"This shark, swallow you whole."
—Quint in Jaws
In 2016, will San Diego's incumbent Mayor Kevin Faulconer be sailing with ease into a second term, or will a fight he decided to pick in 2014 over earned sick days and the city's minimum-wage hike make him vulnerable?
That seems to be the watercooler conversation these days among political warriors and observers—likely not a topic that Faulconer the Alleged Moderate wants to hear. And yet here we are, battle lines drawn.
When the San Diego City Council on Monday voted to uphold its earlier decision to require earned sick days and boost the city's minimum wage incrementally to $11.50 by 2017—thereby smushing the mayor's veto—you could hear the sharpening of knives emanating from Faulconer's political brain trust.
Jason Roe, the rascally strategy Svengali for the mayor and the council's Republican minority, has emerged from his traditionally low-profile role to become the sharp-tongued point man for Faulconer's dream of killing the minimum-wage hike.
After the council vote, the mayor didn't hold his typical presser, instead issuing a statement expressing his disappointment "that once again the City Council has made it more difficult to create jobs in San Diego."
In his statement, Faulconer opted not to discuss his role in the upcoming referendum effort to collect some 34,000 valid signatures to force a delay in the wage hike until voters would have their say in June 2016. Instead, he obliquely noted that it "appears the citizenry will have to take action to overturn yet another Council ordinance that will hurt our economy."
Roe, meanwhile, had already removed his gloves, calling the "Don't Sign It" effort kicked off by Council President Todd Gloria last week a "harassment campaign" intended by "labor bosses" to "bully voters who simply want to see this issue put on the ballot."
That sentiment drew some snickers, given that the organization urging voters to ignore the petition gatherers, Raise Up San Diego, has the support of Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs, former Chamber of Commerce honcho Mel Katz and NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton.
"We stand for a San Diego in which hard-working people aren't locked in poverty and in which they can earn a few days off for when they get sick or need to care for an ill child or other loved one," Walton said last Thursday.
This won't be an unfair fight compared with the Barrio Logan Community Plan update, which Faulconer and his political team managed to crush in June at the ballot box with overwhelming campaign cash. For a guy whose Republican Party backers have pinned their hopes on a bright political future in Sacramento or even Washington, D.C., Faulconer has entered a potential minefield.
"It's a gamble, not just for the next office, but it's a gamble for his re-election," said political consultant Tom Shepard, whose work in electing Bob Filner as mayor put a target on his back in city politics. "Right now, the no side doesn't look to me to be the side that's going to prevail. So if I were advising Kevin, I would be very cautious about this."
Shepard—for years San Diego's reigning political kingmaker—declined to address publicly tales of his swift removal from the Barrio Logan battle once Faulconer had been crowned mayor.
Those tales include claims that Faulconer would've dropped out of the community-plan fight had the Filner-tainted Shepard remained on as chief strategist. Instead, the story goes, Faulconer turned to an old friend from his public-relations days at Porter Novelli, Orange County ballotinitiative guru Rick Manter, to guide the lopsided campaign.
"Rick and Kevin worked closely together on ballot-proposition campaigns back in the day," said Bob Nelson, the Port of San Diego board chair who hired them both when he ran a large public-relations firm. "He and Kevin are very similar, both friendly people, but Rick keeps a pretty low profile."
That's an understatement. Spin couldn't find a website for Manter Communications in Tustin, and attempts to reach him for comment were unsuccessful. (The Mayor's office declined to discuss Manter's role.) But in a 2002 profile of PR gurus in Orange Coast magazine, a scrappy image emerges.
"Magic Mountain has nothing to match this thrill ride," Manter is quoted as saying. "I change public opinion." It lists such "colorful clients" as Las Vegas bigwig Steve Wynn, "who wanted to defeat a ballot measure to legalize gambling in California," and August Busch, chairman of Anheuser-Busch, who opposed higher alcohol-beverage taxes.
"It can be nerve-racking on Election Day," he concludes in the profile. "We don't get hired by those who are ahead, only those who are behind."
Roe, no fan of CityBeat for its coverage of another client, former Councilmember / mayoral wannabe Carl DeMaio, who is deep in a battle to unseat freshman Rep. Scott Peters in the 52nd Congressional District, also did not respond to an interview request.
Certainly, talking to li'l ol' Spin Cycle can't be as scary as Roe's previous exploits.
A former executive director of the local Republican Party in the late '90s, Roe resigned as deputy campaign manager of Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential bid after a Florida newspaper received an email from him claiming his boss, former Congressmember Tom Feeney, was unaware that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid for a golf trip to Scotland.
In 2008, Roe was the subject of an article in The Hill that recounted his alleged encounter with an uncooperative 6-foot shark during a Palm Beach fishing trip, claiming he jumped in after the shark and returned, "flip-flops intact and the knife in his mouth."
And speaking of knives, in 2012, Roe reportedly mailed one to the supporter of a political opponent in Florida, as a warning about stabbing friends in the back.
So, the next time you hear Roe equate Jacobs and Walton with "labor bosses," consider the knifemailing, shark-jumping source.
That goes for you too, Mayor—your future just may hinge on it.