Candidates have their say at mayoral debate in Pacific Beach
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 09/19/19 - 01:03 PM | 3395 views | 2 2 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Six months before the March 3, 2020 primary, mayoral candidates Barbara Bry, Todd Gloria and Tasha Williamson squared off in a far-ranging debate at Mission Bay High School on Sept. 18.

The trio addressed numerous prepared questions covering a broad swath of controversial coastal issues including crime, electric scooters, affordable housing, short-term vacation rentals, water quality and homelessness.

Bry representing District 1, including La Jolla, is a tech entrepreneur and San Diego City Council president pro tem. She previously was a journalist for The Sacramento Bee and the L.A. Times. She has been involved in tech companies Connect and ProFlowers.com. She also co-founded Atcom/info, one of the first companies to develop technology for high-speed Internet access in hotel rooms.

Gloria was a former aide to Congress woman Susan Davis and a San Diego City Council person representing District 3. He is now California State Assembly member for the 78th Assembly District. That district is comprised of the cities of Coronado, Del Mar, Imperial Beach, Solana Beach and the central coastal communities of the City of San Diego. 

Williamson is a community activist who works with families who have lost members from police violence. She held her own against her more-practiced competitors during a two-hour debate that drew frequent applause from a well-attended crowd.

Immediate past District 1 Councilmember Sherri Lightner and Pacific Beach Town Council president Brian White moderated the PBTC-sponsored debate.

According to a 10News/Union-Tribune poll conducted earlier this month, Gloria has a big early lead among the three democrats running for mayor. He polled 31 percent support compared with Bry at 15 percent and Williamson with 8 percent. The poll however suggests half of likely voters are still undecided.

Underdog Williamson, touting herself as the “no-nonsense” candidate, portrayed herself as a populist proclaiming, “The people should be above the mayor.”

Bry, a proponent of stricter regulations for short-term rentals and an outspoken critic of electric scooters who has asked for a moratorium on them, repeatedly referenced her entrepreneurial experience while attacking Gloria as a “career politician.”

Pointing out he actually served as interim mayor of San Diego from the August 2013 resignation of Mayor Bob Filner until the March 2014 inauguration of Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Gloria spoke of his long-term “vision” for San Diego. He claimed the nation’s eighth-largest city suffers from a “small-town mentality.”

During one of the debate’s more poignant moments, when the candidates were asked if they could be influenced by special interests, Bry responded: “You can’t buy my vote. Just ask Campland, Airbnb, Lime and Soccer City (lobbies she opposed).”

Gloria, a third-generation San Diegan who is the son of a maid and a gardener, claims to be the candidate with the inside political savvy and networking connections to tackle San Diego’s perplexing problems, like housing and homelessness.

“Homelessness is the number one issue facing our community,” he argued, noting there’s a tie-in with San Diego's housing crisis. “We have to make space in our neighborhoods for working- and middle-class San Diegans. We need to build a world-class transit system with real choices getting from point A to point B. I have the experience to get that job done.”

Taking an environmental and inclusionary bent, Williamson said: “We need to protect and restore our ecosystems. We need to have more people sitting at the table of government. People come first. The people’s voice should be heard.”

“Our planning groups, town councils and business improvement districts are the basis of our grass-roots democracy,” said Bry of her political underpinnings. “We have to make sure we hear the voices of the entire city. It’s also important that the state legislature not take away local control of land use. We should decide what gets built in our neighborhoods.”

The candidates addressed homelessness.

“We can end chronic homelessness,” vowed Gloria, who has long experience with homeless issues. “If you want to end homelessness — send a homeless advocate to the mayor’s office.”

“People with mental illness and drug addiction need to get the support and wraparound services they need,” said Williamson. “We also need to make sure there are no gaps. The government has been great about having gaps in everything they create.” 

In closing remarks, all three candidates played to their strengths.

“I’m running for mayor because upward mobility cannot end, it must continue,” said Gloria. “This City can end chronic homelessness, build world-class public transportation. We need to transform our small-town thinking into forward progress.”

“I am no-nonsense, I talk the talk and walk the walk,” said Williamson. “The City is corrupt, racist. We’ve got to stop the shenanigans, the parlor tricks. I want you to support the first black woman mayor in the City of San Diego.”

“I’ve spent my life challenging the status quo, standing up for others and getting things done,” said Bry. “I used to be a single, working mom living paycheck to paycheck, not knowing what the future would bring. I will be open and transparent at city hall. My goal is to be relentless for you, really protect every neighborhood. We want to make this a city we can all be proud to live in.”

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