There was an interesting moment in last Friday’s mayoral debate on NBC 7 San Diego that I helped moderate.

Lori Saldaña, a former assemblywoman who left the Democratic Party and decided to give the mayor a run, looked Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the eye and told him he’d failed the city on public safety. She let him have it.

I watched, just kind of glad that the mayor was forced to make a case for his re-election. For many months there, it did not look like there would be a race at all. Saldaña, not seeing anyone running, decided to try and then Ed Harris, the longtime leader of the city’s lifeguards union, also threw his hat in.

I was glad because nobody should just stroll into a second term in the most important leadership position in the city without an examination. I liked watching democracy play out. He had to stand there and deal with Saldaña.

She said she knew of a woman, well-qualified for a dispatcher job with the city, who simply would never work for him. The dispatching crisis and slow response times has emerged as Faulconer’s most troublesome problem.

He responded with this: “Perhaps you should talk to the dispatchers themselves and the association that represents them. They didn’t endorse you. They endorsed me because, unlike yourself, I have a real plan,” he said.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

He was talking about City Hall’s largest employee union, the Municipal Employees Association. I, like thousands of others, received their mailers touting the mayor and his ability to bring the city together.

It was odd. Across town, Ray Ellis, a Republican ally of Faulconer running for the District 1 City Council seat, was hammering his opponent Barbara Bry because she had support from that same union. And yet here was the mayor, not apologizing at all that he’d earned it.

“I’m proud of it,” he said.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about the 2016 mayoral race. The 911 thing. The dispatchers. And the union’s support. Not that the support of the union was decisive. What was interesting was that neither Saldaña nor Harris had gotten it.

Everything has to be in place to unseat an incumbent mayor in San Diego. It was not.

If the mayor’s rivals couldn’t even get the city’s largest labor union to oppose him – a Republican who touted his reform to their pensions above all other accomplishments – it was never going to happen.

Faulconer now has four and a half more years to cruise without worry of political challenge. He is perhaps the most prominent Republican leader in the state of California, rivaled only by U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

But most importantly for the city, his approach to politics – the Faulconer Doctrine – has now had its most definitive validation yet.

I would sum up the Faulconer Doctrine like this: Accept political realities that you cannot change, then engage them. For instance, the city was going to pass a climate action plan. Don’t just hold your nose and let it go through; own it and embrace it. I actually think this is Faulconer’s genius: identifying exactly when he can’t beat them and so will join them.

“Even if you disagree with somebody, if you treat people with dignity and respect, you can usually achieve good results,” Faulconer said.

The Faulconer Doctrine does have some sacred cows, though: Stay away from tax increases at all costs. Even when he supported one – a measure to increase the hotel room tax for an expansion of the Convention Center – he could barely bring himself to say it. He called it, in his State of the City speech in January, “a legally defensible plan” to finance the project.

And then he dropped his own plan when the Chargers decided to stay in town a little while longer. He steadfastly opposed increasing taxes to pay for a giant investment in city infrastructure. He refused to attend meetings of the San Diego Association of Governments as they hashed out a plan to increase taxes for transit, open space and highways. He attended only to vote against what they came up with.

The final piece of the Faulconer Doctrine is to enjoy budget surpluses and do whatever you can to neutralize the complaint from underserved neighborhoods that you are letting them down. Speak Spanish. Work in southeastern San Diego and be available. Part of recognizing political realities is to accept that you, a white, Point Loma Republican, cannot let any complaint from those south of the 8 grow mighty. You are on borrowed time.

Competing for the mayor’s office is only going to get harder for Republicans unless a shift occurs.

“He practically ran as a Democrat,” said Francine Busby, the chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

She cited the Climate Action Plan and Faulconer’s opposition to the presumed Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

But the Faulconer Doctrine is flawed. It leaves leadership vacuums, like the one we see growing in East Village. The Chargers and JMI Realty and even activist attorney Cory Briggs are doing more to envision the future of this crucial urban neighborhood than Faulconer is. He’s the leader of the city. But he won’t say what he wants for East Village or for Mission Valley. He’s waiting for the political reality to become clear, so he can activate the doctrine and own the winning side.

