The Gloves Come Off

It looks like the honeymoon between Gentleman Jerry Sanders and the City Council That Couldn’t (as in, deal with the city’s pension obligation, budgetary blunders and resulting fiscal fiascos) is finally—maybe irreparably—over. Next week’s proposal before the council to require the mayor to get council approval before making any budget cuts is a blatant attack on the new “strong mayor” system of government. Indeed, it ultimately amounts to political emasculation and Sanders doesn’t appear willing to be turned into a gelding.

Of course, saying the gloves are coming off is a bit of a misnomer because, up until now, the gloves have never really been on. For the last 13 months, Sanders has assiduously avoided a direct confrontation with the City Council. Last summer, when the council challenged his decision to kill a kids’ swim program, the mayor folded like a clean sheet. Since then, he’s shown little desire to take on the City Council directly, preferring to triangulate between the council and City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

But now it appears the mayor and council are skipping right over the Marquis de Queensbury rules to bare-knuckle brawling. For the good of the city, I hope Jerry packs a mean sucker-punch and takes the council down a peg—or eight.

This city finds itself in dire fiscal straits precisely because a majority of the current City Council systematically deferred in making the fiscally prudent but politically dangerous decisions to either cut services, raise taxes or cut costs to close the city’s skyrocketing budget gap and meet its astronomical pension obligation. Instead, the City Council has routinely told San Diegans that they could keep their services, pay no new taxes and share not one iota in the inevitable pain created by the council’s fiscal mismanagement. Now this same council wants what amounts to legislative veto authority to nullify any actions taken by the mayor to try to right our listing fiscal ship.

Council President Scott Peters calls the mayor’s angry response to the council’s attempted coup “silly.” What’s silly is Peters’ contention that this city can continue to provide the same level of services and deal with its ongoing budget crisis without raising revenues. That is silliness—and it’s exactly such silliness the mayor seeks to avoid by taking the lead in making necessary and needed reductions to services, distributing the resulting pain as fairly as possible. And it is exactly such a rational approach to the city’s budget woes that the council seeks to subvert.

So here’s what His Honor should do: If the City Council passes this self-serving, ill-conceived proposal, Sanders should veto it promptly. If the council overrides his veto (which seems a given), he should challenge the measure in court. If it were clear under the charter that the council already had the authority to demand that the mayor seek their approval before implementing any cuts to services, then this proposal would not be necessary. This is a gray area (one of many created under the strong-mayor charter amendment). And gray areas in law need to be resolved by the courts.

In the meantime, the mayor should use his bully-pulpit—and his position as the most popular pol in our polis—to publicly browbeat the council into serving the good of the city as a whole. And he should let council members know exactly where his first round of cuts will be focused: precisely in the districts of those council members who have been most obstructionist to his agenda. That’s how a strong mayor plays strong-arm politics.

Indeed, reductions in services should be focused in the more affluent, northern areas of the city, which also happen to be the districts of some of Sanders’ council nemeses. People in Point Loma, La Jolla and Scripps Ranch—where there’s access to private recreation and child-enrichment opportunities—can better endure reductions in basic services like parks, recreation and libraries than those in central and south San Diego.

But the real reason the mayor should focus the civic pain at the higher end of the socio-economic ladder is that residents in those areas will scream the loudest and most effectively. Then the City Council will be stuck making the hard choice: allow cuts to continue, raise revenue to restore services and/or deal effectively with the municipal-employees union to reach a realistic long-term plan to ease the pension debt.

That’s the gamble the mayor must take: mobilize the city as a whole on his side and then take the steps necessary to stop the city’s fiscal hemorrhaging. Take off the gloves and put on the political brass knuckles, Jerry. This is the fight of your political life.

You Go To War With The War You’ve Got

Of all the canards presented in this Tuesday’s State of Denial speech, the line that has stuck in my craw the most was the President’s statement, in regards to the situation in Iraq that: “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in.” What a load of balderdash.

OK, it isn’t the war he and the Vice President of Darkness said we were entering. They told the American people this was going to be a cakewalk. What they failed to mention was that it was going to be a cakewalk lined with IEDs. But plenty of other voices argued loud and long right up to the dropping of the first cruise missiles that this, what we have today, is exactly the sort of war we were entering in March, 2003. An endless list of scholars, political figures, foreign intelligence services and journalists pointed out that if evil Saddam was bumped off, the US would either have to commit a Vietnam-era level of force and money for a Vietnam-era amount of time or face an escalating descent into chaos and sectarian violence which would weaken American security and heighten the power of even more radical regimes in the region.

So, when the President says “This is not the war we entered in Iraq,” he is being either disingenuous, naïve, deliberately deceitful or just plain dumb. None of these being answers that heighten confidence in our Commander in Chiefly-cluelessness.

Oh, and to all of you out there who wake up every morning thinking, “Impeach Bush,” forget about it. The real target of impeachment should be Darth Cheney.

George W. Bush lives a fantasy life that he believes to be real. You know, the one in which he was a successful oilman and big league baseball team owner and not just the beneficiary of the largess of his daddy’s sycophant friends. People may have marveled when George W. met the former KGB’er cum head Russian, Vlad “the impaler of Russian democracy” Putin and could “get a sense” of the up and coming Pinochet of the East’s soul. I didn’t. Having observed both Bush’s and Putin’s rise to power in 1999-2000 while living and teaching in Russia for the year, I saw great similarities in the two. Both are men of such limited imaginations that they cannot conceive of their own limitations.

