Nathan Fletcher smiled and joked, but his body language told a different story. Glances at his cell phone. Constant fidgeting. Two-handed rakes through his perfect hair.
Fletcher, along with preservationist Bruce Coons, had arrived on time for a mayoral forum last Thursday sponsored by the lively, LGBT-centric political group San Diego Democrats for Equality. Candidates David Alvarez and Mike Aguirre would arrive more than a half-hour late, waylaid at publisher John Warren's drawn-out San Diego Voice & Viewpoint mayoral forum, where every question seemed prefaced by a lengthy speech.
Fletcher, the former state Assembly member, former Republican, former decline-to-stater and now Democrat, was telling folks how he served alongside fellow gay Marines and what a "stupid policy" Don't Ask, Don't Tell was and how "all hell broke loose" when he told his surprised fellow GOP Assembly colleagues just that—what he called "the beginning of what was quickly the end of a several-year failed relationship with the Republican Party."
But right at that point, an older woman in the audience interrupted: "Would you introduce yourself for us?" As the crowd at the Joyce Beers Center in Hillcrest chuckled, Fletcher apologized and obliged the woman, adding, "Some guy at the gym said, Does anyone ever tell you you look like that Nathan Fletcher guy?' And I said, I get that sometimes.' He said, It must really piss you off!' And I was like, I heard he was alright.'"
These days, Fletcher finds himself in water that, while not uncharted, certainly contains more chop than he and his well-connected supporters had ever anticipated. The southern swell that emerged when Alvarez announced his candidacy and subsequently won the endorsement of the local Democratic Party was likely not a part of Fletcher's preplanning navigation.
Let us not forget that it was then-rent-a-nurse mogul Steve Francis who got the Republican Party nod in 2005 over fellow Republican and eventual victor Jerry Sanders.
But it's one thing to have to introduce yourself humorously to a politically astute organization; it's quite another to be forced to spend a good bit of your electioneering time in an abbreviated campaign cycle trying to convince voters of your core beliefs.
And yet, this is the familiar place Fletcher finds himself—a nonpartisan partisan not supported by his newly adopted political party.
"The comment he gave after the [Democratic] party endorsement that he doesn't do well in partisan politics," Alvarez reflected to Spin Cycle after the Thursday forum, where he picked up another endorsement, despite his tardiness. "I guess that's the right answer to give, given his position, since he didn't get the endorsement. But why do you go after partisan endorsements if you're not partisan?"
Fletcher had told the LGBT crowd earlier that "I respect the decision" the Democratic Central Committee made in picking Alvarez and lamented that "I wish I had more time in the party." But however the LGBT group ended up voting, he insisted he's a Democrat for good. "This is where I belong," he said. "This is where I'll stay."
Behind the scenes, members of Team Fletcher are busy with a slightly different spin.
In an email the day after the Democratic Party vote, major Fletcher backer and fundraising guru Christine Forester wrote, "Last night, the San Diego Democratic Party Central Committee did the right thing. It was the "Left" thing to do. David Alvarez is a very good, longtime Democrat and an effective councilman, just as Kevin Faulconer is a very good, longtime conservative Republican councilman who received the endorsement of the Right."
Forester continued, "On the other hand, Nathan Fletcher is not beholden to a party." She said he "met a broad representation of our eclectic population" when he switched from Republican to Democrat, "with a brief pause in the middle, a place that better reflects his commitment to rally and work with both sides of the isle [sic] ."
Fletcher may be stranded on both sides of a desert isle politically, alright, but it says just as much about the unpredictability of political campaigns and the importance of vetting every scenario that may appear on the horizon. Clearly, the Alvarez campaign, which continues to gain momentum while Fletcher struggles to put boots on the ground, was not a scenario considered by the Fletcher intelligentsia.
But at least on the stump, Fletcher is trying to overcome his serpentine political shifts by focusing on what Forester in her email described as his ability "to govern by rallying and listening to people wherever they stand in the political spectrum ."
Forester added, "The election of our Mayor should not be driven by partisan politics. It didn't used to be ." But she also describes San Diego as "a nation of neighborhoods," so forgive someone traditionally focused on national elections—her fundraising prowess helped put Barack Obama in the Oval Office—from waxing just a tad nostalgic.
The loose cannon of the local Republican right, San Diego County Republican Chairman Tony Krvaric, recently referred to Fletcher on Twitter as a "sociopath." The name-calling forced Republican nominee Faulconer to denounce the label, and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith told Voice of San Diego that such comments were "political and juvenile."
For his part, Fletcher, wedged between Alvarez and Faulconer on Friday at the Spirit of the Barrio candidates forum, said that everyone sitting on this stage has had a position change over time . Political parties change over time, and so do people."
Question is, will Fletcher run out of time trying to convince voters of that before the Nov. 19 election?