History is (de)Bunk

I am soooo relieved.  The pension crisis is all but resolved.  San Diego fiscal failure is almost certainly now averted.  The SS San Diegotanic, only inches from the belly-ripping ice berg of municipal debt has abruptly changed course and now heads for safe and serene waters.  All, now, is well at last.  At least that’s what your Captain, Gentleman, who told all you passengers on his fiscal ship in last Sunday’s UT.   Thanks to the bold actions of his administration, San Diego (just forty-nine months after his taking office mind you, but a nothing in glacial time) has  enacted the needed reforms  to solve the pension crisis, reign in the costs of government and avoid the false salvation of bankruptcy. 

Indeed, to hear his Honor tell it, its actually been these false prophets of fiscal futility, these nattering nabobs of bankruptcy negativity, who have been holding the City back from the promised land.  “In my view, the bankruptcy con job is nearly as irresponsible as the schemes that dug us into a financial hole in the first place,” Sanders said.  And bravo to that.  It was most certainly that Mike Aguirre (remember him?) and his constant whining about the fact that the pension deficit was getting worse every year despite the claims of the Mayor and the council to the contrary, that meddlesome maniac Mike and his dropping the “B” word in polite conversation, that’s kept San Diego on the fiscal ropes.  It’s been people like Pat Shea—the Igor to Aguirre’s  Dr. Frankenstein building the monster of municipal bankruptcy—who have systematically derailed real change by—gasp—talking about bankruptcy as an option to the City’s woes:

“For too long, progress in closing San Diego’s structural budget deficit has been sidetracked by a disinformation campaign that contends, against all evidence, that the city would be better off if it filed for bankruptcy… But the truth is talk of bankruptcy impedes progress on real substantive pension reform, and it poisons the climate for thoughtful solutions to our structural deficit. “

That’s right.  It hasn’t been the wholesale unwillingness of the Council, the Mayor or the people of San Diego to face fiscal facts and embrace substantial cuts to services and significant increases sources of revenues that’s kept the city out of budgetary whack.  It’s been the discussion of bankruptcy.  Oh, to have back all those hours all of us in San Diego have wasted talking about the dreaded “B.”  Why, its gotten so we can’t even have a discussion around the family dinner table about American Idol without someone or other sidetracking the conversation with a detailed analysis of Orange County’s old bankruptcy filing.  It’s a wonder the Mayor and the Council have had time to get anything else done at all.

Just one small point, though.  What is it that has changed since I talked about the danger of bankruptcy  here, here, here or even here that has actually changed in real terms over the Mayor’s watch?   How is the city budget and the pension plan on a truly more sustainable path than it was when Dick “Such a Lousy Thing to Happen To Such A Nice Guy” Murphy was being run out of town on a rail?  But, of course, as the Mayor says, any lingering fiscal unpleasantries  should be laid at doorstep of those suggesting a discussion of Plan B. 

Me thinks His Mayoralship does protest too much.  Why should Sanders go out of his way to bring up and bash the bankruptcy option—an option he pretty much says he settled back with his election in ’05 and reelection in ’08—unless that option really is potentially back on the table in a big way. 

But at least San Diegans can take solace. George W. Bush may have been the decider but Jerry Sanders is the “Debunker,” taking on all rival narratives to his overarching theme that it’s morning in San Diego.   Thank goodness. Now we can go proudly into the future completely forgetting about the past.  By golly,.  Jerry Sanders is our own Henry Ford.

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.

On Golden Hall

Miscellaneous observations from my five action-filled hours at Golden Hall tonight.

Oh, and I noticed walking in and out  of the hall that the Civic Theater is going big time Andrew Llyod Weber this summer.  Phantom of the Opera as a metaphor for the fall campaign?  Cats as a metaphor for Democratic party infighting? Hope you enjoy musicals, San Diego.

So, what is it with Ron Paul supporter?   Are they:  a) really enthusiastic and committed; b) really have no lives;  c) are too poor to afford cable so they don’t know their candidate isn’t a candidate for anything anymore; d) are nuts; e) are really nuts; or f) all of the above?  Me, I think it is ditto the last two in spades.  There were probably as many signs being waved for the Man from Texas via Outer Space as for any of the other (real) candidates.

