Inside USD

Grading the Debate

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Tuesday, the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES) hosted one of the final debates between Democratic Congressman Bob Filner and Republican City Councilman Carl DeMaio in the race to become San Diego’s 35th mayor. The debate focused on education issues facing the San Diego community.

Charismatic host Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a nationally syndicated columnist, drove the debate by taking a hard line with the candidates but remaining respectful and entertaining. He joked with City Councilman DeMaio about a long-winded answer by saying, “Now that I’m well rested I can continue on.” He remained playful but never hesitated with a quick fact-check.

Congressman Filner wasted no time in reminding the room of his 22 years teaching at San Diego State University, his years as president of San Diego’s School Board, and his endorsement by teachers, the governor, and the school board. Councilman DeMaio instead presented his personal attachment to education. He reminded the audience of his history, having been orphaned at an early age and taken in by Jesuits, and how education is what he believes to have saved his life. He repeated that for him, “This is a personal issue.”

Both candidates let their initiatives speak for them. Councilman DeMaio backs the Race to the Top program, a $700 million project to promote competition by linking student test scores to teacher evaluation and to give parents inclusion and more leeway in choosing a school. Congressman Filner hit on backing Prop C, Prop 30, and most importantly Prop Z, the measure to sell over $2 million dollars in general obligation bonds to enable the San Diego Unified School District to repair classrooms at both public and charter schools.

Despite the Warren Auditorium being decidedly split between the two candidates, DeMaio and Filner seemed to agree on the night’s central question of whether or not the mayor should take control of the city’s schools. This being arguably the most important issue facing the new mayor of San Diego, when asked what they would do in action, both declined the idea of seizing the reigns, with Congressman Filner mentioning the numerous responsibilities already on the mayor’s plate. Neither candidate was interested in changing who is in control now, but rather in how they can better serve education and San Diego’s students through the existing scope of the office. Both laid out very different plans for the future as to how they would use their bully pulpit.

Councilman DeMaio said he wants a “seat at the table.” He hopes to discuss education issues face-to-face with the school board, parents, and occasionally students. He reminded the audience and voters that education is a personal issue to him and this is why he promotes “choice, competition, performance accountability for teacher evaluations and partnerships,” a sentiment he repeated in his closing statement.

Congressman Filner discussed using his experience and political connections to help foster student success. He offered his performance record with the Sweetwater Union High School District and the automatic acceptance program he helped develop with SDSU as proof that he can and will help students get to college.

The lines were drawn in the room, marked by a divided applause, with support coming from the crowd only when their candidate of choice spoke. With the fight being fueled by the crowd it was pleasant to see neither candidate speak negatively about the other. It ended with a respectful handshake and a beautiful reception in Mother Rosalie Hill Hall. A peaceful ending, fit for the University of San Diego.

– Kevin Wright ‘13

Photo by Nick Abadilla

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