Photo by John R. Lamb
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has his town rolling in new revenue. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, not so much.
Envy is as persistent as memory, as intractable as a head cold.
As President-elect Donald Trump continues to thumb his way into the digital ashbin of hair-brained folly, let's give a lusty Hooorah to all those local politicians twisting themselves into pretzels as they adapt to the coming unreality of a goon in the White House.
Post-election analyses are often fraught with a nauseating mixture of we-saw-that-coming swagger and what-the-hell-was-that stagger. Without both, the punditry industry would dry up like a NyQuil-ed sinus cold and cable-news programming would implode like the Poltergeist house, leaving wide swaths of dead air.
A couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times put on one such post-election hand-wringing session and invited San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, and Eric Garcetti, the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, to talk governance in the new Orange Era.
Garcetti came to the gathering with a plate of freshly won ballot measures that will fund homeless housing, boost park space, spruce up community-college campuses and expand transit options at record levels. Faulconer, meanwhile, arrived with little to show for his election efforts—he opposed the local transit measure and got his helmet handed to him on his late push for the Chargers downtown stadium measure.
Garcetti, a visible campaigner for Hillary Clinton, readily admitted he'd voted for her. Faulconer said he wound up voting for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was not an official write-in candidate in California. Ergo, the mayor's vote might as well have gone to Popeye, for the good it served.
Spin reached out to the mayor's office for an explanation of the vote. Perhaps Faulconer was simply trying to butter up the influential Republican from Wisconsin when San Diego comes knocking for federal funding. As is becoming all too familiar now, the mayor's peeps were not forthcoming.
"He's our president. We have to come together now as Republicans, as Democrats," Faulconer boilerplated about Trump, even after the mayor refused to endorse Trump after his comments about women and Latinos.
Garcetti took a more defiant tone. "This is a moment where I think we need to stand up for values and stand up for action. Both things," he said. "One can't overwhelm the other....The things that were said by Donald Trump needed to be—should always be—condemned no matter who says them.
"But values can't be the end of the conversation because economic conditions for a lot of people, or economic feelings, trumped their value beliefs. They went against even their own...value beliefs...They didn't feel that we were speaking to their economic insecurity, and I think that's going to be the most important lesson as we debrief."
Faulconer said he hopes he can show Trump around the border of Mexico. "We are building bridges down at the border. Literally," said Faulconer, who won re-election in June. He also touted new jobs sprouting up on both sides of the border in the burgeoning medical-device field.
The day before the symposium, Garcetti returned on a 16-hour flight from Qatar, where Los Angeles had presented its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Faulconer didn't mention any similar lengthy travels, and it's just as likely that he'd recently hopped off a barstool at the San Diego Yacht Club to attend.
A while back, Spin reviewed the calendars of Garcetti and Faulconer. Garcetti's, from a casual observance, seemed packed while Faulconer's was more, shall we say, open. This could be simply a management style. Or it could show that hard work and long hours pay off dividends.
Faulconer said he traveled up and down the state meeting with editorial boards in an effort to stoke opposition to Proposition 57, the parole-system-reform measure aggressively backed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The mayor was asked if this would lead to more appearances statewide and possibly a run for governor in 2018, which Faulconer has consistently denied in careful fashion.
"To see those violent crime rates creeping up now, that's not where we want to go. So I will continue to be vocal on that issue," he said. But on governor's race, "No plans to run for governor. I just got re-elected as mayor of San Diego, so I'm taking my oath of office in a couple of weeks...I'm looking forward to the term."
A recent Field Poll on potential 2018 gubernatorial candidates placed Faulconer in second place behind Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, 23 percent to 16 percent. While such polling has more to do with name recognition at this point than actual voter enthusiasm, it must be quite flattering for the moderate Republican.
But it also must be quite irksome to watch a mayor to the north gain convincing voter approval for a rash of new spending that will bring thousands of new housing units for the city's most vulnerable while San Diego's homeless woes continue to rise with few big-ticket solutions on the horizon.
Garcetti knows he has a sales pitch to make to neighborhoods that should want this new housing. "The choice of keeping somebody on the street or taking them off the street should be a no-brainer, not something to be feared but something to be embraced," he said.
Faulconer, with nothing as bold, boasted of the ongoing efforts to update community plans citywide. "Housing affordability is something that, again, it's not a partisan issue," he said. "It's a quality-of-life issue and what are we doing to prepare for the future?"
So what will this all mean in Mayor Faulconer's second term? A spike in pension payments has the mayor sounding the bell for pending budget cuts, the first in years. New revenues seem like a unicorn that will never come, as voters' appetite for a boost in things like the city hotel tax go lacking.
It leaves a sickening, familiar feeling in the pit of the stomach, particularly when our neighbor to the north seems to be flying high.