Mayoral Hospitality: SA Style

By Gilbert Garcia

Who needs opinion polls? After all, you can always spot the frontrunner in any political race by the way they get tag-teamed by the other candidates.

On that basis, Julian Castro must be the candidate to beat for mayor this year, because halfway through a Tourism Council forum (not to be confused with a debate) last night at the Menger Hotel, his two major opponents -- District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian and marketing consultant Trish DeBerry-Mejia -- blasted Castro for supporting meet-and-confer bargaining rights for non-uniform city employees.

Intoxicated by the chance to bring Castro down a peg, Cibrian and DeBerry-Mejia left no doubt that they despise unions, viewing them as job-sucking agents of weaseldom; that is, when they're not viewing them as deadly viruses that infest municipal economies. "I am not the union candidate in this election," said Cibrian, apparently willing to kiss off labor votes for the plum chance to kiss up to the 250 hospitality industry reps (many of them partaking of red-wine hospitality) in attendance. She mocked Castro, seated to her immediate right, as a pawn of the formidable Service Employees International Union (SEIU). DeBerry-Mejia chimed in: "As a small-business owner, I am not a union supporter."

DeBerry-Mejia pumped the "small-business owner" angle all night, to the point where I wondered, if someone asked her the location of the nearest restroom, whether she would have answered: "As a small-business owner, I'd say follow the double-doors and hang a right."

Even at this first joint appearance by the Big Three, you could see the key themes emerging for each campaign.

For DeBerry-Mejia, of course, it was her business experience, meeting payrolls and putting "food on the table for 75 families." In her own parlance, she's the "walk the walk" candidate.

For Cibrian, it was her presence on a Council led by popular Mayor Phil Hardberger. She hinted that she was the best option to continue the policies of Hardberger and City Manager Sheryl Sculley and argued that previous Councils -- perhaps the ones Castro served on from 2001-05? -- balanced the budget on the backs of the police and fire departments.

For Castro, it was something akin to "I'm not so scary, really." Aware that resistance from the business community cost him the 2005 election to Hardberger, he sought to reassure an audience that was plainly sympathetic to DeBerry-Mejia that he's pro-growth and eager to work with business leaders.

Aside from the union smackdown, there was little to separate the candidates on the issues: They all favor Convention Center expansion, oppose hiking the Hotel Occupancy Tax, and consider downtown car theft to be a bad thing.

DeBerry-Mejia noted that her husband recently had a laptop stolen from the front seat of his car. Castro revealed that vandals broke into his vehicle six months ago, forcing him to pay $620 for a window repair. Cibrian, apparently frustrated that she couldn't up the vandalism ante, wanly responded: "We all have our car-theft stories."

You know the race is starting to heat up when the candidates get competitive about who's had the most stuff stolen.

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