Sept. 4 2013 08:42 AM

The race for mayor needs someone with a genuine record of progressivism

David Alvarez
Photo by David Rolland

San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez took time out of his Labor Day holiday on Monday to chat with CityBeat about how seriously he's considering running for mayor. He said he'd likely make his decision by this Thursday. We hope he jumps in, because the field of potential viable candidates got dangerously small this week.

On Tuesday, county Supervisor Ron Roberts, former City Councilmember Carl DeMaio and City Council President (and acting chief city executive) Todd Gloria all announced that they won't be candidates to replace former Mayor Bob Filner in a Nov. 19 special election. That leaves former Republican Assemblymember and recent Democratic convert Nathan Fletcher as the only big-name candidate to announce a run. City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, a Republican and private-sector sycophant, is expected to announce his candidacy on Wednesday morning.

Alvarez, the council's District 8 representative and an emerging favorite among San Diego's liberals, said he would "absolutely" not run if former City Councilmember Donna Frye were to change her mind and decide to run; he also would have stepped aside for Gloria.

"Of all the options that I'm hearing, in terms of candidates for mayor, [there's] nobody that I'm really excited about," Alvarez told us, "nobody that I think really represents the interests of the neighborhoods I represent."

Alvarez has been talking to many of his supporters, and one thing he's hearing is that folks on the left don't know what to make of Fletcher. And neither does he. "I'm glad that he's seeing that some of the things that he believed in the past were wrong," Alvarez says, "but he's also made some very serious statements about how he feels about certain things about wanting to outsource more jobs and reduce pensions and eliminate welfare."

Alvarez says he's not yet getting a clear agenda from Fletcher; he needs more specifics. "I just can't go there yet," he says. "If the progressive community was going to come around to Nathan Fletcher, Nathan needs to know that we need to hear some substance to what he believes and how he's going to be successful in moving a progressive agenda forward. You can't play it safe. If you want us to get behind you, we've got to know exactly what we're getting."

And what's Alvarez's agenda? 

Alvarez wants to bring different people into the political process and get them on city boards and commissions, for example. And his focus is on neighborhoods that suffer from high unemployment and relatively little private investment. He'd like the city to make effective use of what's known as new market tax credits, a federal program aimed at spurring private investment in low-income communities, and Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas, another federal program that encourages the use of Community Development Block Grant funding in distressed neighborhoods. He also wants the city to find creative ways to leverage revenues to create new neighborhood parks.

In short, Alvarez's agenda is essentially one we thought we were getting when we elected Filner.

As for Fletcher, his opponents say he's the worst kind of opportunist, abandoning his core principles for political expediency. He says he became disillusioned with the Republican Party and that his views have moderated. We suspect it's a little of both. We think he'd be a centrist who'd work well with all sides of the political spectrum but who'd also too often kowtow to the city's established powerbrokers. Maybe we're wrong, and we like him personally, but Fletcher doesn't have a record that would help us feel otherwise.

We want someone with a record of progressivism in the race. Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre has said he'll run, and former state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña has hinted that she might run, and although their progressive credentials are strong, San Diego doesn't need any more loose cannons rolling around on the decks. Alvarez, by contrast, is thoughtful, refreshingly levelheaded, and seemingly able to work and play well with others, and his focus has always been on helping disadvantaged communities and strengthening the middle class.

Alvarez understands that he has relatively low name recognition, and at this point in his career, mayor might be a long shot, but even if it's just to have a rational liberal voice in the debate, we'd like to see him run.

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