Jan. 8 2014 09:37 AM

Is the Faulconer camp lifting from the Alvarez playbook?

Tony Young (left) and photographer Mike Norris mug with Kevin Faulconer (right).
Photo by Matt Awbrey

"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."

—Yogi Berra

The fresh air of a new year. The achy goodness of Chargers playoff fever. Kevin Faulconer courting the black vote.

Say whaa?, you say? Yes, the Chargers are in the playoffs. Oh, not that?

Yeah, the weather here's been great. What, polarvortex sufferers? Not that either? Oh! Yeah, Councilmember Straightlace McWhitebread thinks he has a shot at attracting some voters from areas south of Interstate 8, where Democratic challenger and fellow Councilmember David Alvarez dominated in the November mayoral primary.

Faulconer on Monday rolled out an endorsement-announcement rerun—the conservative-led Latino American Political Action Committee backed him in the primary—but it was where the announcement occurred that was interesting.

The Republican council member last week opened a campaign office on Logan Avenue in Lincoln Park in an apparent effort to demonstrate his focus on San Diego neighborhoods not named Downtown, "particularly on neighborhoods that have been underserved by this city for far too long," he told KUSI. "I'm going to change that."

Only time—and a favorable outcome—will tell if Faulconer is selling a pipe dream for a few votes here and there in District 4 or if his neighborhood pitch is the real McCoy. (How about that new Chargers coach, eh?) 

Sorry, lost focus for a second there. 

It's clear that Faulconer has found some willing ears among some of the old-guard black voices. In an editorial published Friday, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint publisher John Warren regaled his readers with a tale about a recent meeting between the candidates and "a number of African American pastors."

After making it clear that the pastors were not representing their churches, Warren sounded the warning buzzer. "While they have not made an endorsement, they expressed concern over the difference in the attitudes of candidate Alvarez and candidate Faulconer toward their concerns," Warren wrote.

Then, with no further details, Warren added: "According to them, Alvarez appeared aloof and at times condescending while Faulconer conveyed a sincere interest in the matters discussed and expressed a desire to establish and continue regular meetings with the ministers as an important part of the community."

Bishop George D. McKinney of St. Stephen's Cathedral Church of God In Christ attended the meeting but had a different take. "That sounds like John's opinion. That was not my opinion," McKinney told Spin Cycle. "As a matter of fact, I have endorsed Mr. Alvarez. He attended church here on Sunday, stayed all the way through to the benediction, in fact. He is a person of integrity and intelligence, a home-grown young man who attended church right down the street, who knows the pain of the marginalized in our society."

McKinney said he's assuming some pastors will support Faulconer for mayor, but he's not one of them. "Kevin is a decent man," he added, but he doubts that District 4's plight would change much under a Faulconer administration distracted by big-project backers. (New Chargers stadium, anyone? What, too soon?) 

Faulconer supporters have circulated a photograph of their candidate squatting and smiling alongside a seated, Argyle-sweatered Rev. George Walker Smith, iconic founder of the Catfish Club and a local political force of nature. Stamped across the photo in white letters appears a quote attributed to Smith: "I've always known Kevin Faulconer as a man of integrity."

In the photo, several people are holding up Faulconer-for-mayor signs behind the pair, but it's unclear if Smith is aware of that. Faulconer campaign spokesperson Matt Awbrey told Spin that the photo was snapped and quote obtained during Friday's opening of the Logan Avenue office, but he didn't refer to it as an endorsement. Smith could not be reached for comment.

It's clear that Faulconer strategists wouldn't mind some voters thinking that the photo gives the impression that Smith had endorsed Faulconer. Same goes for appearances with former City Council president Tony Young, now CEO of the local Red Cross. Young won't say if he's backing Faulconer, but he's appeared at several Faulconer events, including the Logan Avenue office opening.

So, what gives here, you ask? Well, as for the pastors, you might recall that a group of them placed their hopes of renewed political clout on the campaign shoulders of Nathan Fletcher, who arguably put the most time and effort of any candidate into that relationship, holding community events and attending church services weekly in District 4.

These are socially conservative folks not enamored with the promises of Big Labor when it comes to employment opportunities in their communities, and so it's reasonable to understand why Faulconer seeks a foothold there.

"Kevin Faulconer's campaign isn't taking any vote for granted," said Vince Vasquez, a sharpeyed elections analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research. "The polling suggests this will be a close election, and Faulconer will need to make more inroads into traditional Democratic territory to keep his electoral edge coming into Election Day."

Vasquez said that of roughly 19,000 black voters in San Diego, about 5,700 cast ballots in the November primary, suggesting potential support to be tapped. He added that it wouldn't surprise him if Alvarez seeks to increase turnout among Democratic Asian voters, as well, particularly in neighborhoods north of Interstate 8. Vasquez said Carl DeMaio and Bob Filner split the Asian vote in 2012.

The question is, what kind of impression can be made in a few weeks? This is a sprint to Feb. 11, after all. Sometimes there's no time to reinvent the wheel.

As a result, Alvarez ground forces have noticed lately that paid walkers for Faulconer's independent-expenditure committee have begun knocking on the doors of Democratic voters. With Faulconer now boasting a new inclusionary political tagline—"A mayor for all San Diegans"—similar to Alvarez's "A mayor for all of us," the new south-of-8 office, even a familiar small-business walk a couple of weeks back, it's not surprising that an Alvarez worker noted, "It seems like whatever we do, he [Faulconer] follows." 

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


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