In the San Diego mayoral campaign’s first televised debate, Councilman Carl DeMaio inaccurately alleged Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher was the subject of an ethics investigation, Congressman Bob Filner accused DeMaio of supporting a $1 billion tax increase and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis demanded a look at Filner’s long-promised pension reform plan.
During the KPBS-hosted debate, DeMaio asked if it was true that Fletcher was the subject of an investigation. Fletcher said he wasn’t, and that DeMaio had his facts wrong.
Fletcher’s dismissal was accurate. The city of San Diego Ethics Commission dismissed on April 18 a complaint filed against him on March 22, according to a letter sent to Fletcher and provided by Stacey Fullhorst, executive director of the commission.
Following the debate, DeMaio’s campaign provided a copy of the initial complaint, along with an acknowledgment of it sent to the complainant by Fullhorst on March 26.
Ryan Clumpner, DeMaio’s campaign manager, said the campaign had possession of the letter for “a few weeks” and had opted against releasing it until now because they wanted to be sure “something like this” didn’t happen.
He said the campaign was unaware the complaint had been dismissed, and that the dismissal notice had yet to be sent to the complainant.
The complaint charged that Fletcher had funded videos produced for his mayoral campaign through his state office’s account. It was dismissed because “a complaint based on speculation does not warrant an investigation,” according to the dismissal notice sent to Fletcher.
Fletcher's campaign held a conference call for reporters following the debate, alleging that DeMaio or his campaign had orchestrated the dust up to confuse voters and reporters.
“The DeMaio campaign engaged in a political stunt by cooking up a complaint against our campaign,” said Matt David, the Fletcher campaign’s senior advisor. “The type of political games that San Diegans are sick of and exactly what led Nathan Fletcher to leave party politics.”
But the debate contained its share of actual policy discussion, too.
Filner, the race’s lone Democrat, was the only candidate to challenge the wisdom and legal authority of the Phase 3 Convention Center expansion as it’s currently financed.
The City Council-approved financing plan put the expansion and a $1 billion tax to finance it in the hands of the city’s hoteliers.
Hotel owners are currently participating in a mail-ballot vote to agree to levy additional taxes on hotel guests that will, in turn, be used to pay for the expansion.
The city attorney has said the plan is legally tenuous, and that its validity will be decided in court.
DeMaio, who in 2010 led a charge to defeat the Proposition D sales tax increase and considers himself a taxpayer advocate, voted in favor of giving expansion authority to city hoteliers.
“The last two expansions involved public money through the TOT, transient occupancy tax,” DeMaio said. “Under my proposal the hoteliers will have to take responsibility for funding the expansion... I believe that’s fair because taxpayers funded Phase 1 and Phase 2.”
Filner challenged DeMaio’s claim that hoteliers were self-funding the expansion.
“How can you call a vote on the transient occupancy tax not taxpayer funded?" Filner said. "It is a public tax, and you’ve given the right to vote on it to a private group.”
City Council also recently gave the hoteliers, as represented by the private Convention Center and Visitors Bureau (ConVis), control of the center’s long-term booking in what has been called an exchange for their support of the expansion.
“That’s a giveaway to private industry, and you know it, Mr. DeMaio,” Filner said.
DeMaio, Dumanis and Fletcher each support Proposition B, the pension reform initiative spearheaded and authored by DeMaio.
It would switch most new city hires to a 401(k)-style retirement plan and hopes to freeze pensionable pay among workers for five years.
The legality of the pay freeze is expected to go to court, and if approved could still be overturned by a council supermajority.
Dumanis on multiple occasions challenged Filner to release the pension reform plan he’s promised more than 10 months ago, but has yet to produce in writing.
Filner reiterated the summary of his plan that he’s offered in previous debates: restructure the city’s shortfall through pension obligation bonds and cap city pensions at $100,000.
He says his plan will put $550 million in the city’s general fund over 10 years. But to date, nothing has been produced that could demonstrate those savings.
“Bob, where is the proof of the savings in your plan?” Dumanis asked. “That’s why we want to see a plan.”
Filner again didn’t commit to providing the reviewable, comprehensive plan he has promised.
Instead, he cited the findings of the city’s Independent Budget Analyst in its fiscal review of Prop B.
The report said the initiative would save $963 million, or $581 million when adjusted for inflation, over a 30 year period, and that all of those savings come from the potential salary freeze.
It found switching new hires to a 401(k) plan would cost $13 million, or $56 million after inflation adjustment, over 30 years.