Bye Bye Bobby

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I think this says it best for all of us!

Let there be cookies and cake for everyone!

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Et Tu UT

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It was with great sadness that I read yesterday of the sale of the Union Tribune to a private equity group and the ending of decades of Copley Press in this, America’s finest city.  Great sadness, that is, because I didn’t read about such a sale a year ago.  Or five.  Or ten.  Or twenty-five.  The UT—particularly its editorial page brought to you courtesy of Bob “Bowtie because if its not the 1950s then it darn as well should be” Kittle and his band of un-renown known the UT  Editorially Bored–has been in reverse-lockstep with the people of San Diego since Ronald Reagan hung up the spurs and went back to the Ranch in the 1980s.   One can only hope the new owners can take steps to bring the paper into maybe at least the early Clinton years?  Hey, hint for the new guys:  Why not save big money and just run 20 year old editions of the SF Chronicle or NY Times with a UT logo over it.  Even if it’s not topical it’d still me more readable and applicable to the lives of most San Diegans than the current kitty-liter liner has proven to be. 

So little time,  so much to vent and celebrate

This may well prove to be the best moment for San Diegans of a progressive bent since Donna Frye won the mayor’s office  back in 2005!  (Oh, what might have been had the UT sale occurred a half-decade ago….)

For more of my UT hope and loathing check Tony Perry’s blog in the LA Times.

Champagne, anyone?  

In Lieu of Flowers

From Today’s Hard Copy of City Beat

A Eulogy For Mike Aguirre

True to my prediction of four years ago, Mike Aguirre has become San Diego’s version of the mad Florentine monk Savaranola: having incited the locals to burn down the downtown power establishment he finds himself instead burned at the political stake.  His legion of detractors, however, from the editorial and blogger  pages of the UT to the front office of the Chargers to the halls of City Hall right to Jerry Sanders himself might well find they will  ultimately rue the day of Mad Mike’s fall.  For now whom will they blame their many failings on?

No longer having Aguirre to kick around, Gentlemen Jerry and the City Council may also find that the only thing that’s kept the political peace in San Diego for the last four years was their  shared fear and loathing of Mike.  Sanders first tried to triangulate with Aguirre against the council, then teamed up with the council against Aguirre. With Mike gone and all the financial problems hanging over the city, watch the mayor and council turn on each other like rabid and ravenous professional politicians.

Let us not underestimate or minimize the degree to which Mike mauled himself. By most accounts Mike’s management of City Attorney’s office was closer to Humprhey Bogart’s helmanship in the Caine Mutiny than E.G. Marshall’s stewardship in The Defenders His inability to focus on any one project long enough to see it to completion, whether it be run-of-the-mill civil litigation or major investigations left him long on rhetoric but short on accomplishment.

Meanwhile the promised centerpiece of his litigation empire—the lawsuit to roll back pension benefits– only served to alienate Aguirre from what could have been a political alliance with the municipal unions and gave the UT with millions of dollars in ‘wasted money” to shoot at him with.  That Jerry Sander’s said the lawsuits  needed to proceed and be resolved  before he could take any actions to solve the pension problem somehow has gotten deleted from the pension narrative.  With Jan  Goldsmith ready to drop the litigation, the UT’s question should be:  So what’s the new pension plan, your Mayorship? Instead, no doubt, the paper of record will congratulate Goldsmith for saving millions of dollars by dropping litigation aimed at saving hundreds of millions.   Se la vie.

And then there was Mike himself.  Or, specifically, Mike’s mouth.

Mike seemed to have reinterpreted Thumper’s Mother’s advice to be “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, go out of your way to kick them as many times as you can.” Mike was San Diego’s little boy who cried corruption so often that, even when corruption seemed to be evident (can you say Pensiongate?  Sunroadgate?) the press and much of the public rolled their collective eyes and said, “There he goes again.”   What Mike forgot was the Occam’s razor of municipal government: never claim corruption and conspiracy when simple incompetence will suffice.

Aguirre actually had a higher view of the city’s leaders than most common folk did.  Presented with the incredible screwups on every thing from sewer systems to development deals, most San Diegans simply threw up their hands and said, “What d’ya expect from those clowns.”  Aguirre was actually charitable enough to assume that city officials—both elected and appointed—where smart enough to know what they were doing and that screwups where actually intentional subversions of the public good.  His constant maligning of multiple malificient muncipal malefactors, however, eventually fell flat in the face of the depressingly low level of competence San Diegan’s have come to expect from their municipality.

Yet the real irony in the case of Mike Aguirre was that, no matter how flawed the messenger may have been, his fundamental message—that the city was heading towards, be it by incompetence, corruption or cowardice, a fiscal Armageddon and no one on the council (with the exception of Darling Donna Frye)  or the Mayor’s office was willing to even so much as admit how bad things were let alone take proactive steps to head off disaster–was  quite correct. Indeed, Mike is even more correct about the state of the city leaving office in defeat than when he entered it in victory.