No, George W. Bush truly and honestly believes everything Dick “I didn’t get to nuke the Commies but maybe I’ll get a chance with Al Qaeda and Iran” Cheney told him. Therein lies the pity. Felony stupid is not grounds for impeachment. But if it can be shown Dick “The truth? We don’t stinkin’ need no truth.” Cheney deliberately lied to Congress on his various beat the war drum forays to Congress in 2002 and 2003, we’ve got a high crimes of the sort that sent Ollie “yeah I was convicted but I got off on a technicality just like all those criminal scum I rail about on the radio” North to jail, albeit briefly.

So if the Democrats in the Congress want redress for the mess the nation finds itself in thanks to Bush & Cheney, Inc., they should vigorously pursue the promised hearings on pre-war intelligence and build an evidentiary trail leading not to the White House, but to Number One Observatory Circle (You know, the place the Veep lives—and charges lobbyists a fortune to have tea at….) That’s where the bill for the political manipulations of the past six years should be presented for payment in full.

(Editorial note. Apologies for all the links– I’m like a kid in a new toy. In 3+ years the UT could never set me up with a weblogging system that supported me, a Mac [the one, true, faith] user allowing me to actually link my blogs. The CityBeat folk, bless their underpaid little hearts, managed to do it in about 7 minutes. Home sweet home.)

A Tale of Two Cities

I was reminded of Gentleman Jerry Sander’s “State of the City Speech” while watching the Prez’s address Tuesday night and struck by the similarities between the two. Both were given by politicians who pride themselves on their “Aw shucks, I’m just a good natured normal kinda guy” persona. Except in Jerry’s case it’s the truth—he is a good natured fellow of modest means. The President, meanwhile, is a multimillionaire (thanks to his own industriousness—and a lot of help from his daddy’s friends…) who, out of the public glare, is subject to extreme tantrums of temper, shortness of patience and absence of humor. But in public, at least, they can both go”gosh” for “gosh” with the best of them.

But despite the projected bonhomie of both men, both their speeches were received with what might kindly be characterized as a “tepid” response. (Let’s put it this way: if water were the temperature of their reception said water would be perfect for defrosting a bag of Costco frozen cooked shrimp.) This contrasting with the generally joyous reception Jerry got last January when San Diegans hoped the new top cop at the top would be able to right all the wrongs of this troubled city.

For George W., however, the reception fell right in line with the downward trajectory that followed his high water mark in his post-9/11 State of the Union. If things keep going this way next year the President may be greeted by the sound of chirping crickets in an otherwise icy House chamber. Especially if his unpopularity is being translated into plummeting poll numbers for 2008 GOP hopefuls. Jerry, meanwhile, has this year to make major strides towards putting the City back on the track to fiscal recovery. Otherwise the next State of the City reception may be similarly icy.

Why the lack of enthusiasm for our respective leaders? I can think to two major reasons. First, it doesn’t endear you to your audience to basically accuse them of mismanagement or malfeasance. Jerry did just that when he concluded his speech by saying “We can choose to rebuild a city government tarnished by ineptitude and neglect. Or we can choose to capitulate to special interests as we have done in the past.” Let’s see now, just who were the people responsible for a lot of that ineptitude and neglect? Why, that would be the very City Council members sitting in the front row being verbally slapped by their new, strong mayor. And who were the special interests that the City capitulated to? (Capitulate. What a pleasant euphemism for a term best described by a scene from the movie “Deliverance.”) Why, they would be many of the same muncipal heavy hitters and big league players who made up a good part of the relatively small crowd in Golden Hall that night. Ouch.

And when his Commander in Chiefness starts harping on Congressional earmarks and the sad state of our deficit-bloated budget, who is he slapping? Why, that would be the party that presided over the earmark happy, deficit exploding Congress for the past 12 years – the grand and glorious GOP itself. Nothing like being kicked in the keister by your own party leader.

But I think the dominant reason both Jerry and George got lukewarm receptions is because most thinking people understand that things are worse then either of them would admit. Worse in San Diego in terms of the precarious fiscal position the City continues to be in, with lots of budgetary pain coming our way – or bankruptcy. Worse nationally in terms of the precarious fiscal position the Country continues in, running massive deficits and borrowing massive amounts abroad with little end in sight. And, of course, there is that little fiasco called Iraq.

San Diego and Washington both suffer from the same malaise – leaders who refuse to publicly acknowledge the serious of the problems confronting their people. It is difficult for the public keep faith in their elected leaders when their elected leaders don’t level with them realistically about the problems we collectively face. And, bottom line, neither Jerry or George were completely on the level in their “State of” speeches.

The Beat Generation

Hello CityBeat Readers. I’m the new kid on the CityBeat Block. (Okay, I’m the new dumpy middle-aged guy on the CityBeat Block. Picky, picky.) In the days (weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennium, eons…) to come, we’ll have more time to become acquainted. I look forward to the dialogue we’ll develop in these digital pages. For now, though, I’m too exhausted to be witty having just watched the State of Denial address by President Bush (along with all the scintillating, if predictable, commentary—PBS thought he was okay but probably didn’t help his numbers much; Fox thought he was the second coming come to life.) For the numerologists amongst you, have fun counting how many times the word “Iran” was used tongith. Change one small letter and you’d think it was a few years back and the President was talking about another rogue Middle Eastern regime. Augury of the future? We’ll talk.