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Republican wins San Diego mayor special election, replacing Democrat who resigned amid scandal

San Diego mayoral candidate David Alvarez cast his ballot as a his daughter, Izel, holds onto his leg at a polling location in the Logan Heights neighborhood where Alvarez grew up and still lives Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

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San Diego mayoral candidate David Alvarez cast his ballot as a his daughter, Izel, holds onto his leg at a polling location in the Logan Heights neighborhood where Alvarez grew up and still lives Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

SAN DIEGO - A moderate Republican city councilman has been elected mayor of San Diego in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Bob Filner, who resigned a torrent of sexual harassment allegations.

San Diego becomes the nation's largest city with a Republican mayor, and Kevin Faulconer will be the only Republican to lead a major city in California, where Democrats hold all statewide offices. Filner was San Diego's first Democratic leader in 20 years.

With all precincts reporting, the two-term councilman and former public relations executive led Democratic Councilman David Alvarez by 54.5 per cent to 45.5 per cent.

Alvarez, 33, congratulated Faulconer late Tuesday, tweeting, "It's clear that he will be the next Mayor of San Diego. I look forward to working with him."

Faulconer, 47, stopped just short of declaring victory when he addressed supporters as results trickled in Tuesday night. He promised to work across party lines in an increasingly Democratic city.

"It's never been about partisanship, it's been about leadership," he said. "It's not about Republicans, Democrats or independents. It's about us being San Diegans and moving this city together."

Faulconer portrayed Alvarez during the campaign as a tool of labour unions. Alvarez, who sought to become the city's first Latino mayor, attacked Faulconer as a shill for corporate interests. He sought to keep the office for Democ

Despite sharp ideological differences, few issues separated the candidates. Both promised more attention to neighbourhood priorities like street repairs, library hours and emergency response times, putting less emphasis on ambitious civic projects like building a new City Hall and bringing a new stadium for the NFL's Chargers.

Filner, 71, embraced the same "neighbourhoods-first" mantra but the candidates scarcely mentioned the disgraced former mayor, who pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanour counts of battery. The former 10-term congressman began a three-month sentence of home confinement on Jan. 1.

Faulconer alluded to the scandal when addressing supporters Tuesday night, saying, "We know that this city has gone through a lot in the last year but we knew as San Diegans we were better than that."

Faulconer, who was backed by Filner's two-term Republican predecessor, Jerry Sanders, played down his party affiliation. He highlighted his opposition to a 2010 ballot measure to raise the sales tax, which lost resoundingly, and his support for a 2012 measure to cut pensions for city workers, which passed overwhelmingly. Alvarez backed the losing sides.

Faulconer, a former student body president at San Diego State University, was elected to the Council in 2006 after another mayor, Dick Murphy, resigned amid a crisis over city finances. He often recalled how the city weathered the turmoil, drawing a contrast with the less experienced Alvarez, who was elected to the Council in 2010.

Faulconer's win comes as the nation's eighth-largest city turns more Democratic. President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 25 percentage points among city voters, and Democrats enjoy a 13-point advantage over Republicans among registered city voters.

Faulconer easily topped a field of 11 candidates in the first round by dominating in newer, wealthier neighbourhoods north of Interstate 8. Alvarez secured a spot in Tuesday's runoff by cleaning up south of the freeway in more densely populated, predominantly Latino areas.

Alvarez, a former legislative aide who grew up speaking Spanish at home, extolled his family's immigrant roots to an electorate that the registrar estimates is 18 per cent Latino. He embraced a populist campaign theme of stripping power from hoteliers and developers who he says have long controlled the city.

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