By ELLIOT SPAGAT
It took Democrats 20 years to recapture the mayor’s seat in San Diego and less than nine months for one of their own to be driven out.
Bob Filner’s disgraced exit amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations gives Republicans another chance _ but don’t expect anyone to dwell on the former mayor as the campaign to replace him kicks into high gear.
Filner, the former 10-term congressman, isn’t mentioned in debates, in campaign mailers or at pep rallies by candidates on either side. “I don’t think anyone wants to remind people of Bob Filner,” Sanders said.
Filner, 71, became San Diego’s third mayor to resign since the 1980s after nearly 20 women _ among them a retired Navy rear admiral and a San Diego State University dean _ accused him of unwanted advances including kissing, groping and asking them on dates. He pleaded guilty last month to one count of felony false imprisonment and two counts of misdemeanor battery. And another former mayor, Maureen O’Connor, acknowledged in federal court this year that she took money from her late husband’s charitable foundation to help finance a $1 billion gambling spree.
As much as any candidate brings up Filner for scandal-weary voters, it’s Kevin Faulconer, 46, a two-term Republican city councilman, whom the party quickly decided to support.
Faulconer makes veiled references to restoring trust and notes that he participated in negotiations that resulted in Filner leaving office in exchange for the city covering some legal costs, but he goes no further.
Several Democrats are vying to lead the nation’s eighth-largest city, including Nathan Fletcher, an executive at wireless technology titan Qualcomm Inc. and a former state assemblyman who finished third in last year’s mayoral race and David Alvarez, a first-term city councilman and relative unknown from the city’s low-income Barrio Logan area. Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre also is running. But they’re all avoiding the topic of Filner.
Fletcher, 36, became a Democrat in May, barely a year after bolting the Republican Party when he was one of its rising stars in California to become an independent. He is endorsed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and several law enforcement labor unions.
Alvarez, 33, is backed by the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the largest coalition of organized labor.
Aguirre, 64, has zeroed in on reining in pension costs for city workers. He was elected city attorney in 2004 amid a crisis in city finances sparked by controversial labor agreements and lost a bid for re-election four years later.
If no one wins a majority in the Nov. 19 election _ a likely scenario with 11 candidates _ the top two finishers compete in a runoff. Todd Gloria, the City Council president, is interim mayor until voters pick a replacement.
Brian Adams, a political science professor at San Diego State University, said Faulconer is “very much ensconced in the downtown business establishment” and represents a sharp contrast with Alvarez, who hews closest to Filner’s liberal positions. He said Fletcher was more of an enigma.
Faulconer, as the lone high-profile Republican, “would have to do something really stupid not to get in the runoff,” Adams said. “He’s being very cautious and that makes a lot of sense.”
Faulconer’s first television spot featured Sanders, _a popular, moderate Republican who was forced out by term limits _ calling Faulconer the best candidate to “finish the job” he started.
The Filner debacle gives Republicans a chance to regain an office they held for much of the last four decades, even though Democrats have a 13-point advantage in voter registration and Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 25 points among city voters last year.
Recognizing that, about 30 Republican leaders and their allies assembled in the La Jolla living room of a prominent developer on Aug. 31, the day after Filner left office, and decided to back Faulconer.
Doug Manchester, owner of the city’s dominant newspaper, U-T San Diego, argued for Carl DeMaio, a combative former city councilman who lost to Filner by only 5 points last year. But when Manchester said the city accomplished nothing the last 10 years, Sanders rose up and lit into him with profanities, according to an account of the meeting first reported by Voice of San Diego and confirmed by Sanders. Manchester apologized.
Faulconer may be best positioned among the leading candidates to draw contrasts with Filner. He is a mild-mannered Republican who portrays himself as someone who bridges political divides; Filner was a fiercely liberal Democrat who relished fights. Faulconer believes city services should be open to private bidding and he supported a ballot measure to cut pensions for city workers; Filner opposed both efforts.
But Democrats can counter that they were first to expose Filner. Many party leaders, including Alvarez, quickly demanded he resign despite similar political positions.