By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - San Diego voters opted for a return to Republican leadership on Tuesday as they elected a city councilman backed by the downtown establishment to succeed ex-Mayor Bob Filner, a Democrat who resigned amid a torrent of sexual misconduct allegations.
Republican Kevin Faulconer garnered nearly 55 percent of the vote to defeat his City Council colleague, Democrat David Alvarez, who was vying to become San Diego's first Hispanic mayor but finished the night with just over 45 percent.
Faulconer, 47, declaring victory at a downtown hotel, is expected to take the oath of office in early March to serve out the nearly three years that remained in Filner's term as mayor of California's second-most populous city.
"Together, you have sent a very strong message ... that this city is going to stand up and work together to bring us all together," he told his supporters.
Alvarez, 33, conceded defeat in a Twitter message congratulating Faulconer. "It's clear that he will be the next mayor of San Diego. I look forward to working with him."
Filner resigned in disgrace in August after nearly 20 women, starting with his then-press secretary, publicly accused him of making unwanted advances and other inappropriate behavior during his brief tenure as San Diego's first Democratic mayor.
Faulconer emerged as the front-runner in an initial field of 11 candidates who ran to replace Filner in November. But he failed to garner the simple majority needed then to win outright, setting the stage for Tuesday's runoff with Alvarez, who had narrowly clinched second place.
To supporters, Faulconer represents the center-right that was long the political pedigree of mayors in San Diego, which has traditionally tended to lean conservative, in part because of its large military and retired military presence.
The 2012 election of Filner, a liberal Democrat who served 20 years in Congress, was considered a political turning point.
APOLOGY, TREATMENT NOT ENOUGH
But Filner's career could not withstand the political and public outcry against him as harassment allegations streamed in, even after he apologized for his behavior and sought psychiatric treatment. He later pleaded guilty to criminal charges of false imprisonment and battery involving three women and was sentenced to three months of home confinement.
On Monday, municipal officials announced that the city and Filner had agreed to a $250,000 compensation package to settle the sexual harassment suit brought by his first accuser, Irene McCormack Jackson, with the entire sum coming from city coffers.
Alvarez, whose platform most resembled Filner's, was elected to the city council in 2010 by largely working-class and Hispanic neighborhoods, including San Ysidro and Barrio Logan, where he grew up. He has established a track record of fighting for those communities, often finding himself at odds with downtown interests.
Support from San Diego's Latino neighborhoods, long ignored by the city's mainstream politicians, was seen as key in elevating Filner, who ran on a progressive platform.
That same dynamic gave Alvarez a shot at becoming San Diego's first Hispanic elected mayor - at least since California statehood - in a city originally founded as a presidio, or military post, by the Spanish five decades before Mexican independence.
The race between Faulconer and Alvarez turned nasty in the final days of the campaign, with stacks of mailers alleging that Alvarez is a tool of the unions and too young to run America's sixth-largest city.
Other mailers pointed out that Faulconer is a member of the San Diego Yacht Club, voted to cut death and disability benefits for firefighters, and charge that he is a pawn of downtown business interests.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Steve Gorman, Ken Wills and Gunna Dickson)