I enjoyed the Democratic moment when Mike Lumpkin supporters kept screaming “I Like Mike”  all night around Duncan Hunter the elder and Little Duncan D.  The father-son duo seemed to take it in good humor and stride.  Of course, tomorrow Duncan senior will have the Lumpkinites rounded up and sent to Gitmo.   My big question is, after this is all over and Mike Lumpkin is soundly thumped by Duncan the younger come fall (and who said America doesn’t like old world style dynasties…), will the Lumpkinites meet up with the Paulies and form their own desperate supporters support group?

(Note to San Diego Democrats:  might you get your act together and run the right candidate in the right District – like Mike “I Can Kill You With My Pinkie Because I Was A Seal, Buckoo” Lumpkin, who should have been run in the 50tht against Brian “Never Served But Sure Did Surf A lot, Dude”  Bilbray as opposed to Francine “Once A Schoolboard Candidate Always Campaign Like a Schoolboard Candidate” Busby?)

Meanwhile, the excitement level in the hall after nine reached the fevered pitch of an Hometown Buffet’s on senior all-you-can-eat fish night.  Oh what a fascination an election that generates a 40% turnout rate has on the voice box of vox populi.  Note to San Diego: if you really do want elections that generate a somewhat demographic representation of the city, how about scheduling municipal primaries the same day as the big Presidential primaries, whatever day that might be come spring 2012?

And what is it about Election central that brings out enough quirky characters to fill a half dozen David Mamet plays?  Like the 60 something rail-thin biker dude sporting the obligatory American flag bandana around his gray ponytailed head?  Or the legions of Libertarians consisting largely of twenty and thirty something white males who look like they just came from a Bund meeting?  Though you have to hand it to the Libertarians.  What other party would run a candidate for Congress  with the handle Dan “Frodo”  Litwin.  (Who got, as of this writing, 59 of the 25,000 votes cast in the 51st District—presumably from free market/small government hobbits).

Most unfortunate chant of the evening: Todd Gloria supporters chant/singing the golden oldie, “G-L-O-R-I-A GLORIA!” (I’m sure they paid the Warlocks-cum-Grateful Dead for the privilege…).  Runner up:  the Mike Lumpkin supporters chanting “We Like Mike” forgetting a) he wasn’t a general; and b) he isn’t Ike.  But, then, neither is Duncan D.

Most unfortunate statement of the evening:  Mike Aguirre mouthpiece Dan McGrath saying, when asked why Mike didn’t spend more money and campaign more for the primary, that Mike tends to fund his own campaigns and has to be careful with his money because he has to plan for his retirement.  Uh-huh. Like from being City Attorney which, given that challenger Jan Goldsmith is ahead of him in the returns and given that the other 40% of the vote that didn’t go to him or Judge Jan went to candidates united in only their mutual desire to see him bounced out of office, means that unless the erstwhile embattled CA actually does start to try and mount a modicum of real campaign come the fall is a likely outcome come December?

Uh-huh.

On to fall.  Only 154 days to go until the next election.

Shoulda Didda

Here, noble three readers, are my picks for who , come Wednesday, probably “didda” win after the chads clear—and who probably “shoulda “won:

MAYOR
Gentleman Jerry has had a good year: fires left him coated in good publicity Teflon, the return to the bonds markets (albeit limited in scope and at less than optimum rates) is a major step away from the municipal fiscal brink and no major oops have stuck to him, allegations of corruption by Mauling Mike Aguirre not withstanding. But Jerry’s scorecard of campaign promises met is even bleaker than the current Padre standings. And the return to the bonds markets is months later than he promised. Meanwhile City services continue to deteriorate and the mayor is on a collision course of epic NASCAR proportions with City employees over pensions.

Sander’s saving grace is that millions spent by supply-side businessman turned progressive civic savior St.eve Francis of the City’s hasn’t been the definitive tipping point one might have thought it to have been. Granted, given how the dollar has been doing in recent months, four mil just doesn’t buy what it used to. But Francis has not been able to translate his media onslaught into a coherent narrative of why Jerry, despite his shortcomings, should be dumped. Or, more importantly, why used-to-be-hard-right-now-coming-from-the-left Francis should do the dumping. Francis has positioned himself in the worst of both San Diego political worlds: progressives don’t trust him and conservatives resent him. He has not delivered a compelling narrative of just what drove his Paul on the road to Damascus moment of political conversion, leaving many to suspect cheap political opportunism as the motivation and not true social enlightenment.

Still, Francis has been able to do respectfully well against an incumbent supported by most of the City power establishment, from the GOP to the UT to the business community in general. He’s within five percent or so of Sanders in polls. And, while the other runner-ups are running far behind, the five to ten percent of the vote they might get tomorrow could possibly throw this race into a fall runoff. Which would give Stevo time to retool his message and reintroduce himself to the independents and crossover progressives he’d need to win in November.

