Former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders—sitting front row next to scandal-ensnared District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis—must have been pinching himself. Before him stood a beaming Kevin Faulconer, freshly initiated into the San Diego Republican Club for Mayors, speaking forcefully about many things vague. Little meat for local pundits to gum.
No doubt Sanders despised certain media folks during his mayoral tenure. Spin Cycle still fondly remembers the night, post-State-of-the-City-speech, when Capt. F-Bomb shared a handshake while simultaneously observing, "Oh, you're the one I hate!"
Ah, good times!
Well, here we are again, San Diego, a Republican claiming moderate inclinations back in the political driver's seat. But for how long will the road remain smooth? Spin suspects not long.
Sure, local politicians are saying the right things now: that the bipartisan spirit nurtured steadily after the Bob Filner meltdown by the city's self-proclaimed interim mayor, Council President Todd Gloria, will continue.
But issues like a local minimum-wage hike and the push by Sanders and his Chamber of Commerce pals to crush both a community plan in Barrio Logan and a City Council-approved development-fee increase to help subsidize affordable housing bode ill for future camaraderie.
Spin reached out to the Faulconer folks to get an idea how the new mayor plans to govern in the short term, particularly in the 30-day window afforded the City Council to pick his District 2 replacement. The council will almost certainly choose a Democrat, giving the legislative body a powerful, veto-ready six votes to combat any efforts by Faulconer to steer too far right. Unfortunately, communications chief Matt Awbrey declined to respond to several inquiries, including whether Faulconer has a personal preference for his replacement.
Granted, the Faulconer Era is just days old, but this new administration is already giving hints how it expects to operate. On Monday, veteran U-T San Diego City Hall reporter Craig Gustafson announced on Twitter that he was joining Team Faulconer as press secretary.
Publicly, there was fawning praise for the selection (particularly media types clearly hoping for friendly access). Gustafson is a personable guy, much like Awbrey, his new boss.
But, privately, some smart folks expressed shock at the choice, given Gustafson's frequent election coverage and recent assessments of Faulconer's political road ahead.
"I didn't see it coming," one City Hall veteran told Spin. "He'll do really well, but he'll struggle with suspension of intellectual honesty."
"Either way," added another longtime political observer, "he's still working for Doug."
That, of course, is a reference to Doug Manchester, mega-developer and U-T publisher who once dreamed of a Carl DeMaio mayorship but seems prepared to use his pulpit to pump up Faulconer's campaign of sticky-issue avoidance and smiling platitudes as the California Republican Party's answer to electoral irrelevance.
But, as they say, campaigning is one thing; governing is another. And, so far, Faulconer's hires seem more insular than his campaign rhetoric of inclusion suggested: His campaign manager, Stephen Puetz, becomes chief of staff, and tapped as deputy chiefs are Felipe Monroig, former DeMaio aide and brief head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association; Jaymie Bradford, also a former DeMaio aide and a Sanders aide; and longtime Faulconer staffer Awbrey.
This is naturally the tip of the Faulconer-hiring iceberg, and he still must decide who stays and who goes as city department heads. Those decisions will further indicate how Faulconer intends to govern.
Banners and buttons prepared for Faulconer's inauguration proclaimed, "1 San Diego, Uniting Our City." Meanwhile, an inaugural party was held Monday night at the Broadway Pier, once envisioned as a gleaming park but now home to a frequently vacant cruise-ship terminal.
Faulconer has frequently invoked the "neighborhoods first" theme he plucked from Filner's dead political corpse. He made much of his choice for Monday's swearing-in ceremony, the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in District 4's Lincoln Park, a first, he declared, for the traditionally underserved community.
"As your mayor, my policies will be guided with that philosophy in mind, to create a unified city in which all residents have equal access to economic prosperity, quality city services and safe neighborhoods," Faulconer told a standing-room-only crowd Monday.
But Spin couldn't help but wonder how such words play in a place like Barrio Logan, where, in Faulconer's rhetorical world, only shipbuilding jobs count, not health-concerned residents. How the new mayor straddles that fine line will be something to watch.
Also up in the air is Faulconer's true commitment to government transparency. Oh, on the campaign trail he was all for it. But he now faces his first true test of that commitment. Late last week, Gloria announced that beginning March 28, all city emails beyond a year old will be deleted from city servers because, he said, there is no money to store them any longer.
On Tuesday, Voice of San Diego reported that Faulconer would have a response to the new policy "within 48 hours." This should not be a difficult decision, if transparency is to be a cornerstone of this new administration.
Even the U-T, in an editorial, suggested that the idea, not the emails, should be scrapped.
People unify when they feel others have their backs. Sanders preferred the ol' potty-mouth response and backstab to get what he wanted. That doesn't appear to be Faulconer's preferred method of persuasion, but the Sanders influence is undeniable.
Spin can only hope that Faulconer is sincere in his promise to listen—and not just to his wellheeled cheerleaders. Otherwise, San Diego will find itself back to a speech-reading leader likely pining for a European vacation and a job at the chamber.