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Campaign notebook: SD mayoral race turns even uglier

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San Diego’s mayoral race had been on pause for most of the summer. After advancing through the June primary, Democratic Congressman Bob Filner and Republican Councilman Carl DeMaio slowed down their campaigns, seemingly preparing to get back on the trail after Labor Day.

An ill-fated water gun fight in Balboa Park changed all that.

As a result, this week signaled a full-scale return of the mayoral campaign. Here’s a rundown of everything that happened.

Balboa park water gun fight

The basics: As many as 1,000 uptown partiers staged a late-night water gun fight in Balboa Park on Saturday. By Sunday morning, as much as $10,000 in damages had been done to the park’s iconic Lily Pond and its landscaping. Initial reports that the koi were unlikely to survive proved inaccurate. No one’s been charged with damaging the property, but the San Diego Police Department is investigating the incident and has been in touch with the event organizers, who did not acquire event permits ahead of the fight.

Like the San Diego Reader, the publication San Diego Gay and Lesbian News published an item promoting the event. In its listing, SDGLN boosted the event’s connection to its former employee Ken St. Pierre, one of the event’s organizers.

Unlike the San Diego Reader, SDGLN is published by Johnathan Hale, DeMaio’s partner.

St. Pierre is also a donor to DeMaio’s campaign.

Combining DeMaio’s connections to Hale and St. Pierre, Filner released a statement Monday demanding that DeMaio “condemn” the “criminal actions” of his partner and alleging that Hale was set to have a significant role in DeMaio’s administration.

SDPD has said that Hale wasn’t involved in the event and didn’t commit any crime. There’s also no public record of DeMaio or Hale suggesting the latter is set to have any role in DeMaio’s administration.

All this led to DeMaio holding a press conference on Monday to repudiate Filner’s accusations and to request an apology from Filner for attacking the character of an innocent man.

In a Tuesday morning debate hosted by the local Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Filner made clear no apology was coming.

After a series of dust-ups during the debate, which was set to discuss building industry issues, the disagreement spilled into the hallways, with TV cameras rolling the whole time. Filner reasserted his accusations, and eventually DeMaio’s new communications director called the congressman “a lying sack of marbles.”

By the end of Tuesday, 10News had commissioned a poll from SurveyUSA to gauge the public’s interest in the whole thing. Its findings: 66 percent of respondents knew of the issue, 61 percent were aware of Filner’s accusation, 51 percent found it unfair, and DeMaio gained a net 6 percent of support over it all. The poll had a 6 percent margin of error.

The rest of the debate

BOMA’s building industry-related responses didn’t quite generate the same response as the exchanges over Balboa Park.

When they weren’t trading accusations, the candidates discussed sustainable energy, building regulations, Proposition B, union contractors, the Convention Center expansion plan and homelessness.

Filner pushed his plan to make all city buildings solar-powered in five years. He touted his work in Congress on veterans homelessness, and said the city could look to repurpose buildings like hotels and hospitals to house 400 homeless individuals at a time. Filner said the city should develop a fee schedule and guaranteed time frame for all building permits so developers could at least have cost certainty.

DeMaio argued for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, which finance renewable energy installations through a property tax assessment, rather than by having property owners take out a loan for the project to be paid off over time. He said funding Connections Housing and making it successful could set a template to be replicated to address homelessness elsewhere in the city. On permitting, he said a system of self-certification is succeeding in other cities, because professional architects and engineers have their reputation on the line when they sign off on a permit.

Prop. B’s pay freeze

Following Filner’s post-primary announcement that he plans to respect the will of the voters and implement Proposition B, which won 66 percent voter approval, DeMaio has argued Filner’s past opposition makes him untrustworthy to pension reformers.

He turned that argument into a news conference Thursday.

Flanked by four of the nine members of the next San Diego City Council, DeMaio said he had put together a coalition to ensure the passage of Prop. B’s five-year pay freeze for city workers, the element from which all of the bill’s projected $1 billion in savings are derived.

DeMaio’s four votes, he said, obviated the provision’s allowance for the city to overturn the pay freeze with the vote of a two-thirds council majority.

Previously, Filner had said his relationship with labor made him the best candidate to negotiate the freeze.

But DeMaio’s guarantee really only secures a two-year pay freeze. After that, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, one of the needed votes, would be termed out and his seat would be open.

Filner’s campaign quickly pointed out that without five votes, the council wouldn’t be able to impose a contract in the event that negotiations with labor break down. DeMaio’s adversarial relationship with the unions could lead to an impasse, the campaign said.

Ultimately, it might not matter.

In the only council race in November, Democrat Sherri Lightner is running for re-election against Republican Ray Ellis. The winner of the race could represent the fifth needed vote, assuming the councilmembers that weren’t at DeMaio’s press conference wouldn’t vote to impose a contract during a hypothetical impasse.

Ellis is a vocal supporter of Prop. B. Lightner announced her support for the measure in April, surprising labor leaders who had previously supported her.

Ellis’s campaign said the council hopeful would “do everything at every turn to defend and implement Prop. B.

Lightner’s campaign sent a statement saying the councilwoman would “continue to support implementation of the pension reforms enacted by voters.”

DeMaio’s canyonlands commitment

Early in the day Monday, DeMaio held a press conference to announce his commitment to open space preservation in the city. The item was drowned out by the water fight just a few hours later, and his campaign ended up not putting out a press release on it until later in the week.

DeMaio said he was committed to preserving 10,000 acres of canyonland, relating to SB 1139, a state bill by Senator Christine Kehoe. By formally dedicating the areas, it would give them legal protection from development or sale.

If the bill isn’t approved by the time DeMaio’s mayoral term begins, he said it’d become a legislative priority during his first week in office.

DeMaio said he hoped the city could work with nonprofits to secure grant funding to aid the lands and make them more accessible to city residents. Partnerships with nonprofits to restore cut back city services is a policy DeMaio favors in other areas, such as after school programs.

This week in endorsements

Councilman Carl DeMaio received endorsements this week from a group of businesspeople who supported either Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher or District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in the primary, or had thus far stayed out of the fray.

Many would seem to qualify as the “downtown insiders” DeMaio spent the spring saying were in control of Fletcher.

“While many of us supported different candidates in the primary and others sat the race out altogether, we all agree that to truly move our great city forward, we must elect Carl DeMaio as our next Mayor,” a letter accompanying the endorsement read. “This election is far too critical to sit on the sidelines and Carl is the candidate we trust to steer our city towards the prosperous future that all San Diegans deserve.”

The list includes Kris Michell, head of the Downtown San Diego Partnership; Keith Jones, chief operating officer of Ace Parking Management Inc.; Duane Roth, CEO of Connect; Phil Rath, president of Public Policy Strategies Inc.; William Geppert, the retired former head of Cox Communications Inc.

Also this week, DeMaio secured the endorsement of the San Diego County Apartment Association (SDCAA), a trade group representing property owners and managers. He can add the endorsement to the one he already secured from another powerful real estate group, the San Diego Association of Realtors (SDAR).

SDCAA’s announcement led some affordable housing advocates to assert that the endorsement proved DeMaio was uninterested in affordable housing, calling the SDCAA a group of landlords.

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