Every January, the mayor of San Diego delivers a speech to a packed Balboa Theatre, Downtown, that provides an update on how things are going in city government, as well as a roadmap for the coming year. When it came time to give the State of the City address last Wednesday, there was no proper mayor in sight, so the job fell to the guy who's been squatting in the Mayor's office since Bob Filner crashed and burned last August: Todd Gloria.
Gloria had a choice: He could've delivered a sort of caretaker-type speech—mostly talking about how the budget is looking, how much street repair is in the works and where we are with the convention-center expansion and the 2015 Balboa Park centennial celebration—as he prepares to hand the keys to a real mayor after the Feb. 11 election. Or he could go big. He went big. He went progressive-big. It was beautiful.
But what does it mean? After all, he'll be sitting in the seat of mayoral power for only three more weeks as of this writing. It could mean a lot, actually, no matter who gets elected next month. If the social-justice Democrat David Alvarez wins, Gloria's speech was a pep talk; Alvarez can take Gloria's ideas and run with them, hand-in-hand with a City Council controlled by Democrats. If the corporate-establishment-friendly Republican Kevin Faulconer wins, the speech was a drawing of battle lines.
You see, Gloria won't be relinquishing City Hall's 11th floor and sipping banana daiquiris on a Caribbean beach; he'll resume his duties as president of the San Diego City Council. If Faulconer wins, the council will be left with five Democrats and three Republicans, until a replacement is appointed in Faulconer's District 2. The council's Democrats could conceivably appoint a sixth Democrat to replace Faulconer for his term that ends in December.
If they go the conciliatory route and replace a Republican with a Republican, they'd still have a majority and could pass policies on party-line votes, but Faulconer could veto anything he doesn't like. Five votes can't override a veto, so if they replace him with a Republican, we'd have ourselves a good ol' fashioned shared governance. Six Democrats, assuming they're in lockstep on policy, could override mayoral vetoes and have their way with Faulconer.
If Alvarez wins, we'd have a 4-4 partisan split on the council, but Alvarez's District 8 is heavily Democrat and there's no way a Democrat joins the Republicans in appointing a Republican to replace Alvarez. For the rest of 2014, San Diego's liberal mayor would have a friendly City Council.
In any case, Gloria crafted a guide for progressive action. He started in the middle of road, with plans for an economic-growth strategy, support for the military, happy talk of big projects like the convention-center expansion and a new football stadium (no mention of financing details) and, importantly, a vow to assemble a big bond measure this year that would finance citywide infrastructure and neighborhood improvements, to be put before voters in 2016.
But then Gloria took a sharp left turn that nearly gave the Balboa Theatre crowd whiplash: He proposed asking voters this November to raise the minimum wage in San Diego. He didn't say by how much, but he said the statewide minimum wage of $21,000 per year by 2016 won't be enough to live on in San Diego; self-sufficiency here requires $30,000, he said. That translates to $14.42 per hour. That's incredibly bold from a political perspective, yet very reasonable from a social-justice standpoint.
Gloria then spoke fairly specifically about using local and federal resources more effectively to reduce homelessness, vaulting San Diego into a leadership position in the battle against climate change (expressing support for a plastic-bag ban in the process) and making San Diego friendlier to public transit and bicycling.
Aside from the quick line about the football stadium, this speech was all about fighting poverty, strengthening the middle class and protecting the environment. It was a call for social, economic and environmental justice. Coupled with his passionate support for raising a fee developers pay to help finance affordable housing, as well as his leadership on protecting the residents of Barrio Logan from polluting industry, Gloria has done much lately to polish his progressive credentials.
No matter what happens on Feb. 11, we like where this is going. All it requires is follow-through.
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