Didda: Sanders wins a narrow victory tomorrow putting this to bed.
Shoulda: Voters burned by a succession of nice but nonperforming mayors should dump Jerry and take the chance on Francis, proven or not.

CITY ATTORNEY
I’ve laid out my pros for keeping Mike Aguirre, warts (…tantrums, media stunts, over-using of the “C” word, poor press conference fashion statements…) and all. Numerous times. His detractors have laid out their case to dump (or, preferably, immolate and scatter the ashes to the next Santa Ana winds) him as well. Mike Aguirre is the Hillary Clinton of San Diego politics: we all fully well know his negatives by now and fully well know what he stands for. The same cannot be said for his primary primary challenger, Judge Jan, whose campaign has been a statement in blandness. Meanwhile, of Aguirre’s two City Council opponents, Scott Peters is clearly the standout having demonstrated consistent—though often erroneous—leadership on the Council. But Peter’s opposition to continuing the investigation of Sunroad alone defines what he would be like as City Attorney—and, in my view, disqualifies him from consideration for the office. That’s without even considering the various pension-fiasco votes he cast. Ditto Brian Maienschein, except for the leadership thing, which he hasn’t really demonstrated. Think of him as Peter’s lite. That being said:

Didda: Aguirre gets his 30%+ and goes on to the fall runoff, probably against Goldsmith. What happens then is still, as the statisticians would say, a stochastic event.
Shoulda: Aguirre wins outright. San Diego, do you really want to go back to the Golden Gwynn days? And, his own warts and all, Peters would be a better choice than Judge Jan.

CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT ONE
Didda: Phil Thalheimer’s money beats Marshall Merrifield’s, buying him the right to stand against Sherri “The populist pauper” Lightner come fall.
Shoulda: Sherri wins outright as the vox populi speaks to say it’s tired of guys with tons of money trying to buy their way into office. Say what you will about the sordidness of soliciting campaign contributions. In the absence of public funding of campaigns, it is still better than just letting those with money already steamroller over those without.

COUNCIL DISTRICT THREE & FIVE
Given the matchups (or, in District Five, lack thereof) I can’t muster the emotional energy to pontificate on these two. Except, to point out, just how much I am really looking forward to four years of Carl Pod-boy DeMaio jovially joshing with Roger Hedgecock about outsourcing as many City Services as possible to for-profit private contractors who can then outsource them to a Chinese subcontractor using Pakistani labor imported through Saudi Arabia.

COUNCIL DISTRICT SEVEN
Didda: Marti Emerald beats April Boling by a reasonable spread.
Shoulda: Marti Emerald beats April Boling by a reasonable spread.

PROPA
Didda: Exempting fire and police personnel from privatization/outsourcing is a sure winner. After all, after supporting the troops, we love to support our cops and firemen (although not with competitive wages and benefit packages…). Prop A passes by a landslide.
Shoulda: Any social conservative government-is-bad-private-sector-is-heaven types who don’t vote no on Prop A should be forced to wear a scarlet “H” for sheer hypocrisy. The “managed competition” crowd will tell you that the private sector is always more competent and efficient than government. So why, then, should any of us entrust the most important function of government—keeping us all physically alive and safe—to such incompetent government? If trash collection and midlevel paper-shuffling can be done cheaper and better by the private sector, why not police and fire? After all, for most of human history these functions, when provided, were largely provided by private entities outside of government anyway. Or could it be, perchance, that there are some things that affect the common good that government can do better than the private sector? And if that includes cops, firemen and lifeguards(and, apparently, Marines, Blackwater notwithstanding) might it not include at least some of the other providers of government services conservatives would target for privatization? Perish the thought.

PROP B
Didda: Ditto Prop A, this passes by a comfortable margin.
Shoulda: Prop B should have expanded the Council by at least three seats to provide better, focused attention by representatives to the people they purport to represent.

PROP C
Didda & Shoulda: Donna Frye is wrong about Prop C. She says allowing the Mayor to have so much influence over who will audit the City books is like allowing the fox into the hen house. Actually, it’s more like moving the whole hen house into the fox’s den. Prop C should—and probably will—fail. I mean, how many times will you expect to see Carl DeMaio and Donna Frye agreeing on anything?

OK. Now go vote.

