The Lincoln Club of San Diego County sponsored the first mayoral debate to feature the four leading candidates on the evening of January 13. Councilmember Carl DeMaio, district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, congressman Bob Filner, and assemblyman Nathan Fletcher debated for roughly an hour on issues that ranged from pension reform to jobs creation.
Two questions pertained to the Occupy San Diego movement and the actions of the San Diego Police Department, which has been accused of using excessive force against peaceful protesters.
The debate's moderator stated that four Occupy protesters who interrupted Mayor Sanders's state of the city address earlier last week were removed, arrested, and allegedly charged with a felony conspiracy. "Is it appropriate for the SDPD to arrest peaceful protesters on felony charges?" the moderator asked. Below are each of the candidates' responses.
Carl DeMaio: "I think that the Occupy protesters have been very disruptive of our city government. They have diverted law enforcement personnel from our neighborhoods, it has cost taxpayers money during our financial crisis, and I still am at a loss for what is the effectiveness, what are they seeking. If they truly were upset about bailouts on Wall Street, which I am upset about as well, and I know many San Diegans are, why not do something that actually effects [things] here at home, which is stop the taxpayer-funded bailout of our city’s pension system every time there is an investment loss.
"So, there are constructive things that the Occupy movement could advance. Disrupting a state of the city [address], disrupting opportunities for our community to have civil dialogue, that is just unacceptable. I think that they should be prosecuted under misdemeanor, a charge that is more appropriate for the level of disruption. The felony charges were frankly a surprise to me, and I will wait to hear what the justification for that classification of offense is, but I think the more appropriate charge would have been a misdemeanor."
Bonnie Dumanis: "I would wait for the evidence and find out what the facts are before I decided."
Bob Filner: "Briefly, I was interested in Carl’s approach to free speech, in that he determines what type of free speech is acceptable to do. The whole nature of free speech is that they can decide, not the government official. The felony charge is ridiculous. Yes, if they were disruptive, remove them, but to elevate that disruption and that exercise of speech to a felony is ridiculous."
Nathan Fletcher: "I think that there is widespread frustration across a lot of groups right now, which comes out of the difficult environment we live in. There’s an economic crisis, a political crisis, and an inability for people to solve problems. You see it in our city and in Sacramento, so I understand the frustration, from both on the Tea Party and Occupy sides.
"I think over the last few months, we have seen that our SDPD and city leaders need to be commended for the way they have handled this. You have seen other cities which have had major problems and scandals that have not plagued us here. Our officers are doing more with less — fewer officers and fewer resources — but it is having a real impact. At some point we need those officers back out on the street.
"As to the determination of felony or misdemeanor, I would want to hear a more compelling case from law-enforcement efforts as to why a felony was warranted. I went to war and served in the Marine Corps because I believe in people’s ability to speak out and peacefully protest the actions of their government. There is nothing wrong with that. That has a place in our society, and there does come a point where a felony seems a little too high for free speech."
In the aftermath of alleged abuses by officers under police chief William Lansdowne’s command, Occupiers put forth a petition on Change.org that calls for his resignation. As of January 17, the petition had garnered 687 signatures.
Prior to the conclusion of the debate, each of the candidates was asked, if elected, would they keep Lansdowne? Dumanis and Filner quickly and simply responded, "yes." DeMaio and Fletcher both felt that the campaign trail was not the proper place to discuss personnel changes.
Pictured: (clockwise from top left) DeMaio, Dumanis, Filner, Fletcher