RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
San Diego is moving on this morning from a scandal that generated a lot of unwelcome attention for its top politician. Yesterday, San Diegans elected a Republican councilman to be their next mayor, a special election held in the wake of Democratic Mayor Bob Filner's resignation last year after being accused of sexually harassing multiple women. Sandhya Dirks of KPBS has this report.
SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Just a year ago, Democrats in San Diego had reason to celebrate - for the first time in a generation they had a progressive mayor. Fast forward a few months and Bob Filner became a disgrace and a national laughingstock as sexual harassment accusations against him piled up and late night comics like Conan O'Brien piled on.
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DIRKS: He will be replaced by Kevin Faulconer - a moderate conservative hand-picked by local Republican movers and shakers to take back the office. Surrounded by supporters, Faulconer took to the stage on election night.
MAYOR-ELECT KEVIN FAULCONER: We know that this city has gone through a lot in the last year, but we knew that as San Diegans that we were better than that and that we were going to come together when we had the opportunity to do that.
DIRKS: Faulconer's ascent makes him something of an endangered species these days - a Republican mayor in a big city, a big city that has a majority of registered Democrats. That's a relatively recent occurrence and it has a lot to do with changing demographics.
I'm standing right outside an entrance to the Interstate 8 freeway. It's a freeway that bisects the city of San Diego and it's also become something of a symbolic dividing line between red and blue, and rich and poor.
JIM MILLER: South of Eight and, you know, east of Five, you know, has been the kind of traditional more working class, more black and brown area of San Diego, and it's politically, you know, historically been underrepresented.
DIRKS: That's Jim Miller - a labor studies professor at San Diego City College. He says to win, Faulconer had to lean to the left.
MILLER: What you are seeing with the Faulconer campaign is kind of an admission that the demographics and the character of the city have become more diverse and more Democratic.
DIRKS: Diverse and Democratic is a pretty good way to sum up the scene at Councilman David Alvarez's election night event. Unlike Faulconer's, which happened at a luxe downtown hotel, Alvarez's was stage at a converted warehouse in the largely low-income Latino neighborhood where he grew up.
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DIRKS: The mood was reservedly optimistic as low numbers for Alvarez rolled in but Estella Avilla says Alvarez helped inspire a conversation about creating equality, even if he won't become the city's first Latino mayor.
ESTELLA AVILLA: Which is crazy to think about because, I mean, how many Latino's are there in San Diego, you know?
DIRKS: The answer? Almost 33 percent of the population and growing. San Diego is getting browner and bluer. The man who has been filling in as mayor, Democrat Todd Gloria, says the move towards a progressive San Diego will continue despite the events of the past year.
INTERIM MAYOR TODD GLORIA: This movement is bigger than one person, it's bigger than Bob Filner or one individual city council member. This is about a community that's on the move, one that wants to see change in this community.
DIRKS: But the lesson for conservatives is that a Republican mayor can handily win in a Democratic city - if the turnout is low and the message is made from the middle. For NPR News, I'm Sandhya Dirks in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.