When then-councilor David Alvarez ran for mayor in 2013 and 2014, the region’s established business interests lit up and contributed millions to political action committees such as the San Diego Jobs PAC, Protect Our Jobs, San Diego to Protect Jobs and the Economy and Stop Jobs Killing Tax for to oppose Alvarez or policies he supported.
Now, eight years later, Alvarez is running to represent the 80th Assembly District, and business groups from across the state are sending millions to committees such as the California Jobs PAC, Keeping Californians Working and California for Jobs and a Strong Economy.
But this time, they’re all trying to put him in office.
In 2014, San Diego’s policy was different. Alvarez lined up against a white Republican in the form of San Diego mayors before him and on a pledge to fight racial and geographical inequality in the city.
Now he is up against a longtime political ally and friend who was by his side in his mayoral race and in the political battle that has defined both of their careers – fighting industrial pollution in Barrio Logan, where they both grew up.
Since Alvarez’s candidacy for mayor, the Republican Party has collapsed as a viable candidate in the region. In all but the most conservative seats, local elections are now pitting Democrats against each other, forcing private groups with interests in public affairs to form new coalitions around each candidate.
And that’s how Alvarez went from a job killer who wanted to deprive white neighborhoods of weather repairs, to the guy who was willing and able to change Sacramento and protect brown neighborhoods from crime.
The race between Alvarez and former councilor Georgette Gómez may offer a foretaste of the upcoming democratic races. As Democrats increasingly pitted against other Democrats, the factions that used to organize across the political spectrum could instead rally around candidates who in the not-so-distant past used to seem alike, highlighting their differences in the process.
In the race for the 80th Assembly District, however, Democratic hegemony in San Diego not only revealed a distinction between two candidates with such similar backgrounds, it also ended their friendship.
“For me, it was a real relationship, but now it’s become, ‘who is the real David Alvarez?'” Gómez said. “I thought I knew him, and I thought he meant well to our community. Since I see him as a different person, I would not refer to him as a friend now, not because we run against each other, but because it is someone I’m not in line with. Why would he push the industry into a society he claims to understand? He lived it. I do not devalue it. We came from the same place. But I use an ability to be elected to to heal communities, not for personal gain. I can not see that from him. The person I thought I knew, I feel I was blinded, and now I see the truth. “
Alvarez declined a request for an interview for this story. He did not respond to an opportunity to respond to Gómez’s comments.
“David is currently focused on running a positive campaign and talking to voters, therefore he will not be available for an interview at this time,” said Chris Jonsmyr, his campaign manager.
What a Difference Eight Years Makes
Martin Wilson, executive vice president of public affairs at the California Chamber of Commerce, said the difference between Alvarez, the assembly candidate, and Alvarez, the mayoral candidate eight years ago, is as simple as the position he is running for.
“We do not have a litmus test,” said Wilson, who works with two PACs who have spent over $ 70,000 on the race. “His story stood out. It fits in really well with this district. He grew up in a harsh part of town, did something of himself, went to SDSU and went into public service and continued to do really well in it. private sector. “
Wilson grew up in San Diego and worked for former governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He said much has changed since 2014, when the local business community lined up against Alvarez and behind former mayor Kevin Faulconer, whom he considers a friend.
“It’s almost 10 years ago,” he said. “Ten years is quite a long time. We look at each race individually. Kevin, we thought was an excellent mayor and the right man for the office, but for this is David. Gómez, she has tried to run a race based on more progressive issues such as defining the police and other things that we do not believe voters in that area want to see. “
In fact, no subject has changed as much as policing during the time when Democrats took over local government, coinciding with Alvarez and Gómez’s political careers.
Since his first Council run in 2010, Alvarez has called for a larger police presence in District 8, citing residents’ dissatisfaction with response times. As recently as 2016, Alvarez was more critical of the San Diego Police Department than any other elected city. His biggest criticism, however, was that the mayor and chief had not done enough to put more officers on the streets, putting neighborhoods at risk of rising crime.
There was no Defund movement to his left. To his right, former police chief Shelley Zimmerman attributed the department’s recruitment and retention problem to the media’s investigation into police dishonesty.
“If this were true, we would expect to see similar retention problems in most other agencies,” Alvarez’s office wrote in a report on the city’s recruitment and retention problems. “But the SDPD’s retention problem seems to be much worse than other agencies.”
Four years later, Alvarez was absent, and Gómez led a hearing in which hundreds of residents demanded a $ 100 million cut in police spending. She voted for a budget that increased SDPD spending by $ 27 million.
Days later, she said she supported cutting in police funding but did not have the votes.
“I’ve been calling for restructuring since the beginning,” she said of the police budget. ‘So I think it really is a conversation that we should have. Does it lead to less money? It is an option. But we have to look at it. “
Now police unions are spending money on opposing her and supporting Alvarez.
New Factions in a One-Party City
As San Diego has become a city with one party, many have expected a clean break in Dem-on-Dem races, where work-supported progressives fight against chamber-supported moderates. That has mostly not happened, though Gómez-Alvarez seems to fit the bill.