Between 2000 and 2004 the city became the municipal version of the Titanic, slamming full speed into the pension fund debacle.  Over the last four years, under the stalwart stewardsip of two mayors, two acting mayor and scads of City Managers and CFOs,  the city backed up and then slammed full speed ahead into that iceberg again. And again. This time the ship might finally sink.

As Aguirre recently claimed (and Dan Bauder reiterated in last week’s Reader)  the pension fund deficit, around a billion  and a half dollars when Mad Mike came into office, is probably closer to THREE billion today.  Back in 2004 the City was in the middle of good times with the markets and tax revenues on the rise.  Today the City, like the rest of the country—and the world—is in a recession heading towards depression. Which means any hope of riding this out without making major—and painful—cuts are simply delusions or deceits.

The city council might want to hold off voting to ban plastic shopping bags. What will hundreds of city employees put the contents of their desks into when they are, let us say, sent on extended permanent furlough (what shall they call “firing you”? Let them count the ways…) once the full financial plight of the City is realized? Keep a few branch libraries from closing?  By this time next year the Council may be selling the library’s books on E-bay for spare cash and wondering how to keep at least a few police stations open. Citizen Aguirre thus leaves office as he came in,  with the name of his cherished boyhood sled “Bankruptcy” on his lips.

That Mike Aguirre leaves shallow footprints on city politics is in part due to his own personal failings but more because so many of the city’s movers and shakers worked so hard to brush him away.   His attempt to turn the City Attorney’s office into something of a Tribune of the People is now being rolled back, much to the relief of the city establishment. Safely ensconced at last in his new City Attorney digs, Landslide” Jan Goldsmith is ready, true to his word, to take the office back to the halcyon days of  Casey “Pension underfunding? Sure we can do pension underfunding”  Gwinn.

Just how will Ferret Man Jan deal with the next Sunroad? Or the next (as in current) pension under funding scheme?  Will Goldsmith continue any of Aguirre’s Quixotic adventures, like efforts to force Kinder Morgan, the corporation that owns the tank farms by the stadium, to finally make good on its legal responsibility to clean up the Mission Valley aquifer  contaminated in a fuel spill twenty years ago? Given that Goldsmith campaigned on the platform of turn the City Attorney’s office back into the legal mouthpiece of the mayor and council, one can only imagine the answer.

Meanwhile the changing of the guard at 202 C Street is now complete.  In addition to Aguirre’s agonosites,  the last four members of the City Council’s gang of seven (the gang that voted the city into its current fiscal failures starting in 2000) have been turned out as well, though, in these cases, by term limits and not voter vindictiveness.

And thus it’s a final irony that, with the exception of Dick Murphy (who cheated a public recall hanging by his own political suicide) Mike Aguirre is the only elected San Diego official since to pay any price for a lack of success in public office is recent memory. (And how many people DID get fired over that little Sunroad flap?  Ah ha.  Thought so.)  Scott Peters is off to his cozy sinecure on the Port Commission, a going away present from his former council buddies. The troika of Atkins,  Maienschein and Madaffer may be, as yet, unspecific about life post-council but we should all sleep well at night knowing that there’s probably a nice public sinecure or private partnership awaiting them somewhere.  Jerry Sanders,  meanwhile, having coasted to easy reelection can now hear, wafting whispers of his name on the lips of Republicans desperate to find some one to run for governor in 2010.

Only Mike Aguirre comes out of this miserably mauled.  But take heart Mikey. Your principal public antagonist, the UT, is on the sales block.  And your political antagonists like Peters and Sanders may well see their political shelf-lives shrink to that of overripe mangoes given the financial fury facing the city.  Indeed, it is unfortunately possible—and not for your lack of warnings–that your dourest predictions of municipal collapse might yet come true.  Like the mad monk Savaronola ranting against the corruption of the  De Medici’s, you may end up vindicated in the end.

And the citizen’s of San Diego may find themselves saying a few years—or months—if only we’d listened to that obnoxious Mike Aguirre.

The Return of St. Francis of Deep Pockets

In an utterly surprising move (except for the last six months of hints and innuendo) politician-turned-businessman-turned wanna be a politician again Steve “Have Millions, Will Run” Francis has thrown his hat (and checkbook) into the Mayoral ring.

While it might seem odd for a Republican to enter a race to defeat a still largely popular incumbent fellow Republican who has already beaten said Republican once before one must remember that:

a) This is California where Republicans seem to take great joy in devouring their own;
b) This is San Diego where the only people to run for Mayor are either Republicans or Donna Frye; and
c) Hope springs eternal.

Actually, Francis is better positioned to challenge Sanders than conventional wisdom might hold. First, Sanders has, as Francis said when he announced his candidacy, fallen far short on all of his 2005 campaign promises. Second, while Sanders has remained popular, he has so far had no real competition for popularity from either a lackluster City Council or even a popular but much maligned City Attorney. Show San Diegans a new (OK, retreaded, if you will) face as a choice and Sanders popularity may dwindle. Third, even though conventional wisdom (my own included) held the City’s response to the great fires of ’07 made Sanders fireproof for the next election, as the truth behind the inadequacies of City preparation for responding to such a next, great fire have emerged, much of Sanders’ political Asbestos has been shredded.

