Rep. Scott Peters' decision to run for re-election opens up some room to move in the San Diego mayor’s race.
Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria are now competing for Peters' supporters. The big question is whether others, particularly a candidate favored by Republicans, will enter the race to give Peters’ business supporters another option.
Peters’ announcement Wednesday that he would not run for mayor took much of San Diego’s political world by surprise, given he not only said he was contemplating launching a campaign but appeared to be gearing up to do so.
That potential three-way heat among prominent Democrats wouldn’t have left much oxygen for other candidates from either party. Peters has strong business backing both among San Diego’s tech sector centered in his 52nd District, but also within the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed his congressional bids.
Peters was clearly torn but decided stay in Congress, where his influence is growing. For the first time, he is a member of the House majority and he’s gaining seniority on influential committees. While once considered out of favor with the leadership, his relationship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has improved.
With the long-term challenges of the Trump era in addition to the immediate government shutdown, Peters said there’s too much at stake in Washington to leave. He has won easy re-election to his last two terms and there’s nothing on the horizon to suggest it would be different next year.
His move would seem to give daylight to a candidate backed by the local GOP-business establishment, a portion of which is in Peters’ corner. But even with that opening, the emergence of a such candidate is anything but certain. For one thing, no one so far has made the obvious organizing moves.
Also, the bench is pretty thin. City Councilman Mark Kersey, a Republican, has been encouraged to run as has former Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, a registered nonpartisan who nevertheless has been privately talked up by some local GOP powers.
Still, Gloria and Bry will quickly try to fill the void, but they may have company from moderate Democrats and Republicans, regardless of whether Kersey or Zimmerman were to get in. Both Bry and Gloria have reputations as business-friendly Democrats to varying degrees, though Bry has the better credentials on that score.
She was a successful entrepreneur before being first elected to the council just over two years ago. Gloria has spent much of his life in government as a county and then congressional staffer, San Diego City Council member and assemblyman.
Some of his votes and actions on the council that were favored by business got him in hot water with labor unions, though he has mended some fences. Bry, by most accounts, has good labor relations.
In any case, organized labor has shown it is not necessarily monolithic, as different unions backed different Democratic city and county candidates in last year’s election.
Meanwhile, Gloria is a favorite of progressive Democrats. But Bry isn’t likely to cede that territory, nor Gloria the business community.
It’s hard to see any other top Democratic elected official getting into the race at this point, unless some of the prominent politicians who have flatly said they weren’t running change their minds in the wake of Peters’ decision.
A wild card may emerge in the battle over fhe recent proposals by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to dramatically increase housing density in many of the city’s communities, in theory to create more affordable units. A candidate opposing some of those proposals — especially one to remove height limits — to protect the quality of life in neighborhoods may surface. If one doesn’t, attorney Cory Briggs said he will be that candidate.
With Bry and Gloria competing for much of the same support — and attacking each other — a candidate backed by the Republican power structure possibly could grab one of the top two spots in the 2020 primary and advance to November.
Still, the likes of Kersey and Zimmerman may see the hill as too steep to climb. Gloria and Bry are well-known candidates — though Gloria has been in the public eye much longer — who have built campaign organizations and are working to expand their base of support. Republican-leaning business leaders may conclude that one of the two Democrats will be the next mayor, and get on board with who they think will win.
Further, next year’s primary may present a problem for Republicans in general. Assuming President Donald Trump is on the ballot, he isn’t likely to have much of a challenge from within the GOP, a dynamic that could tamp down turnout among Republican voters.
Meanwhile, with the primary in March 2020, the Democratic side seems guaranteed to be highly competitive, generating considerable voter enthusiasm. That’s not to say Kersey and particularly Zimmerman wouldn’t appeal to Republican-leaning independents. City elections, after all, are officially nonpartisan, though party politics play a big role in campaigns.
Should one of them make it through, Republican turnout in November 2020 would likely be more advantageous for the party than it was last November. But with Trump running for re-election, Democratic turnout will be big.
For those and other reasons, many are betting the next mayor will be a Democrat. The election could be another milepost marking San Diego’s transition from a town once ruled by a Republican-business power structure:
- Voter registration flipped long ago and Democrats now have a nearly 20-point advantage in the city.
- The City Council that in the past was dominated by Republicans has a Democratic supermajority.
- The congressional and legislative delegations are overwhelmingly Democratic.
If Republicans are not even able to field a legitimate contender for mayor, that might top the list.