“The focus has been on the presidential election, but the reality is, what mayors do affect our lives every single day,” said institute president Charles Shapiro before the debate moderated by Tom Fudge of KPBS radio. “We have to make decisions. We do that through voting for a mayor.”
DeMaio, a successful businessman and first-term Republican City Councilman wasted no time pointing out his strategy during opening remarks.
“I’m running on a record of getting reform done,” he said.
DeMaio said his administration would promote an “inclusiveness and diversity” of cultures while collaborating to achieve “prosperity on both sides of the border.”
Filner, meanwhile, pointed to his experience as a former San Diego City Councilman and 20-year Congressman serving the San Diego-Tijuana border region.
“We have to confront some really tough issues and that’s not going to be done in one debate or one 30-second ad spot,” said Filner. “We need someone who has the experience and ability to move people forward. I have a record of doing that.”
Both mayoral hopefuls sparred freely, playing to their own strengths and attacking their opponent’s perceived weaknesses.
DeMaio touted his record of aggressive fiscal reform, citing his stance on working to resolve the city’s pension crisis by restructuring employees’ retirement compensation as an example of the active, problem-solving form his leadership would take.
Filner stressed his accomplishments, experience and record as a long-time border legislator.
“As one of about 15 members of the border caucus, nobody has worked harder than me to improve the relationship between our two countries, leading the coalition to get the investments and results people deserve,” he said.
Filner repeatedly jabbed at DeMaio’s political inexperience, insinuating his “naïveté” on border issues.
Pointing out the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in San Diego is the busiest in the world, Filner stressed increasing efficiency is key to solving border problems and promoting economic growth on both sides.
“People won’t cross if it takes three or four hours,” he said. “Decreasing waiting times must be our chief priority. If you are efficient, you will be more secure. Longer lines doesn’t mean we are safer.”
DeMaio accused Filner of being a “failed” legislator.
“The border has been in your district for 20 years and you’ve failed to lead a coalition in Washington to get the job done, not getting any federal dollars and never having produced any results,” he said. “Look at the results. Sewage is still flowing across the border, which is still clogged and underutilized. In 20 years in office, he has not been able to address these issues. We need a mayor who’s going to produce results in making sure the border crossing is faster, better, cheaper and more secure.”
Filner retorted with an example of his action on border infrastructure.
“Who got the money for (border highway) 905 to put that in national legislation to do that border infrastructure?” he said.
DeMaio accused Filner of being a business-as-usual legislator.
“People are sick and tired of politicians during election seasons talking about what they’re going to do and what they say they’ve done,” he said.
Filner answered with equal accusation.
“Have you lifted your finger once to help any of those (border) efforts?” he said. “We know what we need to do: increase the efficiency of the border, increase staffing with a new configuration, twice as many lanes, stacked booths and increased technology.”
In closing, DeMaio said San Diego needs to have “strong ties and a collaborative relationship” with its counterparts in Tijuana, viewing the border as a boundary, not a barrier.
“We should not fear embracing the opportunity to take the strengths on both sides and empower them to build a strong economy and market our region as a megaregion drawing on the strength of both sides,” he said. “I look forward to completing the job of fiscal reform and the opportunity to create jobs through a strong economy, and our partnership with Tijuana and Baja will be critically important.”
Filner said border relations between San Diego and Mexico need to be nurtured, claiming his longtime experience with border issues makes him the better choice of candidates.
“We are one of the luckiest cities living in a truly binational community,” he said. “That binational nature should be celebrated, broadened. Our relationship with Mexico is one of the most unfulfilled promises we have here in San Diego.”
Noting two-thirds of San Diegans have never crossed the border south once, Filner said as mayor his job would be to “make sure we have a binational coalition at different levels of government.”