In short, Sanders is vulnerable and Francis realized it. And, indeed, as long as no Democrat in town demonstrates the huevos rancheros to actually run against a vulnerable Republican incumbent, Francis (as both the UT and the Voice of San Diego have pointed out) can outflank Sanders from the left as a Obama/Donna Frye style populist and from the right as a social conservative.

Of course, how long Francis can slice the political salami both ways is problematic. At some point, no matter how much he says Donna Frye would have been a better Mayor than Jerry Sanders, Francis’ positions on Unions (don’t like ‘em) City Government (way too big) and social issues (endorsing gay marriage is a boo-boo) will probably catch up with him and the choice come June will between a nice but incompetent moderate and a trying to be nicer, competent conservative.

That is, for the ten thousandth time, unless Democrats wake up and smell the electoral bacon.

Meanwhile I found it fascinating that Francis went out of his way when he appeared on the Roger Hedgecock Show Tuesday to endorse Mike Aguirre and his much belittled pension lawsuits. Stevo basically said that, until the last fat judge sings, Aguirre should continue all legal avenues available to role back illegal pension benefits. This after the conservative bastion of record and much of the city council has spent the last year blasting Aguirre for wasting money on such frivolous lawsuits. Which, of course, immediately reigns down on Francis the wrath of Aguirre don’t-likers but which also helps to position him as a for-the-people-against-the-establishment populist like Mauling Mike.

If you thought a Sanders/Aguirre axis was the ultimate odd couple just wait. You ain’t seen nuthin’ until the Mike and Steve show hit the political road.

And you thought only national politics could be this twistedly interesting!

(PS: Note to Roger H. Dude, I know you have a schtick that has worked for years – keep hammering on the same old themes of evil unions, incompetent city government, loony liberals, nefarious illegal immigrants, overly starched underwear, et. al. But do you always have to use that whinny voice –you know the one, the faux-effeminate, speak with a lisp and disparage the people you disagree with by making them seem gay—you use whenever you slam someone with a position you don’t approve of? “Oh those liberalths. They wan to thave the treeths, be nicer to the illegal alienths” That kind of thing. I though most people grew out of using thinly–veiled gay-bashing to disparage other people back in middle school PE. Sure, Rush Limbaugh does the same thing regularly but he’s a moron, after all. So from now on, how about dropping that lisp. Unless you basically believe your audience is predominantly a bunch of junior high maturity level troglodytes. Just a friendly suggestion.)

Journalistic Excellence

I continue to be amazed that America’s finest city can, amongst its plethora of blessing (sound municipal fiscal management, alas, not being one of these) that stalwart bastion of non-partisan journalistic excellence, the Union Tribune. When CityBeat published my piece on Mike Aguirre this week I included, amidst all of his trials and travails this fall, how the UT had slammed him for having taken illegal, unethical, immoral and just really as rotten as an overripe avacado left to mold and fester for a month under a San Diego sun campaign contributions.

It remained for my own intrepid editor, Dave Rolland, to insert into my final draft that the UT had, in fact, done the honorable thing and published a retraction of the accusation of the original editorial in which UT editorial honcho Bowtie Bob Kittle had not only accused Aguirre of impropriety but had also basically demanded Aguirre’s immediate deportation from the planet.

That was news to me. The retraction thing — not the Kittle wanting to deport Aguirre thing. But our Editor, my lord and liege, is seldom wrong about such things and, once again, right he was.

It was also news to our fellow alternative media source, The Voice of San Diego, as Scott Lewis’ piece pointed out Thursday.

You see, it seems that, even though the UT felt so confident about their accusation that they were willing to publish it directly in the editorial pages (as opposed, to, say, running it as a news story and then waiting a news cycle or two to get all sides of the story on the record before shifting from statement of possible fact to righteous demands based on absolute certainty) and that, after words, just about every competent legal authority on the matter scratched their heads and said Kittle better loosen that bow tie because it seemed to be cutting off the flow of O2 to his brain because there was pretty much absolutely nothing to the charges leveled and that, even after BTBK spent days working the media trying to justify his bogus brouhaha, no-one was buying, the UT powers-that-be, in their infinite professional wisdom, finally decided to man up and do the Spike Lee right thing.

They published a full and fair retraction. Just a scant three weeks after the allegation was made, published brazenly right out there for all to see on page B-2,347 of the local news. (I’m so excited by this new outburst of journalistic responsibility that I’m checking Le Monde to see if they’re issuing a retraction any time soon about the Dreyfus affair!)

I think it was Gertrude Stein who once remarked, when asking a porter for a newspaper and having been brought a Los Angeles Times, “I’m sorry but you misunderstood me. I asked for a newspaper.” That was back in the notorious Otis Chandler days. Living now in the Kittle days of San Diego journalism, I begin to empathize with her.