Candidate Could Be 1st Gay GOP Leader of Big City
SAN DIEGO - Whoever wins Tuesday’s election for mayor of the nation’s eighth-largest city will represent a break from the past.
A win by Councilman Carl DeMaio would make San Diego the largest U.S. city by far to choose an openly gay Republican leader. DeMaio also would become one of the few young Republicans elected to a high-profile office in California.
DeMaio, 38, made his political mark in the city by attacking municipal employee unions and attaching himself to the winning sides of ballot campaigns to privatize services, defeat a sales tax and cut public pensions.
U.S. Rep. Bob Filner has what looks like a golden opportunity for Democrats to capture an office that has eluded their grasp for most of four decades.
Filner, 70, is campaigning as a voice for those shut out of a City Hall that has long been led by moderate Republicans. The city’s beleaguered labor unions have poured money into making him the city’s first Democratic mayor since 1992.
Party affiliation favors Filner. Democrats overtook Republicans in voter registration in 1994 and now have a 12 percentage point edge. Still, several polls show a tight race.
DeMaio and Filner defeated two more moderate candidates in a June primary amid anemic turnout, leaving them to fight for voters in the middle. Each has sought to cast their opponent as polarizing and unaccustomed to compromise.
DeMaio won several endorsements from the city’s business and political establishment, shedding some of his firebrand image. One prominent supporter is Irwin Jacobs, founder of San Diego-based technology bellwether Qualcomm Inc. and the second-largest donor to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
For Jacobs, the tipping point was Filner’s theatrical presentation before the City Council in July to oppose Jacobs’ plan to remake Balboa Park, home of the San Diego Zoo and other cultural jewels. Filner introduced an impersonator who played the part of a long-deceased park advocate and openly mused what would happen if the project’s 79-year-old champion died.
"Bob went a little overboard," Jacobs said in an interview. "It was a much more emotional presentation (than DeMaio’s). That kind of bothered me."
DeMaio has raised $3.3 million - compared to less than $1 million for Filner - and outside groups supporting the Republican’s campaign have blanketed the airwaves.
One ad knocking Filner flashes a quote - "I’m a Congressman and can do whatever I want" - that was lifted from an immigration officer’s report on a 2003 confrontation with Filner at a detention facility. Filner denies making the statement when he was trying to visit a constituent at the jail. Online newspaper Voice of San Diego interviewed a reporter who witnessed the encounter and didn’t recall those words.
Another ad features an interview with a United Airlines baggage handler who had a run-in with Filner at Dulles International Airport in 2007. Filner pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of trespassing.