Valdivia Vying For SB Mayor

San Bernardino City Councilman John Valdivia announced Thursday what was already widely recognized in political circles: He is running for mayor.
In making his announcement, he furthered and made official his challenge of incumbent San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis, who announced in May that he is running for re-election in November 2018, which will be the first even-numbered year regular election for municipal office in San Bernardino since its original charter was approved in 1905.
That charter was supplanted by a new one approved by voters last year.
Both Valdivia and Davis stand ready to fight vigorously to stand at the top of the political heap in San Bernardino. While the mayoralty in the county seat and what still remains, though probably not for long, as the county’s most populous city was once considered a vaunted and enviable position, that is no longer the case. Over the last three decades, San Bernardino has earned a new reputation as one of the most dysfunctional municipalities in California and the nation. Consistently, San Bernardino has had a per capita murder rate that puts it at or near the top of any similarly sized city in the nation. And in 2012, it declared bankruptcy, making its exit from Chapter 9 protection just last month.
For Valdivia and Davis, their tenures in office have been overshadowed by the city’s challenges, negatives which both are seeking to transform into positive traction with voters. Davis, who has been given another year on his term as mayor as a consequence of the charter change, can make the claim that he guided the city during its extended exodus from bankruptcy, which was declared during the mayoralty of Patrick Morris, who preceded him in that position. In making his announcement, Valdivia used the J.C. Penney store in Inland Center Mall as the forum for kicking off the latest phase of his political career. The store reopened in 2016, an advance which Valdivia takes credit for. Since Norton Air Force Base was shuttered in 1994, San Bernardino has been on a downward economic spiral, with more and more businesses closing.
Valdivia holds himself out as the panacea to the city’s financial doldrums.
“San Bernardino needs new leadership with the capacity to unite our community, to engage our residents and attract employers, investors and resources that our community desperately seeks and deserves,” Valdivia said. “I want to serve as mayor to forge a path for success for the great community where I was born and raised. As a councilman, I fought hard to attract new jobs and improve city services in the 3rd Ward. As mayor, I will bring this same proven leadership to fight for all the residents of San Bernardino. There is no question that our senior citizens, our working families, our business community and those that have fallen on hard times need better city services. We need a mayor who is able to unite our community and engage residents to make San Bernardino the prosperous and safe city that it used to be.”
Supporting Valdivia in his bid are his council colleagues Benito Barrios, Henry Nickel and Bessine Richard.
An alliance between Nickel and Valdivia has been building for some time, though as recently as a year ago there was speculation that Nickel was also interested in running for mayor, which seemed to have the two on a trajectory towards rivalry. Richard was supported by Valdivia in her maiden council election bid in 2015, which resulted in a run-off between her and Roxanne Williams, which Richard won in February 2016. The longstanding alliance between Valdivia and Barrios has become something of a cliché in San Bernardino.
A vague alliance between the other three members of the council – Jim Mulvihill, Fred Shorett and Virginia Marquez – and Davis exists. This week, on Wednesday evening lessthan 24 hours before Valdivia made his announcement, Davis used his veto power as mayor to prevent an item that Valdivia, Nickel, Barrios and Richard had supported and which Mulvihill, Shorett and Marquez opposed waiving of franchise fees tow companies must pay for their handling of stolen or abandoned vehicles.
Another interesting perspective on the Valdivia-Davis rivalry is that Valdivia’s support network is primarily composed of Republicans. Davis’ political team is largely Democratic, though he was at least formerly a registered Republican. Davis’ Democratic connections would ostensibly seem to favor Davis, as voter registration in San Bernardino overwhelmingly favors Democrats, with 41,992 or 47.2 percent of the city’s 89,030 voters registered as Democrats and 24,236 or 27.2 percent registered as Republicans. But voter turnout in San Bernardino is notoriously poor, and with Republicans showing up to vote in far greater numbers than Democrats, the registration advantage Democrats have over Republicans may be of no benefit to Davis.
Another paradoxical factor is that Valdivia came into office with the support of the city’s public employee unions after the incumbent he defeated, Tobin Brinker, made an issue of criticizing what he characterized as too-generous salaries and benefits being conferred upon the city’s employees. And while Democrats in general are considered the pro-labor party throughout the country, many Republicans have innovated, distinguishing public employee unions, particularly public safety employee unions, from private sector employee unions, and have advanced by using their access to those public employee union endorsements and the money the unions put up to further their candidacies. During the bankruptcy, Davis sought valiantly and failed to curtail the city’s substantial financial commitments to employees and former employees vis-à-vis guaranteed pension benefits by reducing those pensions. This puts Davis in the same camp with several Democratic politicians at the municipal level such as former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Davis’ predecessor as San Bernardino mayor, Patrick Morris, who have built a following by taking a stand against automatic raises and benefit increases for municipal employees. Whether Davis is willing to antagonize city employees by appealing to voters by painting municipal employee salaries and benefits, which represent approaching 90 percent of the city’s expenditures, as an impediment in delivering service in an effort to demonstrate his dedication to improving city services in contrast to his opponent’s close ties to public employee unions remains to be seen. –Mark Gutglueck

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