What Lorena Gonzalez – who was against Alvarez in his first Council race when she ran for Labor Council, and again in his mayoral race against her now husband, and who withdrew from the 80th Assembly District to open the seat in the first place – did not expect was a moderate alternative to gaining the support of the Republican Party.
“The Republican Party does not have a pot to piss in and spends money on a Democratic seat for a Democrat without the opportunity to help a Republican,” she said. “It makes you wonder what he told them or what he had someone else to tell them.”
She refers to an expense of nearly $ 10,000 from the Republican Party in San Diego County last month, on mailings attacking Gómez, sent to registered Republicans. Since either Gómez or Alvarez will be elected in June, it’s hard not to see that expense against her as one for Alvarez.
The party’s statutes restrict it from spending on member communication for a person who is not a member of the party. But Jordan Gascon, the party’s chief executive, stressed that the special election coincides with a primary election for the new 80th constituency, which voters will again have to decide on in November. For that primary election, Republican Lincoln Pickard is also on the ballot. Pickard received 24 percent of the vote in the special election in April.
“We do not support Democrats under our bylaws, but member communications focused on Gomez’s appalling policies,” Gascon wrote.
However, Alvarez has always been an idiosyncratic political figure. The Labor Council was against him in his first council race, and then supported his mayoral race three years later after a change of leadership. He later quarreled with the Labor leader over control of the Democratic Party’s governing body – with significant financial support from a major donor to the Conservative group that saved him during his mayoral job. In his final years in office, he worked arm in arm on housing issues with Scott Sherman, the council’s most conservative member.
Gonzalez believes, despite having opposed Alvarez three times since 2010, that Alvarez is attracting various supporters now because of the work he has done since leaving office.
Both Alvarez and Gómez started public affairs firms when they left office.
One of Alvarez’s clients was Austal USA, a shipbuilder whom he lobbyed the Port of San Diego to open a shipyard just south of Barrio Logan in National City.
Combating industrial pollution from shipyards in Barrio Logan was perhaps the decisive political battle in both Alvarez’s and Gómez’s careers. Alvarez grew up in Barrio Logan, citing his asthma as a result of growing up there, on his way to pressuring the city to adopt a new set of development regulations in the neighborhood before city voters threw the plan out in the middle of a business campaign arguing that the changes would kill solid, ordinary jobs in society. Last year, the city adopted a largely identical plan with support from shipbuilders, and silence from business.
Alvarez’s ally in the struggle that coincided with his mayoral job was Gómez, then an organizer of the Environmental Health Coalition. The EHC fought against the proposed shipyard in the National City – and after Gómez left the office, she signed a contract with the non-profit organization to work with them there.
But Alvarez said in a 2020 interview that his lobbying campaign for Austal USA was proof of what he said during the Barrio Logan fight: He was never against shipbuilders, their argument just made no sense.
“I do not want to call it ironic, even though it might be for the outside world,” he said. “But as time goes on and I’m still young, it’s just fascinating how everything is connected in this world.”
Gómez said Alvarez’s work for a shipyard – and other work he did to help San Diego Gas & amp; Electrically chasing an energy transformer station near Barrio Logan – that was what forced her to question whether she ever knew him as she thought.
Gómez has also been lobbying since leaving office. Unlike Alvarez, she said, she kept pushing in the same direction as when she was in the Council.
And yes, most of her consulting business has piggybacked on her work in the office – or taken advantage of it.
In addition to the EHC, the former board member of the San Diego Association of Governments, who in office supported the agency’s regional transportation plan, also received a contract from SANDAG to work on its regional transportation plan. She worked with the nonprofit group Groundworks to influence the city’s park master plan, which began working its way through the city while still chairing the council. And she has a contract with Monarch, a developer behind HomeTownSD’s bid to rebuild the Sports Arena. In the Council, Gómez voted in favor of a community plan that has helped facilitate the redevelopment of the Sports Arena, but voted against a measure in the 2020 vote that would have lifted the 30-foot limit for new construction in the area, arguing that the city should have demanded more low-income housing as part of the move.
The race between two former friends and allies has been fierce – with groups supporting him branding her a tax evasion and those supporting her beating him for his work for SDG & amp; E – but none of them give completely differently promises on how they will legislate once in the office.
However, Alvarez has vaguely positioned himself against the status quo in a Capitol run by a Democratic super-majority, with a Democratic governor and a district until recently represented by a Democrat who will soon lead the state’s most powerful union.
“It’s time to change Sacramento for our children, neighbors and communities,” he said in a January tweet.
“Sacramento politicians are out of touch,” he said in a May commercial.
But in the end, Gonzalez argued, voters in her old district are not ideologically moderate – even if they end up taking that side in the kind of race San Diego could soon see much more of.
“It’s a progressive district, very pro-labor,” Gonzalez said. ‘It is not the case that he publicly runs a pro-job race. The chamber, the Democrats standing next to him, maybe they get one over. But can he behave like a moderate once he has been elected? No, that’s not acceptable in that district. “