SAN DIEGO — Two members of the City Council will advance to a runoff early next year in the special election to find a mayoral replacement for the disgraced Bob Filner.
After a polite campaign and turnout that was lower than predicted, Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, was the top vote-getter Tuesday, with Councilman David Alvarez nosing out former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a fellow Democrat, for the second spot.
A runoff will pit Faulconer's support from the city's business leadership and arguably its most popular public figure, former Mayor Jerry Sanders, against Alvarez's endorsement by the city's labor unions and the Sierra Club.
Faulconer, 46, is finishing his second term on the City Council representing a beach district. Alvarez, 33, has been on the council for three years representing a blue-collar district south of Interstate 8, the city's traditional political dividing line.
Faulconer is "the right kind of Republican: moderate, works across party lines and has environmental credentials with his work in Mission Bay," said John Kern, an unaligned political consultant. "What are Alvarez's credentials for mayor other than he's a 'progressive'? Filner-lite?"
But Christopher Crotty, also an unaligned political consultant, sees Alvarez as "a solid, progressive council member who fights doggedly for his district — and delivers. He sees himself as David and those who have controlled City Hall for decades to the detriment of neighborhoods like Barrio Logan as Goliaths."
With all 581 precincts counted, Faulconer had 43.6% of the vote; Alvarez, 25.6%; Fletcher, 24.3%; and former City Atty. Mike Aquirre, 4.4%. The remaining votes were split among seven minor candidates.
Some 34,500 provisional ballots remain to be counted, but Fletcher is given little chance to overcome Alvarez's 2,638-vote lead. Faulconer would have needed 50% plus one vote to avoid a runoff. On Wednesday, Fletcher conceded defeat and endorsed Alvarez.
The voter turnout was 35%, well below the 50% initially predicted by the county registrar of voters.
Fletcher, 36, was making his second run for mayor. He placed third in last year's primary behind Filner and Carl DeMaio.
This year his campaign was dogged by assertions that he is an opportunist, willing to change political parties to gain advantage. In the Assembly, he was a Republican; last year he switched to independent and this year he registered as a Democrat.
Filner, 71, the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades, resigned Aug. 30 amid allegations of sexual harassment. He is set to be sentenced Dec. 9 for his guilty plea to one felony and two misdemeanors involving mistreatment of women.
Minutes after Alvarez appeared a lock on the No. 2 spot, Francine Busby, chairwoman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, called on all Democrats to unite behind Alvarez.
The county party had backed Alvarez but a group of Democratic notables, including Gov. Jerry Brown, had backed Fletcher. Democrats hold a growing registration edge in San Diego but low voter turnout tends to favor Republicans, according to political consultants.