Jan. 7 2015 09:53 AM

Our eyes are on these guys

Shelley Zimmerman
Photo by David Rolland

Two things about the headline of this editorial: "Guys" is meant not as "men" but, rather, in the "Hey, you guys!" gender-non-specific sense, OK? Perhaps more importantly, "guys" rhymes with "eyes." "Men and women" doesn't. Neither does "guys and gals."

You'll see when you read further that it must be gender-non-specific. The following list of people to watch in San Diego politics in 2015 is loaded with women—more than half of the powerful people here carry two X chromosomes. Fantastic!

Anyhoo, you'll also see that much of what's discussed below is about 2016, but a lot of the preparation for that big election year—the jockeying and the fur-flying—will occur in 2015. Here's our rundown:

Kevin Faulconer: On a broad scale, 2015 is the year when the mayor of San Diego will have to choose his path to reelection in 2016. He's already forsaken the social-justice left with his stances on issues such as the minimum wage and Barrio Logan's community plan. To a large degree, his specific path will depend on his opponent, and that will be determined this year.

No matter who that turns out to be, Faulconer has the massive advantages of incumbency, an air of moderation, a cautious (to a fault) public approach and a calm demeanor, which San Diego voters seem to like. He's not one who's vulnerable to sudden gaffes or crippling political miscalculations. Former City Council President Todd Gloria is likely the only person who could conceivably beat him, fueling speculation that Faulconer helped engineer Gloria's ouster as council president. Faulconer's already given Gloria a path: increasing the minimum wage, which is currently on track for the June 2016 ballot, along with the mayoral primary election.

Neighborhood by neighborhood, Faulconer will have to grapple with how the city grows. Does he go bold for denser urban cores around transit corridors and provoke the wrath of the NIMBYs? That would be inconsistent with his risk-averse tendencies.

Todd Gloria: When last we checked, Gloria, who's termed out of office after 2016, hadn't decided his next move. A run for mayor would be very tough against the incumbent Faulconer. Gloria's not easily angered and likes to be friends with everyone, but his ouster as president pissed him off; if anything pushes him to run for mayor, it would be that. The first few months of 2015 is when he'll have to decide. The silver lining is that if he decides to run for mayor, not being saddled with the extra burden of council leadership will give him more breathing room to campaign. His other possibility is to assume the position of his former employer, Congressmember Susan Davis.

Susan Davis: For years, politics observers in San Diego wondered when Davis would retire from Congress and open the door for Gloria to take over. That was always assumed to be Gloria's move; that is, before Bob Filner unwittingly boosted Gloria onto a perch of prominence. Will 2015 be the year when Davis announces that she won't seek another term?

Toni Atkins: She's someone to watch simply by virtue of being the speaker of the state Assembly— she's among the most powerful people in California. But she's termed out of office after 2016, and there's no clear path to another post. Talk of Atkins running for San Diego mayor in 2016 seems to be dying down, and her route to the state Senate is currently Blocked (by Marty Block, you see). Congress (see "Susan Davis" above)? Some statewide office? Atkins' next move should be clearer by mid-year.

Sherri Lightner: Democratic City Councilmember Lightner said yes when asked by Republicans late last year if she'd like to be council president. Gloria's shoes are large; how will she go about filling them? Is she a defacto Republican now? Gloria and Councilmember David Alvarez cast symbolic votes against her even when she was assured of victory. Do they become thorns in her side? Lightner is nothing if not enigmatic. Her leadership in 2015 will be interesting to watch.

Chris Cate: Cate's the only new member of the City Council, so he's the only blank slate to keep an eye on. So far, his public statements have been about three things: families, families and families. What does that mean in terms of policy? The most intriguing thing about Cate is that he has brains. Dim politicians can usually be expected to walk in lockstep with their parties. But smart ones often do, too. Will Cate find ways to break from the party line? Does he want to?

Barbara Bry, Joe LaCava and Ray Ellis: These are the three leading potential candidates for Lightner's council seat, which is up for grabs in 2016. They can start raising money this June. Ellis, a no-frills Republican, ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign against Lightner in 2012, so he's well-known in the district. Bry and LaCava are Democrats who've been heavily involved in civic affairs, Bry a deep-pockets venture capitalist and LaCava a policy and planning wonk.

Shelley Zimmerman: Eyes will be on the San Diego Police chief, interested in how she runs the department in the wake of incidents in Ferguson and New York and race-related scrutiny of law-enforcement agencies across the country. San Diego is not immune to criticism—plenty of people in the black community don't believe the police department here is colorblind. Zimmerman will also be watched for how she handles information collected by police body cameras.

Amelia Brazell: Even if you're a diehard local politics junkie, it's likely that you've never heard of Amelia Brazell. She's the director of the city of San Diego's revamped communications apparatus. We already have a former public-relations man as mayor; now we have a marketing professional heading up communications with the public and the press. That leads us to believe that the "good news" will be spread thick.

Some folks in San Diego get bent out of shape when too much public money is spent on marketing, or "propaganda," depending on your level of cynicism. Mostly, we just want our questions answered in a timely manner.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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