Faulconer has a mandate and the chance to shape the city forever. But he may not take it, unless someone else makes it impossible for him not to.

    This article relates to: 2016 Elections, Kevin Faulconer, Must Reads, Politics, Politifest 2016

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    Dean Plassaras
    Dean Plassaras

    I don't think Faulconer should have anything to do w/ East Village nonsense. Why get involved? Who said that there is a critical problem there? The convadium is dead and this we know for sure.

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    Swing and a miss by the Democrat Party "machine" in San Diego.  An over 100k advantage in voters in Democrats vs Republicans--along with over 185k Decline to State voters, and the Democrat Party lays an egg.  And yes, it was a crappy turnout, but Faulconer got well over half of the votes from people who bothered to vote.  Make a better effort with a better candidate.

    Caroline McKeown
    Caroline McKeown

    This is spot-on. I was particularly flummoxed by "neutralize the complaint from underserved neighborhoods" because this is exactly what happened last year in Normal Heights. We have been waiting for over 10 years for Ward Canyon Park to be completed as planned, approved, and listed on the city's CIP list. We rallied and instead of the $10M for the completed park, instead of the $3M for the half of the park plans that include the community garden and dog park, we got a "generous gift" of $100K to build an "interim dog park" that will likely be there forever. $100K could buy a lot if we could spend it wisely, but in city terms that bought us fencing, some mulch, and a few trash cans. Throw a bone to the folks in mid city and shut them up for awhile. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Toward the end of your piece it was obvious you were disappointed in Faulconer.  Maybe you can start a move to get Bob Filner or Dick Murphy back?

    I think what's going to happen, sooner rather than later, is an attempt by the political consultants who make their money running campaigns to get Kevin to run for Governor.  We'll see then how smart he really is.   The guy has never been a rabid Republican partisan.  I don't think he'll bite, but you never know.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    He is abetted by a press who are his lapdogs.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Winning 15% of the eligible vote in the City does NOT constitute a "mandate". This wasn't a campaign by Kevin Faulconer, it was a cover-up.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Martha Sullivan I assume that by a "cover-up" you allude to the suppression of the Biased Policing report (Phase 1) that Falconer and his cohort have suppressed yet again. If you do not know; a hastily contrived new "contract" has be executed on April 6, 2016, to expand the study and to put off public release/disclosure until the coming fall. As a betting man, my wager is that we shall see it after the November elections, if at all. That shall be one year after the original due date.

    I expect that SDSU will attempt to impeach the data, since some of it is impeachable; massively so..

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Good piece scott and I think right on.  I would just quibble with "it is flawed."  I think a strong argument can be made that San Diegans have never been comfortable (I think you could go back as far back into the history as Under a Perfect Sun as you would like) with an "activist" mayor of either political persuasion. The Mayor I think correctly reads that.  

    bgetzel subscriber

    You nailed it Scott. We have not seen a single new initiative out of the Mayor's office since Faulconer took over. He leads from behind. His slogan should be (appropriately):" Faulconer, Not Making Waves".

    His opposition should have roasted him for his initial support of both the convention center expansion and a Charger stadium, but not a bond measure to improve infrastructure.

    Given Faulconer's opposition to the increase in the minimum wage, his endorsement by Municipal Employees Unnion is strange. Maybe they just wanted to ride the winning horse.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    The MEA endorsed Faulconer long before the extent of the crisis of staffing for 911 dispatch was revealed to the public by the tragic death of an infant 2 months ago. And long before there were any challengers to him. BOTH are culpable in the dysfunction that is increasingly apparent in our City Hall, and they covered for each other.

    Per the Registrar of Voters, there are APPROXIMATELY 285,000 Mail / Provisional ballots still to be counted in San Diego County. If just 1/3 of those are in the City of San Diego (which is about 41% of County population) -- that's 95k ballots still to be counted for City races. For Mayor, that's about 1/2 of those counted so far. Please stop feeding the Faulconer Myth.