Making his final push to become San Diego’s next mayor, Rep. Bob Filner announced Wednesday the race’s most noteworthy endorsement yet: Bill Clinton.
The former president wasn’t in attendance for the endorsement, but Filner played a recording of Clinton’s trademark Arkansas drawl praising the congressman.
Filner said an automated call would be heard by "probably several hundred thousand" voters between now and Election Day.
“Hello, this is President Bill Clinton,” the recording begins. “I’m asking you to join me in supporting Bob Filner for mayor. As president I worked with Bob to save San Diego taxpayers more than $3 billion, and to secure funding for construction of the veterans’ home. Bob has the experience to move San Diego forward, to create good-paying, 21st century jobs, to support quality public education and to put neighborhoods first, not special interests. As a Freedom Rider in the 1960s, Bob showed he had the courage to do what’s right. That’s what he did in Congress, and that’s exactly what he’ll do as mayor of San Diego. Thank you.”
Clinton’s endorsement is the former president's latest in a series of flirtations with San Diego.
During a recent appearance on "The Daily Show," he called the city’s role in fostering the biotech industry a template for creating 21st century jobs and also praised Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Last week he stumped for Port Commissioner Scott Peters in his bid to unseat Rep. Brian Bilbray in the 52nd Congressional District, during an endorsement event in Irvine for a number of California congressional nominees.
Clinton’s endorsement, however, comes less than a week before Election Day, and three weeks after the push for vote-by-mail ballots began.
Filner said Clinton had initially decided not to endorse any races below the congressional level, but decided the opportunity to put a Democrat in charge of the nation’s eighth largest city was too good to pass up.
“It took awhile, but we convinced them that this race for mayor is of national importance, and they decided to do it here and we greatly appreciate it,” Filner said.
The Clinton endorsement could prove decisive for Filner if it improves his position among voters drawn to the polls to vote for President Barack Obama, especially those with no party affiliation, "decline-to-state" voters.
Data released Tuesday showed decline-to-state voters now outnumber Republicans within the city of San Diego, while Democrats have a registration advantage.
Filner used the endorsement to discuss his experience working with the president from 1992 through 2000, citing issues like the waiver he received to allow the city not to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility — which saved taxpayers $3 billion — and the federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program.
Filner said he traveled with Clinton on Air Force One first for a meeting with the Mexican president and later when Clinton spent weekends vacationing in Coronado, and used the time discussing local issues.
“Whenever he was in town or I was on the plane, we talked about San Diego and what I needed,” Filner said. “The sewage treatment plant, the waiver, the veterans' home, the support for our cops, all came from those conversations.”
Wednesday's press conference was also an opportunity for Filner to move away from a conversation that had begun to dominate the race: the DeMaio campaign’s assertion that a series of public flare-ups show Filner doesn’t have the temperament to serve as mayor.
The case, made during debates and through TV ads, was bolstered Monday when District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, in her endorsement of DeMaio, said Filner was condescending and derisive to her and other women.
The DeMaio campaign responded to the Clinton endorsement by pointing to its most notable endorsers.
“The mayoral election will be decided by San Diegans," said campaign spokesman K.B. Forbes. "We are proud of our broad and bipartisan support including San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, San Diego’s top Democrat Irwin Jacobs, and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.”
Filner flanked himself Wednesday with current and retired firefighters, police officers and lifeguards to repeat his case that he’s public safety’s choice in the race.
Both Councilman Carl DeMaio and Filner support the police department’s five-year hiring plan to restore the department’s 2009 employment levels by 2018.
Filner intends to pay for the hiring schedule by redirecting the hotel room tax used to fund the city’s Tourism Marketing District, a difficult but not impossible legal maneuver. DeMaio would pay for the increased funding with savings from increased usage of managed competition and other fiscal reforms, many of which the city has already implemented but DeMaio said can be redone to produce additional savings.
Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, the city’s police officers' union that has endorsed Filner, said the city hasn’t pursued federal funding through the COPS program in recent years because budget cuts have forced the department to prioritize officers in the street over the support staff who would otherwise write grant requests.
Filner said the program had provided San Diego with hundreds of officers in the 1990s, and pledged increased emphasis on it in his administration.