Mayoral candidates get combative in 1st debate

SAN DIEGO — The first debate of the San Diego mayoral runoff campaign focused Wednesday on organized labor and big business support of the candidates.

FaulconerAlvarezThe forum at the 10News studios featured the first public tiffs between Councilmen David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer — a break from the polite norm seen up to this point in the campaign.

In the debate, co-hosted by KPBS and the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Alvarez said San Diegans were tired of the business interests that back Faulconer.

“Kevin will sit and listen and do whatever these special interests tell him to do,” Alvarez said. “The developers, the big corporations, those who have enough money to have lobbyists, who have high-paid consultants. Not everyday citizens.”

He called the Faulconer campaign “a big backroom deal,” in reference to stories that former councilman and 2012 mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio was pressured to stay out of the race.

Faulconer countered that the Alvarez campaign has taken in around $3 million from organized labor — “the same unions that nearly drove this city to bankruptcy.” That amounts to about 80 percent of his opponent’s funding, Faulconer said.

He pointed out that the mayor is the city’s chief labor negotiator and sits at the table during contract negotiations. Faulconer promised to be independent in such situations.

Because there was no majority winner in the Nov. 19 special election to replace disgraced former mayor Bob Filner, the councilmen as the top vote- getters are facing each other in a Feb. 11 runoff.

10News plans to air the debate at 7 p.m. Steve Atkinson of 10News and Peggy Pico of KPBS were the moderators. Matthew T. Hall of UT San Diego and the SPJ, and KOGO radio talk show hostess LaDona Harvey also asked questions.

The event took place a few days after a poll conducted on behalf of 10News and UT San Diego found Faulconer leading among likely voters with 53 percent support, compared to 37 percent for Alvarez.  The poll showed a strong gain for Faulconer, who was virtually tied with Alvarez in a survey last month.

Early voting began Monday.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters Office is open for walk-ins from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays  through Election Day. The registrar’s office said it sent out around 341,000 mail ballots to voters.