COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE MITROVICH

In the matter of Kevin Faulconer

On Election Day last year, Kevin Faulconer received five votes from the Mitrovich family, which is to say he received five votes from five Democrats.

I voted for Kevin because he was once a member of The City Club of San Diego, which means he’s been involved in my three greatest civic causes: strong mayor government, the downtown ballpark and City Club.

But Faulconer took office a year ago, so how is he measuring up?

First, the mayor looks like a mayor. If you sent central casting a request for someone to play mayor, you would get Kevin Faulconer. And, if you further asked for someone to play first lady, you’d get Katherine Faulconer.

On that score, our mayor looks the part and, more importantly, performs well in his role (and Mrs. Faulconer in hers).

But mayors are judged not on looks but performance.

And, on performance, Faulconer has stumbled twice.

Thus far, his greatest single mistake was plotting with Sherri Lightner and other council members to remove Todd Gloria as council president.

The mayor won politically, Lightner is now council president, but in the long run he will lose, because now Todd Gloria will likely oppose him next year for mayor.

The mayor’s thinking, and that of his senior staff, was that Gloria as council president would pose a more formidable threat than as a council member.

In that, the mayor and staff erred.

When Bob Filner resigned, Gloria became interim mayor and Faulconer assumed a major council role. The two of them performed brilliantly in their respective roles, as our city was in dire straits, given Filner’s scandalous behavior. Uncertainty reigned, especially among city employees.

It was a bad time in San Diego, in ways transcending common knowledge.

Knowing the damage done to our city by Filner, both Gloria and Faulconer resolved to serve San Diego first, seeing it, correctly, as their highest duty and trumping all other considerations, including their own political futures.

In doing so, they learned a critical lesson: Politics is best when its practitioners allow their conscience to prevail in matters of public interest.

But Gloria went further, when he decided not to use his provisional powers to run for mayor.

Faulconer made a different decision; he decided to run. But no criticism is implied in that decision. His role was different than Gloria’s.

Both Gloria and Faulconer came to speak at a City Club Saturday morning program at La Jolla Country Day School.

They gave an impressive oversight of their duties as fiduciaries of our city and when they finished they received a standing ovation, led by Dr. Irwin Jacobs.

Which raises a question: Would Gloria have made a different decision, would he have been more viable as a mayoral candidate than Alvarez?

Yes.

While the financial power structure of San Diego remains white and Republican, that is not the political reality at the grassroots. Democrats outnumber Republicans in registration by nearly 88,000.

Thus, Faulconer’s decision with Lightner and other council members was a decision that will probably damage him next year, because had Gloria continued as council president with the mayor’s support, his challenging Faulconer would have been problematical.

So, Faulconer’s short-term political gain may cost him in the long run.

The mayor’s second stumble was when he named his stadium task force in the effort to save the Chargers for San Diego, he named all Republicans. Apparently the mayor thought no Democrat was worthy of serving on his task force.

I had paid little attention to the formation of the group until Dick Enberg sent me an email saying he was disappointed I had not been named.

Enberg’s disappointment notwithstanding, I was OK with not being named — I was not OK with not being consulted.

Mark Mitrovich and I created and led the citizens committee in support of the downtown ballpark for the Padres — which ended up as a combined investment of 8,000 volunteer hours and 12-years of our lives. I also spent eight years as a member and chairman of the San Diego Stadium Authority, when significant improvements were made to fan amenities and stadium enlargement.

To be blunt, not a single person named by the mayor to his task force approaches my experience as a Stadium Authority member, or my leadership of the citizens committee on the downtown ballpark; an undertaking approved by 59.7 percent of voters — an unheard of margin in fiscally conservative San Diego.

If your takeaway is I’m just peeved not being put on the task force, you would be wrong. When I told Dick Enberg I wasn’t upset at not being named, but rather upset in not being consulted, that is precisely what I meant — then and now.

That said, however, the mayor, knowing of my annoyance, did call and asked that once the task force’s plan to save the Chargers for San Diego is in place, would I be willing to assume a similar role to that of the ballpark’s citizens committee?

I said yes, because when an interest of our city is at stake and my help is sought, I have never said no. (Although, I allow, once he reads this column, the mayor may rescind his request.)

But to the much larger question: Do the Chargers stay or go?

I am of the mind they will go, but do not confuse that with a desire for them to leave.

I have been a Chargers fan since 1961, and have consistently said our NFL team is a regional asset and, given the ever-fragile psyche of our town and region, their leaving would be a blow. (And U-T San Diego’s weekday sports section would be reduced from four pages to two.)

It’s 14 years on and we still have no plan for a new stadium. We had a plan that would have worked — by Dan Shea of Donovan’s restaurant and his group — that involved deeding the 168 acres at Qualcomm to the Chargers in return for the team building a new stadium and assuming all related costs.

It would have worked and it would have saved the city nearly $15 million annually in operational costs and bond payments for the Q. Had the Shea deal been acted upon, the city would have saved by now over $200 million!

But none of the blame for 14 lost years is on Faulconer; that blame lies largely with Mayor Jerry Sanders, a lovely man, but he doesn’t get a pass on his stadium failure.

As I’ve said of Faulconer, he has stumbled twice: first, in the Todd Gloria matter and secondly, in choosing an all-Republican stadium task force.

But while I am disappointed in his conduct in the former, and his decision on the latter, I still love our mayor — and he has time to redeem himself before 2016.


George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He may be reached at, gmitro35@gamil.com

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Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 1:37pm March 29, 2015

Let's just say there's never been an Establishment figure in San Diego that George Mitrovich hasn't found Loveable or Lovely, even if they don't appoint him to something important. Mitrovich is a registered Democrat, and never fails to mention that he once served Robert Kennedy, but he's always lived locally to serve whomever is in power in San Diego -- and that's usually any mover and shaker of conservative and GOP persuasion. Maybe that's a necessary practicality to run a business like his City Club enterprise. But it's just too much to read his complaint about being left off Mayor Faulconer's stadium task force along with an utterly irresponsible recommendation that the city ought to "deed 168 acres at Qualcomm to the Chargers in return for the team building a new stadium." No wonder he didn't get picked: time has passed him by.