After San Diego banker Peter Q. Davis sold his bank to U.S. Bancorp last summer, he didn't waste much time bragging about the $306 million, 4.6-times-book-value deal.

He hit the campaign trail.

Now, with a March 7 primary vote looming, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of Commerce has emerged as a leading candidate to become San Diego's next mayor, according to polls.

"It's been really invigorating talking to the people," said the 59-year-old Mr. Davis, who officially kicked off his campaign Sept. 21 to the sounds of a six-piece Dixieland jazz band in a city park. "The more I've gotten into this campaign, the more comfortable I feel."

Mr. Davis is one of 12 candidates hoping to succeed Mayor Susan Golding, whom a term-limit law will force out after back-to-back four-year terms. Under San Diego's nonpartisan system for electing mayors, the candidates with the most primary votes will face off in the November general election in November.

Mr. Davis, a Republican who has never held public office, has spent about $1 million of his own money on television advertising.

One commercial, citing his record of lending to minority-owned businesses, shows him in a Mexican restaurant chatting with the woman who owns it. Another ad discusses his role in revitalizing San Diego's downtown as chairman of Centre City Development Corp.

The fourth-generation San Diegan says he would stabilize the city's finances. He claims City Hall is in disarray and needs to be run more like a business. "They can't seem to balance the budget," he says.

So Mr. Davis is touting his 36-year banking career to set himself apart from his 11 rivals, who include former and current City Council members. He calls himself the "only candidate for mayor with chief executive experience in business and government."

He certainly ran Bank of Commerce effectively. The $608 million-asset bank, which specialized in Small Business Administration lending, was one of the nation's top performers for its size. When sold it was returning 1.87% on assets and 18.83% on equity, versus peer averages of 1.28% and 13.69%.

"I think he has a pretty good chance," said Ronald J. Carlson, president and CEO of Scripps Bank.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.