San Diego, CA - The final televised mayoral debate turned into an all out prize fight between the incumbent Republican Kevin Faulconer, independent candidate Lori Saldaña and Democrat Ed Harris. The challengers were relentless in attacking the mayor and his record.
Moderated by NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison, Catherine Garcia and Mark Mullen as well as Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis, the topics ranged from the city’s 9-1-1 crisis, the recent police action in Barrio Logan, the regional housing crisis, and what to do about the Chargers' stadium. On each point, the challengers said the mayor has shown a “lack of leadership, vision and accountability to the people of San Diego.”
To each criticism, Faulconer responded by calmly stating he’s “building consensus” with city leaders and has taken the “necessary steps to put the city on sound financial ground.” He used the recent firefighters contract negotiation and city wide infrastructure street improvements as examples of his leadership and vision.
Discussion about the firefighters contract quickly turned argumentative, which would become the overall tone of the debate.
With respect to the Chargers' stadium push, Faulconer noted he continues to do “his homework” on the team's downtown plans and unlike other mayors who put the city at risk with the “ticket guarantee and underfunding of the pension,” he is taking the prudent approach by taking his time to vet the financials.
Saldaña and Harris, who support the Citizens’ Plan for Tourism Reform, questioned how Faulconer could expedite a $350 million taxpayer subsidy for his Mission Valley plan, and yet stall on the Charger's Initiative claiming due diligence, when the team’s plan is a tax on tourists that wouldn’t harm the city’s general fund.
On May 27th, Donald Trump held a rally in San Diego. About an hour after the rally wrapped, violence broke out on the streets, with police forcing protesters about a mile from where the rally was held and into the Barrio Logan neighborhood. The police action is now a campaign talking point. Faulconer has repeatedly said the police force did a “remarkably great job of keeping the peace and protecting the public.” He maintained that position during the debate.
The ACLU, Saldaña and Harris don’t agree with that sentiment. It is likely that the ACLU and others will sue the city for excessive force and first amendment violations.
The condition of Balboa Park was also discussed. Saldaña and Harris say the city has come up woefully short in funding for the rehabilitation of the city's crown jewel. Park officials estimate it needs more than $300 million to repair and maintain the infrastructure that’s decaying and eroding.
The mayor responded by stating parks are a priority and Balboa Park will be getting additional funds as part of his May budget revision.
The homeless issue has also become a contentious subject in San Diego, particularly when discussing the impacts downtown. Ed Harris noted the homeless population in San Diego has risen 21% over the past couple years. Saldaña also hit the mayor for not having a "better strategic plan like other large cities on the west coast."
Faulconer responded that this is a complex issue that needs a thoughtful, long term solution.
It was a contentious back and forth and certainly gave more insights into the three candidates and where they stand on the city’s most pressing issues.
Voters will decide the fate of the mayor's race on June 7.