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Four mayoral candidates spar in first debate

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All four major San Diego mayoral candidates squared off in a debate for the first time Friday, answering pointed questions from members of the local media about their plans and policies.

Candidates were questioned on their plans for pension reform, redevelopment funding and a new Chargers stadium, as well as their positions on the failed tax increase measure Proposition D, the arrest of Occupy protestors at Mayor Jerry Sanders’ final “State of the City” speech and whether they would keep Chief of Police Bill Lansdowne.

Mostly civil in their responses and rebuttals, the candidates only threw occasional barbs at each other.

In reference to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ recent announcement that she would donate her entire mayoral salary to education, state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher joked that he would give up his entire salary as mayor to the charity of Dumanis’ choice if she would also donate her pension.

Dumanis will earn $249,600 a year in pension from her tenure as district attorney, the news organization Voice of San Diego has previously reported.

Congressman Bob Filner joked that Fletcher was so supportive of building a joint sports and entertainment facility instead of a football stadium for the Chargers that when he's elected mayor, he'll appoint Fletcher as czar of the sports and entertainment center.

One of the biggest clashes of the night occurred between City Councilman Carl DeMaio and Fletcher over Fletcher’s “Sacramento Surprise,” a backroom deal to remove the cap on downtown redevelopment.

DeMaio said he was offended by the deal and accused it of violating the standards of open government.

"There's a reason why we have The Brown Act in California," DeMaio said.

But Fletcher defended his decision, saying that people want results and that deal was an “opportunity to do the right thing for San Diego.”

“But if I’d known what Governor Brown would do, I might not have put myself through the trouble,” he said, referring to the governor’s recent decision to eliminate redevelopment agencies.

Filner then joked that he would give DeMaio and Fletcher 30 seconds each of his time to continue fighting.

Most candidates said they disapproved of the mayor’s recent decision to charge four protestors who disrupted his “State of the City” speech with felonies.

Although DeMaio said the Occupy San Diego protest has been ineffective and disruptive, he said the felony charges were "quite frankly, a surprise to me."

Filner called the felony charges “ridiculous,” while Dumanis said she would wait to see the facts and evidence before deciding what the charge should be, a joking reference to her current job as district attorney.

And while Fletcher commended San Diego’s police for the way they have handled the protests, he said he would “want to hear a compelling case for why felony charges were warranted.”

Each candidate also answered a question of whether, if mayor, they would retain Landsdowne in his current job as police chief. Dumanis and Filner simply answered “yes.” DeMaio and Fletcher said they would wait to decide until they took office and looked at all available candidates.

The three Republican candidates, DeMaio, Dumanis and Fletcher, said they support the ballot measure to move most new city employees to a 401(k) plan instead of granting them a pension, but none directly said they would attempt to also move police officers to the 401(k) plan. The current plan calls for keeping police officers on pensions.

Filner, the only Democratic candidate, said he strongly opposes Comprehensive Pension Reform, or CPR.

“CPR needs CPR,” he said.

Dumanis refused to take a position on the failed proposition to increase city taxes, called Proposition D.

"Because of my position at that time, I couldn't take a position," she said.

DeMaio said he fought against many influential city leaders in his opposition of the proposition, but said a leader cannot stand on the sidelines when an important issue is raised.

Fletcher agreed that leaders need to take a stand on such issues, and said he also opposed the measure.

“There's no part of an economic recovery that says 'raise taxes,'” he said.

No candidate would reveal the amount of money he or she had raised over the last six months.

“Enough to win,” DeMaio joked.

Those fundraising results will be made public at the end of the month. The four candidates will face off in an open mayoral primary June 5.

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