High above Downtown—on a sparkling November morning that seemed to cry out, "How hard can selling San Diego as a tourist destination be?"—stood mayoral hopeful Kevin Faulconer, flanked by a dozen or so people whose livelihoods, his campaign folks explained, depend on tourism dollars.
Faulconer, whose campaign to date has been criticized by opponents as too Downtown-focused, laughed off Spin's suggestion of the irony of the venue choice for his first news conference since finishing first in the primary election to replace the dethroned Bob Filner.
"Oh, I think it was, I don't know. Matt? View? Location?" Faulconer said Monday, turning to Matt Awbrey, currently the City Council member's chief of staff and spokesperson, who'll take over the primary communications reins for the campaign beginning Jan. 1.
"View, location," Awbrey echoed, "but also to point out that San Diegans, no matter where they work, they live throughout the city, and their lives and employment are going to be affected by the decisions of the next mayor."
The hotel industry is firmly behind Faulconer in this mayoral run. So it's not hard to fathom how a $1,000-a-night presidential suite at the pristine Courtyard Marriott on Broadway was made available for a half-hour press conference that drew four reporters.
The backdrop from the balcony was indeed breathtaking, but the event just oozed exclusivity. From instructions by a desk clerk to head downstairs to meet a woman in a brown skirt who will escort you via elevator to the 14th floor, to the walkie-talkie-toting security guy who completed the circuitous delivery, frankly, it all felt a little cloistered.
Once there, Faulconer could be heard in full-throttled campaign mode, hammering on two recent City Council votes where he and council colleague and mayoral opponent David Alvarez parted ways.
Alvarez, he boomed, "voted for the jobs tax and against the tourism plan. That's the wrong path . These two votes, cast two days after the primary election, underscore a fundamental difference between my colleague and myself."
The "jobs tax," as Faulconer and opponents like to frame it, was a reference to the council's approval of a boost in the so-called linkage fee charged to developers to help subsidize affordable housing. Proponents argue that the fee hike was long overdue and necessary for San Diego's costly housing market. Opponents labeled it a job killer.
"Council made the wrong vote on that jobs tax," he said of the party-line 5-4 vote. "We need to do everything we can to ensure that it does not go through."
Asked if that meant yet another referendum challenging a council vote, he balked. Instead, Faulconer reiterated his alignment with shipbuilders pushing two controversial referendums challenging a council-approved community plan for Barrio Logan. The Environmental Health Coalition has filed suit against shipbuilders, claiming signature gatherers lied about the community plan's impact on the industry (click here and here).
Regarding the "tourism plan," Faulconer was referring to the council's near-unanimous approval last week to release millions of city-held dollars to the hotelier-run Tourism Authority for promotional efforts. Alvarez was the lone vote against the plan, citing continued legal risk to the city over the arrangement.
Faulconer backers over at Doug Manchester Media Empire Inc., aka U-T San Diego, immediately piled on Alvarez, calling him in one editorial "the lone holdout"— the implication being that the Democratic council member is anti-tourism rather than simply lawsuit-averse. Campaign-mailer designers no doubt cooed.
"The love fest is over," laughed Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, credited by many as the reason Alvarez remains in the hunt.
Local GOP Chairman and '50s-Mafia-movie-lingo aficionado Tony Krvaric, who once referred to Kasparian as "The Bat," actually shared congratulatory handshakes with Kasparian on election night when Krvaric paid an unannounced visit to Alvarez Central in Logan Heights.
"He said, You guys ran an amazing campaign,'" Kasparian said. "I kind of took it as respect for the job that we did."
But Kasparian knows the hits will come. Some were touched on during the primary—that Alvarez is too inexperienced (read: young), that he's the City Council's most liberal member, that he's beholden to his labor supporters. That he's basically Filner Jr.
"I know people say they'd prefer to hear the positives about candidates," he added, "but from the beginning of time, there's always negativity that is put out in campaigns because, ultimately, people want to win. Sometimes they go below the belt. You're going to see that in this campaign. I'm not saying who throws the first punch, who draws the first blood, but there will be negativity."
When Krvaric tweeted a week before the primary that he considered third-place finisher Nathan Fletcher "an arrogant, self-centered prick who sees himself as God's gift to America," the backlash was swift. Even Faulconer decried the tone, albeit without calling out the GOP chairman by name.
Asked Monday if part of leadership is about influencing the behavior of supporters, Faulconer pivoted: "What I've said is it helps everybody to use language that is appropriate . It's all about policy, not personalities."
Certainly, the attacks against Fletcher stretched beyond mere policy disagreements—daily Faulconer tweets hammering on the former state Assembly member to release his calendar and college transcripts demonstrated that.
Spin provided Faulconer with a copy of the résumé he submitted in 2000 to then-Mayor Susan Golding, requesting appointment to the city's Park and Recreation Board, hoping it would spark recollections about his public-relations days that so far have proven rather elusive.
For Nelson Communications Group, Faulconer wrote, he provided "strategic oversight and management for firm ballot measure campaigns."
"The firm was involved in a variety of ballot-measure campaigns," he said Monday. "Let me think about that and get back to you."
He did, however, quickly recall meeting Star Wars creator George Lucas "once" while working for a previous company on land-use issues for Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. "Great guy," he said.
To which his campaign manager Steve Puetz interjected, "That's some serious investigative journalism!" When reminded it was on Faulconer's own résumé, Puetz softened. "I had no idea you had done work with Lucas," he said.
Live and learn.