.  If the idea is espoused by his party, it is right. If the idea is proposed by another party, it is wrong. 


    Personally I don't know why anyone ever bothers to interview any politician; tis a waste of time because they won't say anything meaningful.

    Olin Hyde
    Olin Hyde subscribermember

    As an independent voter, I equate Republicans with social-conservatism, anti-science and the unabashed idolatry of capitalist ideology. Democrats are bastions of the greatest aspirations of the last century where labor unions represented new ideas and social engineering seemed achievable. Both parties share the fantastic hubris of combining hypocrisy coupled with over-reaching. 

    Worst of all: Both parties suffer from a fatal shortage of new ideas. 

    Let's face it, neither Alvarez or Faulconer are visionaries. Neither has any executive experience. Both are wholly unqualified to lead transformation of a broken city into a functional government. 

    Rather, Faulconer was simply the least risky choice. More importantly, San Diego recognized what Boss Kasparian gleefully ignored:  Unions have failed to help any organization gain a competitive advantage during the past three decades. To the contrary, the recent history of unions is a litany of failure. A union contract serves as a death sentence for workers as companies are forced to seek more flexibility and lower costs by outsourcing and offshoring. Thus, we live in what is so aptly called a "flat world" defined by multicultural, multinational thinking. 

    San Diego, more than almost any other city in the USA, is international. Our strategic advantage is our proximity to low-cost, high-quality Mexican manufacturing. Rather than seizing upon this unique geographical advantage, we suffered through a mayoral campaign where neither candidate grasped the concept of positioning San Diego as the American version of Hong Kong: the wealthy boundary between two divergent yet mutually beneficial societies. Possibly their lack of vision stems from spending their careers mired in small government bureaucracies.

    Who cares... the election is over. At least now we have a new mayor that is not overtly hostile to the very people who create non-minimum wage jobs. 

    Like many high-tech entrepreneurs, I supported Nathan Fletcher. Yet I see the failure of my choice: San Diego is not ready for Nathan. 

    Possibly Faulconer is the necessary bridge for us transcend from a broken, near-bankrupt city without a vision, to a city that recognizes our own blindness. 

    Let's see if Mr. Faulconer will build bridges into the startup communities that now thrive along our Mexican border, downtown and in various pockets around the city.

    Mr. Mayor: We want to help.


    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Olin Hyde I agree with a lot of what you say; two exceptions would be branding Republicans as “anti-science”, as though Democrats are somehow “pro science”, and San Diego as Hong Kong is a bit of a stretch.  

    I HOPE San Dego isn’t ready for Fletcher.  Why anyone would support him is a mystery to me; he revealed himself quite nicely as a political opportunist by starting out engineering an open ended “redevelopment” provision in the legislature, to turning “independent” after failing to get the Republican nod for mayor against Filner, to “coming out” as a Democrat when he needed money to take another shot at mayor.  What’s his next move, libertarian?

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Olin Hyde  

    Government unions have done real well and that is part of the problem.

    Agree with you on the candidates though.

    Neither is a visionary and neither had executive experience.

    Of course that part is up to their handlers

    Olin Hyde
    Olin Hyde subscribermember

    @Jim Jones @Bill Bradshaw The anti-science rhetoric is decidedly louder among Republicans. We hear it in almost every "wedge issue" debate: climate change, environmental protection, evolutionary studies, gay rights, etc. Scientific American even went far off its editorial path to warn us of the impact of anti-science on democracy.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/antiscience-beliefs-jeopardize-us-democracy/ 

    Yes, there are many smart pro-science Republicans and many dumb-as-door knob Democrats. But consider Krugman's observation regarding Huntsman vs. Perry in 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/opinion/republicans-against-science.html?_r=0

    SInce then it has only gotten worse for Republicans. The tone of anti-science rhetoric among leading Republicans is so deafening that they have become unelectable because they play into the narrative so well -- like this riff from left-leaning Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/most-anti-science-lawmakers-running-office

    Unfortunately, debating the merits and detriments of Fletcher is now a waste of time. However, having been to events for all three of our recent mayoral candidates, Fletcher stood apart: His supporters were overwhelmingly moderate and he carried vast vast support among technology entrepreneurs (who often lean libertarian). 

    So yes, we got the best mayor of the choices offered. Yet, we can all reasonably expect nothing great to happen in San Diego until we transcend the partisan BS that dominates our debates. The best first step would be to get Republicans like @CarolDeMaio elected. At least he breaks the stereotype of the old, white anti-science bigot that so aptly describes many Republicans (from the deep South).  

    Olin Hyde
    Olin Hyde subscribermember

    @Jim Jones  Calling Scientific American and NY Times "extreme left" only reinforces your reputation as an extremist. 

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    Ignore JJ--you have read it all already.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Olin Hyde @Jim JonesWhat about your citations of Mother Jones and Paul Krugman?  I subscribed to Mother Jones when a buddy of my son's was editor a long time ago, but gave up after a couple of years. just too far out for me.  I know Krugman is a Nobel "laureate", but so was Yasser Arafat.  Krugman is about as objective as Ted Cruz.

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    Mr Kasparian failed to deliver.  The union bosses do not like failure.

    Joe Jones
    Joe Jones subscriber

    For all the Republicans gloating right now and hoping this victory presages long-term success, here's the very, very, very best news, courtesy of Mickey Kasparian:


    "I wouldn't do anything different."

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @Joe Jones --Mickey "the bat" needs to worry more about his slowly dwindling number of grocery workers.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    I think most wanted stability and balance.

    Guess we will see if we get that.

    Ken Brucker
    Ken Brucker subscriber

    Not that this article adheres to the shibboleth(s), but it's disappointing how raising the minimum wage to an amount a person can live on or supporting organized labor is equated with extremism, Bolshevism or some other crimson red terror.

    James Weber
    James Weber subscriber

    @Ken Brucker  Teenagers flipping burgers do not need a "living wage".  Minimum wage jobs are stepping stones, not a career.

    Helen Weals
    Helen Weals subscriber

    I have not seen a teenager flipping burgers in years. Most fast food restaurant workers are in their 30s and 40s.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Ken Brucker   I now know the definition of a “progressive”.  It’s a person who, not content with continually raising taxes to enable continual growth of government, wants to mandate how other people spend their money, e.g., by specifying a minimum permissible wage a business owner must pay rather than, e,g, enabling him to expand his business.

    As for supporting organized labor, I’m all for it.....in the private sector.  In the public sector, it’s a guaranteed loser.  Franklin D Roosevelt, our second “progressive” leader (after Woodrow Wilson) understood this.  Unfortunately John Kennedy didn’t, nor did Jerry Brown; both signed legislation allowing collective bargaining  by public employees.

    Scott Walker for President 2016!

    Ken Brucker
    Ken Brucker subscriber

    Honestly, I have no idea what you have touched Ken, nor do I really want to know.


    By replying TWICE, you could have fooled me,  @Jim Jones

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Bill Bradshaw @Ken Brucker  

    "As for supporting organized labor, I’m all for it.....in the private sector.  In the public sector, it’s a guaranteed loser."

    The root of the problem.