SAN DIEGO - Three leading mayoral candidates squared off Friday in a debate during the Family Health Centers of San Diego's "Spirit of the Barrio" luncheon that focused mostly on issues facing underserved communities.
It was the second debate for Councilmen Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez, but the first for former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who did not participate in an event last week but spoke to its attendees separately.
The debate was moderated by 10News Anchor Steve Atkinson and focused on a number of topics, including the candidates' management styles, what they plan to do about homelessness and how to address the Barrio Logan Community Plan update.
The candidates differed on City Council-approved revisions to Barrio Logan's community plan that included a commercial buffer zone separating homes and industrial areas. Industry officials were considering a referendum campaign to force a city-wide vote.
Fletcher called the issue "a problem that has lingered for decades," and urged the two councilmen to bring representatives from the neighborhood and the shipbuilding and maritime industries together to find a solution.
"The current council is not getting it done," Fletcher said. "I would call for [the City Council] to call on stakeholders to come back to the table so the city doesn't have to go back to another election."
"Other cities with ports have managed to protect residents and protect communities and protect their health, and they've also managed to make sure that we have an economy where people can get good jobs," Fletcher added.
Alvarez, who represents Barrio Logan and grew up there, said he took "extreme exception" to Fletcher's comments. Alvarez crafted the approved update, a compromise of two proposed plans.
"We protected neighborhoods, we protected the people who live here and we protected those jobs," Alvarez said.
Faulconer, who voted against the update, said although he agreed with the majority of its revisions, it was important to ensure "we are protecting one of the biggest economic engines that we have in terms of the working waterfront."
All three candidates acknowledged the need for faster emergency response time in underserved areas.
Fletcher said it was "immoral" that firefighters responded in fewer than seven minutes in some areas, while taking nine-and-a-half in others.
Alvarez said city data showed inequities between neighborhoods, and where additional fire stations were needed, such as on Home Avenue.
Faulconer said the city needed to move forward with building fire stations, and to recruit and retain city police officers.
"Every San Diegan, no matter where you live, deserves to feel confident that when you dial 911, you're going to get an emergency response with the best and the brightest first responders with the best training," Faulconer said.
All three also called for the city to continue funding support services that help the homeless.
"It's not just a business issue, it's a moral issue because as a city, how we treat our homeless population says a lot about who we are as a people," Fletcher said.
The candidates were asked to describe their management and leadership styles and what type of team they would bring to the Office of Mayor.
When asked about their leadership style, Faulconer took a veiled jab at Fletcher, saying, "Leadership matters and principles matter; you know who I am and you know where I stand and my principles are not going to change based upon shifting political winds."
Fletcher said he would bring to the office a sense of collaboration and the "willingness to sit down and listen."
Alvarez said he aims to bring a leadership that is bold and inclusive.
"There are a lot of inequalities in this city, a lot of people who are going to be left behind, and in a San Diego that's going to be great we cannot let this happen," Alvarez added.
Atkinson pointed out that Faulconer seemed to have alluded to Fletcher changing party affiliations within the past two years.
Atkinson then asked Fletcher, "Now more than ever San Diegans need a mayor they can trust after Mayor Bob Filner. Can you address that switching parties?"
Fletcher left the Republican Party last year, became an Independent and then a Democrat. He explained his decision, saying that his perspective had changed over a decade in which he returned from a military deployment and saw veterans denied needed care. He also said as he prepared to place his child in city schools, concerns arose over public funding, and cited declining working-class wages.
"Political parties change over time and so do people," Fletcher said. "People change, you get new experiences, you gain perspectives you may not have had and I think we need to be honest about that."
Alvarez didn't address Fletcher's party switches and instead focused on what's ahead.
"At this point, we're at a crossroads. We can decide if we go back to the old-style politics that have controlled San Diego for far too long or we can elect leadership that's bold that sees into the future and that reflects the diversity of this city," Alvarez said.
Fletcher also pledged not to attack his fellow candidates during the run, and asked them to do the same.
He said, "And I'm taking that pledge today and I'm asking the other two members here on stage to take the same pledge with me."
The Republican Faulconer and Democrat Alavarez were cordial to one another, pointing out examples when they have worked together. They did not make the same pledge and instead went on to respond to the moderator's questions.
Alvarez, Fletcher and Faulconer are among the 11 candidates in the Nov. 19 special election to finish out the term of former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in August.
The list also includes former City Attorney Mike Aguirre; Bruce Coons, executive director of the preservationist group Save Our Heritage Organization; lawyer Hud Collins; business administrator and Realtor Harry Dirks; and San Diego State University senior Michael Kemmer.
Tobiah Pettus, the only lesser-known candidate to make last year's primary ballot; Businessman Sina "Simon" Moghadam; and gun and personal rights advocate, Lincoln Pickard, are also in the running.
If no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the votes in the November election, a runoff between the top two vote-getters would be held early next year.
10News will participate in two other mayoral debates during the special election season. The second debate will be held Oct. 14 with moderator 10News Anchor Virginia Cha and KPBS Evening Edition Host Peggy Pico. Finally, 10News and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association will hold an Oct. 30 debate focusing on the environment, education and the economic and criminal justice sectors.
“10News and our parent company E.W. Scripps, are dedicated to the local political issues that impact our community,” said Vice President and General Manager Jeff Block. “This special election is important choice for San Diego and we made the decision to provide additional, in-depth information that doesn’t fit in a regular, daily newscast.”
The debate held during the Family Health Centers of San Diego's "Spirit of the Barrio" luncheon will air on the 10News 24-hour Newschannel (Cox 810, Time Warner 210) on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.