At one point during an Oct. 19 mayoral candidates forum, Bob Filner mocked one of Nathan Fletcher's answers, sarcastically saying voters have no idea where Fletcher wants to put a football stadium. Does he want it Downtown? Filner asked rhetorically. In Mission Valley? On Rosecrans Street?
The problem for Filner is that he obviously wasn't paying close attention. Fletcher wasn't all over the map with his comments about the future of football in San Diego. It was clear that he likes the idea of a sport-and-entertainment complex Downtown. Fletcher said he could envision an urban park where Qualcomm Stadium now sits and a business park replacing the Valley View Casino Center (formerly the Sports Arena).
The flub illustrates Filner's problems as he tries to come in first or second in next June's primary election and reach a November runoff against Fletcher, Bonnie Dumanis or Carl DeMaio: His presentation is chaotic, clumsy, vague, acerbic and arrogant. And this is why even some progressives are wincing at the prospect of Filner in the Mayor's office. He's a total turnoff.
At least he shows up. DeMaio was apparently too frightened of the crowd at the Coalition for a Better San Diego forum, moderated by San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzalez and sponsored by a group of unions and environmental, immigrants-rights and social-justice organizations. Dumanis claims she won't debate for another five months (when her campaign might be dead on arrival).
Still, if Filner keeps up this act, he'll make Fletcher look increasingly better. While both men were vague on policy details—understandable given the short window of time for answers—their styles couldn't have offered a starker contrast.
Fletcher, a Republican, good-naturedly asked CityBeat backstage before the forum if he was going to get killed. On stage, he got off one of the better lines, joking about his staff being responsible for the smattering of applause he was receiving. He was in enemy territory but took the high road in the face of Filner's barbs. He appeared prepared, polished and, dare we say it, leader-like. The problem with Fletcher, for us at least, is that he's an establishment-type Republican—as mayor, we'd expect him to pursue policies that, more often than not, run counter to progressive-populist ideals.
The only high-profile Democrat in a race with three Republicans, in a moderate-Democrat city, should easily emerge from the primary election far and away the frontrunner, gobbling up all left-of-center-right votes while the other three split the rest. But you get the feeling Filner will be caught in a close race.
Even before he officially entered the fray, Filner said with his characteristic cockiness that if he were to run, he'd win without question. That attitude was in full force last Wednesday. He had home-field advantage and could have chosen to be humble and rock-solid. Instead, he came off as petty and trying too hard for cheap laughs, and his policy goals sounded unrealistic. Filner's demeanor might have been appropriate if the more divisive DeMaio had been on the receiving end, but he made the lower-key Fletcher look like a sympathetic character in this political play.
He also misrepresented a phony event as a principled stand. At the debate, Filner patted himself on the back for risking arrest (one of his favorite rhetorical devices) a year ago to stop the foreclosure of a Chula Vista woman's home. The bank called off the foreclosure the previous day, but Filner didn't call off his media event.
We like Filner's politics. There's no doubt that he'd base decisions on what's best for the largest number of San Diegans—the middle class and those who aspire to the middle class. He'll have to work overtime to blow a CityBeat endorsement. But many voters make decisions based on how they feel about a candidate. If we were advising his campaign, we'd ask him to better prepare for public appearances, tighten up the policy proposals and—for the love of all that's decent in this world—ratchet down the freakin' attitude.