June 13 2012 10:06 AM

Between Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio, who has the better shot?

Bob Filner
Photo by David Rolland

    "People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately."

    —Oscar Wilde

    Emerging from Round One of the Jerry Sanders replace-a-thon last week, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio came out unabashed and swinging in a subtle lavender tie. His mayoral rival, Congressmember Bob Filner, meanwhile roamed Election Central in purple tie and shirt, like a violet beacon in search of the eyes of independent voters, who've adopted the symbolic blend of political red and blue as their hue of choice.

    How did these two from the far reaches of San Diego's political teeter-totter get to this point? For DeMaio, it was gobs of money and discipline—staying on message, which, in his case, meant stuffing the words "pension reform" into as many sentences as possible. For Filner, let's be frank: He cajoled and joked his way into the runoff, not bad for someone whose supposed Achilles' heel is his gruff personality.

    For the November runoff, the money will no doubt flow from both ends of the political spectrum. So, what's it going to take to attract those moderate voters? And who's more likely to embody an embraceable path to the future for San Diego?

    Spin Cycle believes a major determining factor will be personality. Both DeMaio and Filner clearly possess long memories, particularly about those whom they have perceived as disloyal. It will be an interesting test to see how these two go about mending fences and extending olive branches.

    Although it's way too early to reach any conclusions, it appears that Filner has broken from the gate first in the outreach department. He told KPBS Evening Edition host Joanne Faryon the day after the election that he'd already spoken to and would be meeting this week with third-place finisher and San Diego's poster boy of independence, Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher, to seek his endorsement.

    During the KPBS segment (to which DeMaio was also invited, but declined), Filner noted what was obvious on the primary campaign trail—that he got along famously with Fletcher while a bitter wind blew between the independent and the local GOP's golden boy, DeMaio.

    "I will tell you personally," Filner said smiling, "and I know with Mr. Fletcher, he and Mr. DeMaio did not get along, and I think his [Fletcher's] supporters felt that hostility."

    Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's also remember the dismal voter turnout for the primary, something in the neighborhood of 30 percent. In his election-night remarks, DeMaio noted that Proposition B, the pension-reform initiative he co-authored and rammed to victory, drew petition signers from across the political board, suggesting that he has a bigger pot of voters to draw on come the runoff.

    He's apparently planning to double down on that strategy with another ballot measure he's proposed for November that would limit spending of new tax revenues solely on infrastructure improvements. Called the "REPAIR" initiative (an acronym for the unwieldy "Repave and Eliminate Potholes through Accountability for Infrastructure Repairs"), the measure would give DeMaio yet another platform from which to spring into the runoff.

    Hey, it's worked so far, why not rinse and repeat, right?

    The question is, has DeMaio dug himself into a formulaic hole from which not even stacks of money and personal focus can extricate him?

    On election night, DeMaio seemed to be saying, "Hey, I'm still standing in this race. Come and join me!" His speech was devoid of humility, contrary to Filner's first remark to Faryon about making the runoff. ("It's humbling to be there," he said.) DeMaio's speech was mostly bluster and chest-thumping, with the standard automotive metaphors thrown in.

    "San Diego is like a car that has been spinning its wheels and stuck in neutral," he proclaimed, ignoring the mechanical impossibility of doing both at once. And therein lies the challenge for De- Maio: Can he maintain the faith of his far-right backers while simultaneously preaching a convincing sermon of inclusiveness?

    At least one local political brainiac thinks it will be a struggle. Enter Tom Shephard,Fletcher's campaign strategist and master of the political chess game.

    "I'm guessing Carl will attempt to expand his messages to include issues of concern to a broader range of voters," Shepard told Spin Cycle, "but his endorsements and contributors limit his credibility on some of those issues."

    Those on Team DeMaio will certainly regard that statement as a dose of sour grapes, considering the animosity between the two camps. But what was striking was when DeMaio acknowledged on election night that "there are some San Diegans for whom I was not their first choice" (nearly 70 percent of voters, in fact), and for them, "I want to earn your support. In my administration, on this journey, we are leaving no San Diegan behind." The reaction from supporters in the room? Silence. Even DeMaio looked surprised.

    Apparently, not a crowd looking for compromise.

    Meanwhile, Shepard shared with Spin Cycle some advice for Filner, which he said that, if followed, might coax an endorsement not only from Fletcher but the sitting mayor, as well, who's no DeMaio fan to begin with.

    Shepard referred to his suggestions as "preemptive actions Bob could take that would change the dynamics of the race."

    First, on the hotel-backed financing plan for the Convention Center expansion, which Filner opposes: "Announce that although he did not support the financing scheme for Convention Center expansion, if courts rule it is permissible, he will work to facilitate an accommodation between labor and hoteliers so the region can secure economic benefits of the expansion."

    Second, on pension reform: "Although he opposed Prop. B, he will work to implement the will of voters and demonstrate he is the only candidate who can secure the five-year pensionable pay freeze without extended litigation."

    Spin Cycle reached out to Filner to get his thoughts, but he was unavailable by press time. Spin still is trying to wrap his head around the idea that Sanders would potentially endorse Filner. But then again, Sanders is considered one of those pesky moderates the candidates covet.

    Spin asked Shepard how blown away he'd be if that occurred.

    "Not a complete shock," he replied. 

    Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.


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