Nov. 14 2012 10:02 AM

New mayor has a great opportunity to leave a positive legacy

Bob Filner and fiancee Bronwyn Ingram
Photo by David Rolland

The obvious signal at Bob Filner's news conference last Wednesday at Trolley Barn Park in University Heights was in his choice of a backdrop. He set his podium on the grass in front of a children's playground, and the clear message was that he'll be a mayor for families and neighborhoods. He even said as much when he started speaking. The park's location was notable: on Adams Avenue, perched on a mesa that overlooks Interstate 8, the dividing line between Filner territory (the south) and Carl DeMaio country (the north).

Only slightly less obvious was the change in Filner's demeanor. He was calm, in stark contrast to the long campaign that had ended the day before, when he spared San Diego the indignity of being led by DeMaio. During the campaign, Filner was chaotic and frenetic; Wednesday's Filner was relaxed and easygoing. It was encouraging to see.

Can he keep it up? Plenty of critics will think he can't. They'll say he's 70 years old and that his ways as a high-strung, micromanaging hard-charger are set in concrete. We hope theyíre wrong.

San Diego voters were offered a clear choice, and they opted for an unapologetic liberal over an antigovernment conservative. Despite his phony move to the center after the June primary and his transparent talk of bipartisanship, DeMaio was a one-issue candidate: city-employee pensions. That issue was a winner in June, but it's likely that voters believed that Proposition B settled the matter—after all, DeMaio himself said it would. The majority of voters clearly saw no need for DeMaio to be in charge.

The result in the mayor's race—along with a decisive win for incumbent San Diego City Councilmember Sherri Lightner over pension-obsessed Ray Ellis, Scott Peters' win over incumbent Congressmember Brian Bilbray, Dave Roberts' win over Steve Danon for an open county supervisor seat and Marty Block's win over George Plescia for state Senate—was a repudiation of conservative forces such as U-T San Diego, the Lincoln Club and the Republican Party of San Diego County. 

Fueled by the landslide rejection of a sales-tax measure in 2010, Scott Sherman's outright taking of the San Diego City Council District 7 seat in June and the big Prop. B win, the city's Republicans and their backers seemed cocky in the run-up to last week's election. They appeared to expect DeMaio to be seated in the Mayor's office and a 5-4 majority on the City Council. Instead, Filner's the mayor, and we say they're lucky to have only a 5-4 Democratic council; had Mat Kostrinsky managed to force a runoff with Sherman in June, he'd likely have won last week, which would have meant six Democrats on the council. Meanwhile, the demise of the U-T won't be financial at its core; it'll be ideological.

As a matter of principle, we'd like to see the unions prevail in their challenge to Prop. B, because we believe its proponents violated at least the spirit of state labor law in sidestepping negotiations with employees. But if Filner is forced to implement it, quick agreements with the unions will rip the Republicans' go-to play from their book. The local GOP had better figure out what its issue will be once they don't have pensions to kick around anymore, lest they end up nearly irrelevant like their counterparts in Sacramento. Suburban sprawl? Public subsidies for corporate interests? Good luck with that. 

As for Filner, he's in a perfect position to leave a positive legacy at the end of his career and prove his doubters wrong. He's on the right track with his advocacy for better neighborhoods and stronger families. We love his talk of inviting new people to the table where decisions are made, but he mustn't slam the door in the faces of others; if enemies must be made, they must be made reluctantly. He must hire strong communications and policy advisors, and then he must listen to them.

He must lead like a statesman. He must be nonpartisan. He must show that he's independent. He must remember how people responded to Nathan Fletcher's campaign and learn from it.

"I'll bring bad news to people who supported me and good news to those who didn't, if need be," Filner said at Trolley Barn Park.

Yes. Good. Do that.

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