An Odd Year

Elections in odd-numbered council districts and an odd trio challenging an odd city attorney make for odd times Read the rest in CityBeat Online HERE.

Excerpt:

Am I the only one mildly creeped out by Carl DeMaio? He shows up on the local political scene six years ago, fully formed but without any real history behind him, like he had just emerged from a pod cultivated at the Reagan Ranch and dispatched to infect San Diego with his conservative mantra: Government is bad, taxes are too high, downsize this, outsource that, reform government by taking it back to 19th-century laissez faire, etc. Every time I hear or see him, I wonder if little Carl DeMaio doppelgangers in smooth suits are peddling the same neo-con gospel in city councils and boards of supervisors from Klamath Falls, Ore., to Beaufort, S.C. Then I snap out of it and realize: Of course they are.

Poll Dance

The KGTV/Survey USA poll released yesterday adds a few glimpses of San Diego’s  politically undiscovered country.  According to the poll,  Gentleman Jerry “Jeez, could we have gotten back into the bonds market any closer to the election than this? And Stevo—another G+1/T-1 to you!” Sanders leads  St. Francis of the City by a five point margin.  Good news for Sanders who has barely rippled the media waters with campaign ads even as Francis has used his millions of media dollars to generate what has turned into a tempest in a San Diego teapot.  Bad news for Jerry: 43% of respondents said they were voting for one of the other candidates and seventeen percent are outright undecided.  That means Sanders hopes of knocking out Francis in the primary without need for a runoff may be a tad dimmed.  But Sanders is still the odds on favorite to put this to bed on the third.

In the City Attorney brawl, Maligned Mauling Mike Aguirre continues to sail on under his lucky star.  While Judge Jan, supported by the  local GOP, the “Damn the turpitude, full speed ahead” downtown business crew and their spokesrag in chief, the UT,  was supposed to wallop Mike in June and end his reign of misery.  But the unexpectedly crowded field of Mikey-replacement wannabes has drowned that dream.

The KGTV/Survey USA poll shows Aguirre cruising (for a bruising?) with 29% of the vote.  Councilmen Scott Peters (17%) and Brian Maienschein “Steamroller (15%),  meanwhile,  drown out Jan Goldsmith (15%).   If this trend holds, Aguirre goes on to the runoff against his City Council President and arch-nemesis Peters—two democrats fighting it out.  While I think Peters is probably the  best qualified  (Wizard of Oz Witch size warts and all) out of the pack of Aguirre opponents to take on the job of City Attorney , he would probably be a weaker opponent than Goldsmith, with his GOP base to float on, might be.

And the Beat Goes On

Sorry I’ve been off line for a bit, my frequent reader. I’ve been battling migraines which leaves precious little time except to get my day job (which often extends into nights and weekends) done. I’ll try and post a few before the all important, probably won’t change much June Primary.

Change much like City Hall’s reaction to the latest shoe/minor atomic bombshell whichno-one seemed to notice dropped last month by the SEC. A month ago the SEC charged five former San Diego officials, including “Former-by-virtue-of-having-been-defenestrated-by-then-mayor-Dick-the-Murph-Murphy” Michael Uberuaga, for fraud in misleading Wall Street investors over the City’s finances while raising a quarter billion in bonds. Gee, isn’t that what Mike Aguirre’s been saying since the beginning of time: That a City the size of San Diego doesn’t go down the financial tubes merely due to incompetence, good intentions gone awry or lousy breaks? That it takes the determined, deliberate effort of a large number of people more willing to break laws and violate ethics than risk their jobs and careers by telling people the truth about how badly they’d screwed things up? Aguirre has been saying there is a culture of such corruption at the top reaches of San Diego government for years. And been pilloried for it. Usually by those in the top reaches of San Diego government—and those who benefit from them being there.

I’ve waited for the last month to see City leaders—on the Council, in the Mayor’s office—express the sort of outrage they should over these SEC charges. What the SEC is telling San Diego is that its body Bureaucracy and Politics is infected, diseased, corrupt. And the City has, in the last month, done nothing to bleed any of these noxious humours from its municipal blood, or even acknowledged just how damning the SEC action is.

Of course, this is the same City that has seen three councilmembers indicted for corruption, two convicted, and a Mayor resigning in failure and responded with a “business as usual,” put a nice, former cop in the figurehead position and life goes on.

Is it any wonder the City is still out of the bonds markets, months after Jerry Sanders announced he saw the light at the end of the bondless tunnel?