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Alvarez, 33, has relentlessly attacked Faulconer as a shill for corporate interests. Faulconer, 47, portrays Alvarez as a tool of labor unions.

Despite sharp ideological differences, few issues have separated the candidates.

Both promise more attention to neighborhood priorities like street repairs, library hours and emergency response times, putting less emphasis on ambitious civic projects like expanding the convention center and bringing a new stadium for the NFL’s Chargers.

Filner, 71, embraced the same “neighborhoods-first” mantra but Faulconer and Alvarez scarcely mention the disgraced former mayor, who pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of false imprisonment and two misdemeanor counts of battery.

The former 10-term congressman began a three-month sentence of home confinement on Jan. 1.

Alvarez and the super PACs supporting him - largely from organized labor - have raised $4.5 million, according to an analysis of campaign filings by nonprofit news website That compares to $3.5 million raised by Faulconer and committees backing him, largely business groups.

One mailer from a pro-Alvarez union ridiculed Faulconer for membership in the San Diego Yacht Club. A labor-backed television ad scrolled the names of companies whose executives backed Faulconer, suggesting the Republican is in lock step with business.

A mailer from the pro-Faulconer, pro-business Lincoln Club shows an altered photo of Alvarez flashing what critics have said is a gang sign. Another group tells voters in a mailer that Alvarez fought to direct federal grants to three low-income areas, saying he neglected others and suggesting he would govern the nation’s eighth-largest city the same way.

Alvarez, who grew up speaking Spanish at home, extols his family’s immigrant roots at almost every campaign stop.

The San Diego native introduced himself at a forum geared toward Asian voters by saying his parents left Mexico with third-grade educations to raise a family in the hardscrabble area that he now represents. His father was a janitor for 26 years and his mother washed dishes at fast-food restaurants.

He was the first to finish college among his siblings, some of whom dabbled in gangs but went on to get good jobs and own homes.

The first-term councilman then laid out his populist campaign theme of stripping power from the “hoteliers and developers who have controlled the city for such a long time and are used to having things the same way.”

Faulconer touches lightly on his personal history, which includes a term as student body president at San Diego State University and a career as a public relations executive. Instead, he reminds the crowd of the fiscal turmoil that enveloped the city when he joined the council eight years ago, drawing a contrast with his less experienced opponent.

Faulconer plays down his party affiliation, casting himself as a consensus-builder, in a city where Democrats have built a 13-percentage-point edge over Republicans in voter registration. “I’m not a bomb-thrower,” he said.

Faulconer quickly acknowledged that neighborhoods north of the freeway have had an advantage, bolstered by developer fees on new homes that pay for parks and other services.

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