Amid this pandemic, an historic event yet to be named by historians, San Diego faces a pivotal election for Mayor.
San Diego is confronting a massive budget deficit, a pension shortfall, a countywide pandemic, a statewide shutdown, a local economy in free fall, and a yearning for clear direction.
Sheltering in place, working from home—for those lucky enough to still have a job—and fearing the unknown makes the next Mayor’s task all the more critical.
The city budget is projected to face a $109 million funding shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30. The new $2 trillion federal coronavirus bailout has penciled in massive amounts of money for municipalities and non-profits. All this means a lot of pressure on City Hall.
How can a Mayor translate that in an easy, understandable and manageable fashion for everyone? Not just for the rich or savvy, but for all San Diegans?
This is not an unreasonable question to ask of the two contenders seeking to be our next Mayor.
• How will you establish your “command and control” techniques to deal with the challenges? And do it on the fly? Every day will be a fire-hose, 4-alarm fire for the foreseeable future.
• What are your actual plans? Not your wishes, hopes, or happy thoughts.
• How will you command attention in order to inform, teach, direct and lead San Diegans—while simultaneously digesting massive data streams and making difficult decisions?
• How will you make decisions? All on your own? With a substantial brain trust from San Diego’s superior academic, research and high-tech talent? Which companies and industries do you have access to for help?
• How will you ensure technological fairness across all of San Diego’s neighborhoods? Who gets wifi and 5G access first? Schools, businesses and hospitals all need these for distance learning, remote work, and real-time tracking.
• How will you secure it, share it, and communicate?
As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has demonstrated, one must lead in an orderly, open, transparent and fact-driven fashion to get results and garner trust.
• Rallies, live debates, public gatherings and other forms of socializing will be less likely. What will you substitute?
• Will you provide daily television updates on the San Diego City local government news channel? Or on the city’s website? Or with Internet dashboards and data updates such as Johns Hopkins University provides?
• Will you hold more teleconferences with our healthcare industry? Who knew ventilators and hospital beds would become a priority around the globe? Or that volunteers would be making masks for prison nurses and doctors?
Remember, not everyone is tech savvy. Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone lives in a shelter. And the watchword must always be “fair.”
• How will you as Mayor-elect ensure fairness? How will you set the example you want others to follow?
Think twice about that when accepting campaign donations for those wishing special treatment for their own—not the community’s purposes.
• How can you get shovel-ready projects fast-tracked? Will there be a new government effort similar to the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression?
Surely there are many such contemporary projects that would benefit from a WPA approach, including ones supporting first responders, the military, marine industries, neighborhoods, religious communities, hospitals and schools.
• How will you manage? You will need backups to backups and ideas from outside the bureaucratic bubble.
Start asking and answering now, because one of you will be the most important Mayor of San Diego in decades.
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.