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San Diego Mayoral Debate: A Battle of Experience

by Michael Higham, published

The San Diego Mayoral debate and race have come down to Congressman Bob Filner and San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. The two candidates held a debate Friday at the La Jolla Country Day School.

IVN attended the debate and reported on the event through a live blog.

The audience included students of La Jolla Country Day School and Preuss School UCSD, as well as parents, faculty members, and local journalists. Although the debate included many important local issues, one point Rep. Filner repeatedly made was his experience.

Now experience may not necessarily imply competence. However, it may be beneficial for navigating through the local political landscape. Congressman Filner emphasized his 10-term tenure in the US House of Representatives throughout the debate. He also pointed out that Councilmember DeMaio's political experience is limited to only one term on the San Diego City Council.

The candidates also debated ways to build a relationship and connections with Mexico. Rep. Filner boasted about his 20 years as a congressman for a congressional district (then 50th, now 51st) that borders Mexico. He also told a story about himself and then-President Bill Clinton on Air Force One going to meet Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo.

Filner's answer, however, did not include policy solutions and details. Councilmember DeMaio recalled a recent visit to Baja California on a jobs tour with fellow councilmembers and business leaders.

When asked about extending the San Diego Unified School Districts academic calender to 200 days, both candidates were in support. Councilman DeMaio did articulate his upbringing with Jesuit priests after his parents were no longer in his life.

By this definition of experience, DeMaio is familiar with the importance of youth programs and internships. The councilmember went on to advocate after school programs for youth and stated that, "our city is responsible for their development."

Congressman Filner noted that his children were educated in the San Diego public school system, and countered that DeMaio had only "suddenly" cared about the issue, while Filner had been working on education issues for years.

There was also a misunderstanding of positions. Filner claimed that DeMaio supported Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law. Councilman DeMaio was the only dissenting vote when the San Diego City Council called for a repeal of Arizona's immigration law.

DeMaio rebutted that his dissent as a councilmember to call on Arizona to repeal its immigration law did not imply his support of that law. He then told Filner that they should speak for their own positions, and not each others.

We caught up with La Jolla Country Day School's Journalism teacher and founder of, Chris Lavin. I asked him if the slight attacks were appropriate for the type of audience and setting. He answered:

"Politicians have to make sure people distinguish between the two characters. [I feel like] this was polite and subtle."

I also sat down with La Jolla Country Day's Advanced Placement Government class representative who was a student asking questions to the candidates. I asked him if he was satisfied with the result of the debate:

"Our questions came from our AP Government class. We asked in an impromptu manner, but we made sure we didn't recycle similar questions. I was disappointed about the financial details in the debate, but we watched the several debates leading up to today."

Congressman Filner was having lunch with the organizers of the debate and I also spoke to him briefly. I asked Rep. Filner if dealing with increased partisanship in Congress has prepared him for the partisanship of local politics.

"The thing that's different about local government is there's no official party positions. Working for the school board and city council, you have to frame the issue in a way to get people together. Local government is more direct and you have a better sense of what's going on. Federal government gets so convoluted."

Councilman Carl DeMaio and his representatives were not available for comment after the debate.

Throughout the debate, both candidates stressed the need of "working together." Congressman Filner claimed that his experience in getting people to work together came from his ten terms in Congress.

His closing statement noted that San Diego's problems will "require people getting together at the table." Carl DeMaio based the case for his experience in "working together" with others on his term as a San Diego city councilmember.

The latest polls, published on August 24th by 10News had Congressman Filner at 47% and Councilmember DeMaio at 41%, with 12% still undecided. Although the municipal elections are officially non-partisan, Rep. Filner is a member of the Democratic Party.

Carl DeMaio was a member of the Republican Party who has recently claimed independence, though the City Council does not account for party affiliation. 10News quoted political analyst Carl Luna on partisanship saying that:

"This race is more polarizing than in traditional races. San Diegans typically like to go for a moderate, middle sort of candidate, now they've got a candidate to the right, a candidate to the left, reflecting the national divide."

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