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New mayor dreams big, finds tension at City Hall in first six months of 2013

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The first half of 2013 could be described as a period of self-identification for San Diego. The city had a new mayor -- the first Democrat to hold the office in two decades. He brought a blunt style of leadership on issues, butted heads with some, and drew praise from others. Already knee-deep in controversial plans for a major Convention Center expansion and a tourism district, the city grew aflame in opinions when halfway through Filner’s first year in office, he was accused by several women of sexual harassment. As he refused to resign, recall efforts sprang, and the city may soon again be going to the ballot box to choose to stick with Filner or replace him. And as sports can be as identifying for a city as its politicians, the Padres entered their 10th season of play Petco Park, where there were hopes for a changing direction for the team under its new ownership.

San Diego County ranks in top 10 percent for improving jobless rate
While the nation showed an 8 percent rate of improvement in its unemployment rate from April 2012 to April 2013 -- dropping from a non-seasonally-adjusted 7.7 percent in April 2012 to 7.1 percent in April 2013 -- San Diego’s unemployment picture was brighter, showing an improvement rate of 19 percent.

Improving to a non-seasonally-adjusted rate of 7 percent in April 2013 from a rate of 8.6 percent a year earlier, the local unemployment figure marked the first time since January 2008 that the metropolitan area had a jobless rate below the national average.

Mayor calls for reborn planning department
Since before taking office, newly elected San Diego Mayor Bob Filner had issues with the city’s organization. And he didn’t shy away from letting the world know that change was coming for big developer interests.

In the latest outline of his vision in June, he made clear that a new Planning and Neighborhood Restoration Department -- with an emphasis on the “neighborhood” portion of its name -- would be the new way forward after his predecessor, Jerry Sanders, shifted the planning function into the Development Services Department.

Just before taking office, Filner used the backdrop of empty desks on the fourth floor of City Hall -- desks previously used by the now-assimilated Planning Department -- to call attention to his aggravation with city operations.

Push for first bi-national Olympics, stronger ties

In yet another buck of trends, Filner began moving forward with plans to present to the International Olympic Committee a bi-national bid for the 2024 Olympic Games.

Olympics rules don’t allow for bi-national bids, but determined to emphasize the San-Diego-Tijuana relationship -- something he took to new levels by also opening a city of San Diego office in downtown Tijuana -- Filner sought advice from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in getting a cross-border bid started. Romney headed the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and agreed to provide Filner with assistance.

Filner used the phrase “dos ciudades y una region,” the Spanish equivalent of “two cities, one region,” in the lead-up to his taking office, and in his first few months as mayor, he stressed in approaching numerous policies his priority of strengthening ties with Tijuana.

Garfinkel steps down as Padres fall down
After staying with the San Diego Padres as its president and CEO following the 2012 ownership change of the team, Tom Garfinkel resigned his posts with the club July 9, in the midst of the team’s worst losing streak of the season.

Ron Fowler, the Padres' executive chairman, assumed Garfinkel's responsibilities on an interim basis. The night before Garfinkel’s announcement, the team had lost its 10th game in a row, leaving the Padres in the National League West division’s cellar. Just three weeks earlier, the team had climbed from its early-season woes to within one game of the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Garfinkel joined the Padres in April 2009.

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