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Our Tuesday night mayoral debate was at once rowdy, wonky and no-holds barred.
Voice of San Diego CEO Scott Lewis questioned candidates Mike Aguirre, David Alvarez, Kevin Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher on many city issues.
While you debate who won the debate, we decided to give out some other awards and break down the night’s more revealing moments.
It seemed a simple enough question. Faulconer recently released a roadmap he dubbed his Neighborhood Fairness Plan, which referred to “communities that have been neglected too long,” and Lewis wanted to know specifically what neighborhoods he meant.
Faulconer avoided a straight answer.
“We’re talking about many, many communities, Scott,” Faulconer said. “In every council district, communities have been neglected because of the bad decisions of the City Council and previous mayors have made not to invest in our infrastructure.”
“You don’t think one neighborhood has been neglected over another? That’s what was implied,” Lewis pressed.
Faulconer struggled to answer but finally gave this response: “Neighborhoods like in Barrio Logan, if you look at neighborhoods in Clairemont, if you look at neighborhoods throughout the city.”
Faulconer’s attempt to avoid singling out specific communities drew some laughs, and inspired at least one person in the audience to call out: “Where?!?”
In recent years, the City Council has repeatedly undone key votes after residents supported referendums. It’s happened with a 2011 medical marijuana ordinance and shipbuilders are trying to force the same fate on the recently approved Barrio Logan community plan.
Fletcher suggested the city might want to make it more difficult to get referendums on the ballot to ensure fewer city measures fall prey to them.
That inspired Aguirre to school Fletcher, a newly minted Democrat, on where the party generally stands on that concept.
“As a Democrat, you do not come out in favor of doing away with direct-democracy rights,” he said.
After Aguirre gave some advice, Fletcher wanted to make sure everyone knew he was familiar with the direct democracy and one of its key champions.
“The author of direct democracy in California was Hiram Johnson, who was a Republican,” Fletcher said.
Professor Aguirre was quick to point out that the former California governor wasn’t just any Republican.
“(He was) a Republican who supported FDR,” Aguirre said.
Early in the debate, Lewis asked Faulconer about this inewsource tweet:
“Right now Faulconer is all about scrubbing off the Republican label” — new story on candidate’s Run Down the Middle http://t.co/JUfbVdeIyI
— inewsource (@inewsource) November 5, 2013
The investigative news outlet had reported on an effort by Faulconer’s handlers to emphasize his moderate and more liberal positions rather than his Republican bona fides.
So, Lewis asked, is he trying to escape the GOP label? Fletcher interjected.
“I can help you with that,” Fletcher said, poking fun at his own political transformation from Republican to Democrat.
Faulconer had clearly prepped for this question.
“I won’t be changing my party once or twice or three times,” he said, inspiring laughter and cheers from the crowd. “You know, Scott, it’s about putting San Diegans first, not about party labels. If you try to do what the party tells you to do, you’re not gonna go very far.”
Fletcher seems to have the same fix for nearly all the city’s major policy debates – be it attracting good-paying jobs, hashing out where density makes sense, expanding transit options or handling the city’s ambulance contract: a real conversation.
Fletcher urged a “real conversation” on all these topics.
Alvarez had an eye-opening response when Lewis asked about the candidates’ opinions on the latitude police should have to pull over or stop residents they find suspicious, particularly residents of color.
When it was Alvarez’s turn to address the question, he said he felt he’d been unfairly stopped before but didn’t want to elaborate.
Then his answer got more revealing. He hinted at a lawsuit against the city related to racial profiling and seemed to say that longtime, popular Police Chief Bill Lansdowne hasn’t provided strong leadership on the issue.
“I can tell you that (racial profiling has) happened relatively recently in our city and we’re dealing with that, we have some effects of that,” Alvarez said. “I can’t share more than that because some of it’s closed session (City Council) discussions but we need to make sure we have a police chief who makes sure that we have a really direct policy on what happens when you stop people and you’ve gotta be really cognizant that this could be an issue, could become an issue, especially as we’re losing senior police officers.”