Jan. 21 2015 11:55 AM

That was a big lollipop of a State of the City address

“Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times.”
Photo by John R. Lamb

"It is a poor mouse that has only one hole."

—Spanish proverb

Salesmanship guru Dale Carnegie once said, "There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave: the one you practiced, the one you gave and the one you wish you gave."

In the case of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer last week, add a fourth speech: the one you give to your Republican Party colleagues.

Yes, San Diego has emerged from a week of enough pithy political turns of phrase and political posturing that even the stiffest beverages can't remove them from our psyches any time soon. If you thought 2016 wasn't on the minds of our ambitious leaders going into last week, the hand-wringing that followed should eclipse all doubt.

Faulconer's State of the City address last Wednesday—before an overbooked crowd gathered in Downtown's Balboa Theatre— contained all the requisite bells and whistles that we've come to expect from these annual "How We Doin'?" mayoral speeches.

Given that it was his first since his election to the post 10 months ago, let's just say Faulconer didn't fall on his face. He was upbeat, avoided cascading sweat and even broke into a little well-practiced Spanish.

Faulconer made a lot of promises that you'd typically hear on the campaign trail—doubling street-repair efforts, continuing financial reforms, putting neighborhoods first while trying to keep the Chargers and Comic-Con from heading to greener pastures.

An argument could be made that Faulconer has never left the campaign trail, that his off-year, low-voter-turnout victory was a bit of a fluke in a city tilting Democratic. But Faulconer ain't buying it.

"When I was elected mayor this past February, it wasn't an aberration," he told Republicans two days later, at their winter meeting in Coronado. "And as all of us know in this room, when we start talking about those issues that are common-sense, as Republicans we win. We win all across the country. And me standing here before you today, I think, is indicative of that."

The room was silent as Faulconer reminded the faithful that Republican voter registration in San Diego stood at 26 percent, behind both Democrats and now those who decline to state a party preference.

"So, it was great that I had about $4.5 million spent against me from some of the government employees," he laughed. "We had their full attention. But even with that attention, my message was it's not about union issues or not; it was about bringing common sense back to San Diego. And that is a message that our city employees and unions can buy into.

"Our promise of reform resonates with every single demographic," Faulconer boasted to the Hotel del Coronado audience, "every single group, ladies and gentlemen, if we do it correctly."

This, then, puts into perspective the speech from two days before—brilliant, really, in that it tackled almost every challenge with a promise of change down the road. But curious, as well, in some instances.

Take Faulconer's education proposal, for example. "The realities of working and providing for a family mean that for some, going back to school is too difficult," he said Wednesday. "It takes too much time. It costs too much money. And while we can't solve all of these problems, we can put opportunity back within reach."

To remedy that, Faulconer announced a partnership with the San Diego Library Foundation "to launch a new initiative called Career Online High School [COHS]." But according to the San Diego Public Library's own website, the program already exists, evidenced by testimonials from two COHS grads.

How the mayor plans to roll out this "new initiative" was left for speculation, but, on its face, it seems to suggest that Faulconer is grasping for something he can use against the growing national groundswell for a higher minimum wage.

Faulconer touched on the topic in both speeches, suggesting that raising people out of poverty can't be accomplished by "tinkering around the edges."

"Something that I feel very strongly about is, our measure of success cannot be based on how many people have a slightly better-paid low-wage job," he told Republicans. "A measure of success in this country must be how many have the opportunity to move into a better job. That's what our challenge is, and that defines us."

That will be a tall mountain to climb in 2016—the promise of reward somewhere down the line versus the immediacy of a mandated higher wage—and Faulconer likely knows it. That will be an area where Faulconer's eventual challenger from the Democratic side will probably take the most damaging swings. City Councilmember Todd Gloria, with colleague and Faulconer's previous mayoral opponent David Alvarez by his side, quickly stepped into the fray, leading many to speculate that Gloria is in the hunt.

While Alvarez hit Faulconer's State of the City speech as a "slogan" soliloquy, Gloria—chief proponent of a city minimum-wage hike that's destined for a 2016 showdown— laid into the missed opportunities of the mayor's oratory.

"We have a responsibility to demand answers and details from the mayor," Gloria said when asked on KUSI whether he was being divisive with his criticism.

Gloria's comments drew quick backlash from Faulconer supporters, including Ryan Clumpner of the conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County, who tweeted that Gloria should provide "his own specifics if he's going to take to camera with generic whining about lack of specifics."

So, here we go, San Diego. Have you missed campaign season? If you have, crazy reader, it appears you're in luck. Mayor Glinda has pitched his sugar-high vision. Who will emerge to put a little fiber back into our diet?

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


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