San Diego City Councilmember David Alvarez quietly chuckled when asked about The Tempest in a Tweetstorm.
Was the District 8 rep prepping for a rematch with the Blonde Lozenge, aka incumbent Mayor Kevin Faulconer? Could the local Democratic Party finally breathe easy that it would have a balancing voice in the June primary race? Would Alvarez make Faulconer campaign guru Jason Roe’s tweetdream come true?
“No,” Alvarez said in a brief phone interview Friday, “the message is pretty clear. When you make statements, you have to follow through with them, especially at the State of the City.”
Ah yes, the much-anticipated State of the City address. That yearly ritual when the chieftain gathers together his subjects (pals, lobbyists, media, starry-eyed poli-wogs and the like) to regale them with telepromptered tales of conquests past and conundrums present, but most importantly visions of caviar-dreams future! Think beauty pageant meets What’s My Line? ’50s-game-show episode.
The evening event—an actual meeting of the City Council, even though its members spend most of the time in the shadows—could be renamed PolitiCon, given the eye-rolling promises traditionally invoked and the wonky, nerdy nature of the crowd drawn to such an affair.
Alvarez attends, obviously, because that’s his job. But he added it’s also his job to call out the chieftain when words and actions fail to converge. “If you’re making public pledges, and you’re saying you’re going to accomplish some things and you don’t do them,” he explained, “it’s our role to hold the executive branch accountable. That’s what the legislative branch of government does.”
That’s what his social-media effort that shadowed Faulconer’s big speech was about, not declaring a 2016 challenge. “That’s what it was and will continue to be,” Alvarez said.
But that’s not how they felt over at Faulconer Defense Department HQ, at least judging by the reaction.
“Please run. Please, please, please run for mayor,” taunted Faulconer campaign strategist Roe, who recently adopted the Oakland Raiders logo as his Twitter avatar in an apparent protest to the cool reception afforded his political mealticket from the San Diego Chargers, while the NFL team—denied its Carson dream—continues to contemplate its future-home options.
And what exactly had Alvarez done to deserve Roe’s wrath? In a series of tweets, the councilmember simply provided video snippets from Faulconer’s 2015 State of the City address, essentially holding up a mirror to the Republican incumbent’s own words and promises of a year ago.
Under the tagline “We can do better,” Alvarez pointed to Faulconer’s words about the Chargers from last year when he declared, “My goal is that when the season ends, we won’t be talking about whether the Chargers are moving,” followed by a series of contradictory recent headlines.
“An entire year wasted…let’s not make the same mistake this year,” Alvarez tweeted.
On San Diego’s crumbling roads and infrastructure, Alvarez countered the mayor’s 2015 promise—“Tonight, I’m very proud to announce that I am making street repair the city’s highest infrastructure priority. Period.”—with “Mayor Faulconer is short $1.7 billion in funding…”
Alvarez also pointed to the mayor’s promised “year of action” on the convention center expansion in which “almost no progress has been made.” The councilmember also noted little progress on the homeless front and even less toward promised “major investments” in Balboa Park, where the “list of needed repairs is up to $500 million and growing,” Alvarez said.
“There were a lot of things that were said last year, and hardly any of them reached a level that you would call ‘mission accomplished,’” Alvarez told Spin Cycle. Some, like the proposed “Innovate San Diego Challenge”—a prize-winning competition among citizens to address workforce, transportation and entrepreneurial issues—still appears in the pre-registration phase, according to an associated website.
In voicing his opposition to a proposed citywide minimum-wage hike last year (a topic avoided in this year’s speech despite its pending appearance on the June ballot), Faulconer said he preferred raising workers’ skill sets to prepare people for better jobs and proposed a task force to come up with a plan. “That never happened,” Alvarez said.
So when Faulconer last Thursday began adding more to his To-Do List—enlisting landlords to help get 1,000 homeless veterans off the streets, building or upgrading 50 city parks in five years and convincing 100 businesses to offer 1,000 jobs to high-school and college students from low-income communities— forgive Alvarez for questioning Faulconer’s commitment to action.
Even the mayor’s pronouncement that San Diego will cure Alzheimer’s—just a statement, no timeline, nothing— puzzled the councilmember. When suggested that it might be Faulconer’s version of President John F. Kennedy’s stirring moon-landing prediction, Alvarez laughed. “He didn’t even say 10 years!” he said. “Like what do you mean? Showing up at a press conference for whatever accomplishment that’s reached?”
Asked if he’s disappointed a Democratic mayoral challenger hasn’t emerged, Alvarez said he’s more disheartened in the “lack of accountability to what Kevin does or doesn’t do. There’s been a lot of lip service paid to communities and not a lot of real, on-the-ground significant impacts.
“We have a couple steps forward, but we’re not taking giant leaps here. And I know as a city we could be. Our infrastructure problem in no way gets solved by any of the things he’s talked about. And on our housing-affordability issue, he’s also not done anything.”
What Faulconer does do well, Alvarez agreed, is public relations. “It’s an incredible PR machine that’s been put together on the 11th floor—and the fourth floor, by the way, which is now called the Communications Department,” he said. “So when you have an entire department devoted to PR work, it’s very difficult to have a different narrative.”
Not that Democrats have made such great efforts of late. “If you want to give any critique of our side,” Alvarez said, “it’s that we’re not able in a substantive way to provide an alternative. That’s on everybody, not one person or group. It’s on everybody who calls themselves a progressive in San Diego.”