San Diego mayoral candidates face off in debate in front of a live studio audience

SAN DIEGO - The top four candidates in the San Diego mayoral race met in a debate held at San Diego State University Monday.

City Councilmen Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez, former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre took questions on jobs, local development and other topics. The candidates also had a brief opportunity to ask each other questions.

The debate was moderated by 10News Anchor Virginia Cha and KPBS Evening Edition's Peggy Pico, and the moderators also took questions that were submitted by viewers.

After taking a moment to introduce themselves to the audience with an opening statement, the candidates were asked what is the biggest problem facing the city.

Aguirre began by saying the city's biggest problem was the money that was going to city pensions and not into public services. He said the city has "an $8 billion problem."

Fletcher said the city's biggest problem is a combination of not having enough police officers on the streets and the conditions of city roads. He also said the city lacks an economic development strategy.

Faulconer said he believed the biggest problem is the lack of money being put back into neighborhoods, while Alvarez said the biggest problem in San Diego is that "leadership is missing at City Hall."

When it comes to fixing the city's neighborhoods, Fletcher said the city has not put enough into neighborhoods. Faulconer was critical of former Mayor Bob Filner's lack of movement regarding funding for neighborhoods, saying, "We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past."

Aguirre stated the city has put more money into pensions than into things such as libraries or recreation centers.

The candidates were asked about creating jobs in San Diego, and Faulconer began by saying, "We are going to protect jobs we already have in San Diego."

Alvarez reiterated that neighborhoods were important, especially when it comes to creating jobs.

"Good neighborhoods mean good paying jobs," Alvarez said.

Aguirre said if he is elected mayor, he plans on using unemployment bonds to rebuild the city and produce more jobs.

"We need purchasing power in the hands of the middle class," Aguirre said.

Fletcher said his stance on creating jobs is to "re-brand" the city and invest in manufacturing, and then selling products made in San Diego outside of San Diego.

The topic of an open government policy was asked, and Alvarez said he would "make sure people have access to me."

Aguirre responded by saying he "will be the most transparent mayor we will ever have in the history of the city."

In the middle of the debate, the candidates were given time to ask each other questions, and Fletcher began by asking Faulconer about public safety issues and why the city has not done enough to rectify the problem.

Faulconer responded by telling Fletcher that he "doesn't understand what's going on in the city for the past seven years."

Faulconer then took the opportunity to ask Fletcher about the former Assemblyman's party switching, asking how voters can trust him. Fletcher left the Republican Party last year to become an independent and eventually re-registered as a Democrat.

Fletcher told Faulconer and the audience "voters can trust that I'll look out for them."

Faulconer asked Fletcher, who is running first in a 10News/U-T San Diego poll released Sunday with 32 percent, if voters can trust him after he changed positions about city employee pensions.

"Voters can trust (me), Kevin, and they know I'm always going to do what I believe is right for the city of San Diego," Fletcher said at the debate, which was held at San Diego State University.

Fletcher asked Faulconer whether the city should have spent more money in recent years on the SDPD, which is losing around eight officers a month to other law enforcement agencies.

"You know, Nathan, I'm not sure you understand what we were doing the last seven years at City Hall while you were up in Sacramento," Faulconer said.

The councilman, who was second in the SurveyUSA poll with 28 percent, said the City Council was dealing with San Diego's worst financial problems when the SDPD budget was slashed and that the city can now start investing revenue into the department.

Fletcher responded that the council's priorities were wrong at the time the police budget cuts were made.

Alvarez, who was third in the poll with 17 percent, asked Fletcher if he still admired former supporters Pete Wilson, the former San Diego mayor and California governor and senator; Mitt Romney, the ex-GOP presidential candidate and La Jolla resident; or Karl Rove, the Republican strategist.

"You know, David, this is your typical partisan politics," Fletcher said. "I want to make a real clear statement that I'll take support from anyone out there. I'm not going to base it on what party you're in, I'm not going to base it on who you've supported in the past."

He then listed several examples of Democratic office-holders who have endorsed him.

Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre asked Faulconer if the city still had a structural budget deficit. The councilman said yes and attributed to shortfall to poor decisions in the past on granting pension benefits that were too generous.

Aguirre, who has made the city's pension deficit the focus of his campaign, injected levity into the generally tame debate later on when he noted that he was the only candidate who has served in a citywide office and that it was while San Diego was mired in its fiscal woes.

"I united people like they had never been united before. Unfortunately, it was against me," said Aguirre, who drew laughter.

Aguirre had 8 percent in the mayoral poll.

To close the debate, Faulconer said, "Leadership matters, principles matter. I feel strongly about the direction the city can take … You can count on me to continue to do the work, to reinvest dollars into things that matter to San Diegans … I cannot wait to be your mayor."

In his closing statement, Fletcher said, "I've always been a leader that's worked hard to bring people together to get things done … because at the end of the day, we're all in this together and we're not going to rebuild our neighborhoods, we're not going to make our community safe, we're not going to create those good jobs if we don't have a mayor that can bring all of those parties together …"

Aguirre said, "I love San Diego, its people, its diversity … I have tried to serve the people of San Diego with integrity and purpose and looking at their long-term best interest … I think I can convince the people of San Diego to entrust me with this awesome responsibility."

"It's an honor to serve this city as councilmember … I am the only one who's endorsed by the Democratic Party, and that makes a difference because our party stands for things that are important to everyone in our society … we have not invested in ways we need to in the city … that's what I want to do as your mayor; I want to lead, I want leadership for all of us … it's time we retake our neighborhoods, rebuild our neighborhoods and create a San Diego that's fair for all of us," Alvarez said in his closing statement.

Monday's debate took place just five weeks before elections and one week before early voting begins.

Alvarez, Fletcher, Aguirre and Faulconer are vying to finish out Filner's term in a Nov. 19 special election.

The list of candidates includes 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.

Another debate hosted by 10News and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association will be held Oct. 30 and will focus business-related issues in the city.

The debate will also air on the 10News 24-hour Newschannel (Cox 810, Time Warner 210) Tuesday and Wednesday at Noon, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

REACTION: What do you think of the debate?

10News curated tweets about the debate here. Share your thoughts, questions and reactions on the debate, and converse with others, on the hashtag #SDMayor.

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