Latino Mayoral Candidate in San Diego Poised to Make History

New America Media: Latino Mayoral Candidate in San Diego Poised to Make History
Byline: Staff-February 7

Image: San Diego mayoral candidate David Alvarez addresses supporters at his home in San Diego. (Photo by Manuel Ocaño.)

From the backyard of his home in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, mayoral candidate David Álvarez told nearly 100 supporters that, a week away from the special election, he could become the first Latino mayor in the city’s modern history.

“In a few days, the future and destiny of our city will be in our hands,” the 33-year-old Democrat told the audience. Among those present at Álvarez’s home was the Calpulli Dance Group, which conducted a ceremony and incense offering for “David’s” victory, as he is called in the neighborhood.

Álvarez spoke interchangeably in English and Spanish. Many of his supporters are monolingual Spanish speakers, and the mayoral hopeful and current city council member never uses a translator.

The son of a farmworker from the Mexican state of Jalisco, Álvarez currently sits on San Diego’s City Council. His father José Álvarez first came to the United States in the 1950s under the Bracero Program (1942-1964), the U.S.-Mexico agreement that brought Mexican workers to do seasonal agricultural work in the United States. In 1979, José Álvarez and his family moved to the United States, where his son David was born.

And although most of those gathered at the candidate’s modest home were Latino, Álvarez said his supporters would fan out from Barrio Logan to mobilize voters in all parts of San Diego.

“We are going to make sure the city of San Diego respects each community,” he said.

Álvarez has made headlines in Latino media, which assert that he could make history if he wins the election. But the candidate told New America Media that there are other equally important issues at stake.

“This time it’s Latino and other minority voters who have been able to increase voter participation in practically every community for this election,” he said.

Álvarez and his Republican opponent, Kevin Faulconer are vying for the position left vacant by former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned in August over dozens of allegations of sexual harassment.

San Diego has historically leaned Republican. But a couple of years ago, the number of registered Democrats surpassed the number of registered Republican voters in the city for the first time. And in last November’s elections, the San Diego County Republican Party elected its first Latina president — whose parents are from Tijuana — Francis Barraza.

Observers say the Latino vote will be key in this election: One in five San Diego voters is Latino, and the majority of them support Álvarez.

“There is nothing like having your mayor be your neighbor, who lives on the same street as you,” said Assembly member Lorena González.

“The best thing is having a mayor who speaks your language, because David speaks clearly and we don’t want anything to be lost in translation,” said Genoveva Aguilar, the candidate’s campaign coordinator in the City Heights area.

But San Diego State University Chicano Studies Professor Isidro Ortíz, who knows both Álvarez and Faulconer personally, noted that Latino voters are not a monolithic voting bloc.

“Latino voters in San Diego are as diverse politically as they are socially and economically,” said Ortíz.

Although this diversity is reflected in polls, the latest survey of Latino voters clearly shows the community’s support for Álvarez.

Since August, the San Diego Union Tribune and KGTV, an affiliate of ABC, have commissioned regular polls by SurveyUSA that have consistently given the advantage to Faulconer, Álvarez’s opponent.

Another poll, commissioned by San Diego Democrats and conducted by Public Policy Polling, found the race virtually tied, with 46 percent of likely voters supporting Álvarez and 45.9 percent supporting Faulconer.

But when it comes to the Latino electorate, Álvarez has a significant advantage, according to a survey of Latino voters released Jan. 22 by Latino Decisions and the Latino Victory Project.

Seventy-five percent of Latino likely voters support Álvarez and 10 percent support Faulconer. The remaining 15 percent were undecided nearly three weeks before the election.

And Latino voters seem more enthusiastic than ever. The same survey found that 74 percent of Latinos are following the mayoral campaigns closely and 64 percent say they are very enthusiastic about the chance to vote in the upcoming election.

These results seem to reflect Álvarez’s observation that Latinos could be a driving force in motivating other ethnic groups to get out the vote.

All of the polls have found solid support for the Democrat “south of Interstate 8,” which demographically in San Diego, means that Álvarez enjoys the support of most African Americans and immigrant communities from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The campaign’s strategy, Álvarez told NAM, is to take his message in different languages to all San Diego communities.

For starters, Álvarez has visited neighborhoods of some of the city’s more affluent residents who tend to favor his Republican opponent.

“In these last few days, we are going to places where the population is concentrated, to explain my plan for government to all sectors,” he said.

The pillars of his political platform are clearly Democratic: increase the salary of public sector employees; invest resources in all communities; improve the downtown area, where shipyards and factories are interspersed with houses; and make San Diego one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the country.

“But all this will only be possible if we combine the votes of all sectors, and to do that we have to explain to them how the increase in salaries of employees at the end of the day will also benefit them, for example,” he said.

A graduate of SDSU with a degree in psychology, the first in his family to graduate from college, the youngest of six siblings and the only one born in the United States, and the youngest member of the city council, Álvarez said he was optimistic about the Feb. 11 special election.

“We are going to be a government that turns workers into members of the middle class, with opportunities for education, for progress, and this is something that everyone knows is a common benefit,” he said.