Word Games

What do you get when you combine the millionaire Republicanism of Mitt Romney and the hot-tempered progressive populism of Mike Aguirre? That would be local self-made millionaire running his own multi-million dollar “I’m already a millionaire and now want to be a mayor, too” Steve Francis.

Francis has hit the media board running with an unprecedentedly early and expensive mayoral primary media blitz. His platform is to the social progressive left of Sanders and the fiscal conservative right – no mean feat. But if Dick Nixon and Pete Wilson could do it in the 1970s, maybe Francis has a shot at it in 2008.

Francis makes great political hay out of the fact that he’s self-funding his own campaign. There’s a political equivalent to the old saying that “a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.” It’s “a man who finances his own campaign has proven he has only one supporter – himself. At least, that is the conventional wisdom on such matters. Self-funded candidates have, on the whole, done worse in elections than those who do the dirty work of digging in the muck for political moola.

And Francis’ claim that self-funding his campaign will keep him independent of influence from all those nefarious special interests out there. Should he be elected he’ll owe something to the groups that banded together to vote in into office—at least if he wants to be reelected down the pike. Of course Francis also says he doesn’t care if he wins reelection—and that may be true.

Four years in the morass of city government may be enough for anyone. Francis could have the advantage of a one-term shaker-and-a-changer. But, then again, becoming a self-admitted lame-duck from the moment he is sworn in can work against him. Long-term municipal interests (the kind who plan to be around more than four years—or four decades) will figure they can just hunker down and wait Chango Stevo out.

But even then Francis will have to deal with those downtown interests—municipal employees, cops and firefighters, developers and financiers and the rest of the cast of characters who have been a part of city politics for decades. And he will have to do favors here, end up with IOUs there, if he is going to get his agenda for streamlining and making transparent city government.

In short, if Francis is going to win the election and, more importantly, successfully deliver on his campaign promises, he’s going to have to become something of the very specious he deigns himself above: a politician.

But Francis’ rebranding of himself from the arch-conservative choice in 2005 to the people’s rational choice in 2008 makes sense. The Democrats still have yet to pony up a candidate to challenge Gentleman Jerry from the social progressive left, leaving Francis free to adopt rhetoric more usually the turf of Mike Aguirres and Donna Fryes. And Francis’ self-funding may matter less in San Diego, where contributions to mayoral races still tend to come from a few thousand people—usually members of organized interests—and not from grass-roots Barack Obama/Ron Paul/Dennis Kucinich style e-campaigns. So the amount of money Jerry raises for June will be less representative of deep popular support.

And, as Francis keeps hammering on the simple and true message that Sanders has delivered on almost none of his significant campaign promises from 2005 against a backdrop of what promises to be a grisly budget season with tough cuts called for, Sanders veneer of Teflon may well start to wear thin.

After all, what do you get when you mix the jovial ineptness of Jerry Ford with the ineffective administration of Jimmy Carter?

That would, of course, be Jerry Sanders.

And so far Steve Francis is the only—and, therefore, best—alternative to four more years of the same: the City treading water as it slowly drifts towards fiscal shoals again.

Go for it, Stevo. Show ‘em the money.

Charter Reform This

Egad how complicated can you make charter reform. What to put on the ballot? When to put it on? Come on, guys, it’s not that complicated. Here is the four-step plan to simple San Diego charter changes:

1. Mayoral Veto: The UT had to have published one of the most inane editorials it ever has (and believe me, the competition for the title in the annals of UT lore is intense) last Sunday when it lambasted the City Council for refusing to accede to the Mayor’s ultimate dream scenario of requiring a super-majority to veto Mayoral actions.

“The flimsy pretext for this unwarranted delay was that a six-vote requirement to override the mayor’s veto would constitute more than two-thirds of the eight-member council.”

So sayeth the oracles of the UT.

Exsqueeze me? Not wanting to adopt a 75% override super-majority is a “flimsy” excuse? So what now? The UT’s Bowtie Bob Kittle disinters Jimmy Madison from his crypt over in Montpelier and slaps the corpse around for having the temerity for putting a two-thirds veto Congressional majority into the Constitution as opposed to the three-quarters required for ultimate weighty issues like, say, amending the Constitution? How dare Mr. Madison, et. al, constrain the power of the energetic and noble executive.

A Super-Mayor (as opposed to just a run-of-the-mill Strong Mayor) would provide one-stop convenience shopping for the powerful economic interests that dominate the downtown scene. So, of course, the UT would love to see a Mayor with a super-majority veto shackling the City council. At least, that is, a Mayor who conforms to the UT’s editorial board positions which, often as not, align all so nicely with those of the downtown money crowd (which, given the paper’s dwindling readership, seems to be their principle subscribers anyway).

I wonder what the UT’s position on the veto would be if a social progressive like a Donna Frye was Mayor. Hmmmm, let me think…

UT, get over it. Ain’t nobody this homie knows of that requires a super majority for a legislative veto. The Council’s veto should be set at two-thirds. Which, of course, means the council has to be expanded to at least nine districts, with six necessary for the veto. And which leads me to suggestion….

2. Council Expansion.: The proposed nine council districts is better than the ridiculous even numbered eight council districts the Strong Mayor reform package left the city with. Going to nine districts will reduce the number of people each councilmember is trying to represent from 163k to 146k. But this pales in comparison to the level of personal representation afforded citizens of, say San Francisco, whose 11 supervisors represent around 70k citizens each or Chicago, whose 50 (yes, 5-0) Alderman represent around 50k each. In other words, San Diegans are vastly underrepresented.

Okay, significantly increasing the size of the council adds to costs (staff and salaries, etc.) and to complexity (more people trying to reach agreement). So, what? How about we abolish the council entirely and just have a mayor—maybe a wealthy one like Steve Francis who will foreswear his salary—running the show? Boy, that would save the moola. And, of course, flush the whole concept of democracy down the porcelain fixture.

I’d like to see a council of 11, 12, 15 or 18 (which makes the 2/3 veto majority math easy). That would increase representation (and, potentially, diversity) on the council. So what if that would also render the current council chambers obsolete. They keep saying City Hall is outdated and needs to be replaced. So do so and build a new one, big enough to accommodate the needs of San Diego in 2008 as opposed to 1974 when the current City Hall was built. Which brings me to suggestion….

3. Build a new City Hall and don’t build it downtown. Why is “downtown”– a place most San Diegans seldom go to–the nexus of City municipal life? Could it be because the rents and land there is are cheap it would be foolish to move City Government somewhere else? Could it be because downtown is centrally located and convenient in terms of traffic and parking for most San Diegans to reach? Could it be because it places City Hall within easy walking distance of all the developers, bankers and lawyers representing these said and other special interests who can afford to maintain tony downtown offices precisely to lobby City Government?

Gee, I wonder which one it could be?

How about we sell all the City’s downtown property and disperse the mechanisms of City government around the City itself? Downtown San Diego has always been more of a wish than a reality anyway. Why is Normal Heights or Clairemont any less advantageous a locale for the seat of governance of a sprawling Uber-burb like San Diego? There are these thing called phones, fax and the internet which, I hear, makes communication over vast distances (like, say, Linda Vista to Mira Mesa) very doable these days.

Put the main City Hall, and its council chambers someplace truly central, like Kearny Mesa or Tieresanta. Have each councilmember’s office and staff located in their own district so their constituents can find them as opposed to the downtown suits. And put the Mayor in a really big RV and have him or her tool around town, doing each day’s business in a different district.

Okay, the last one is a little pie in the cracked sky. But why keep all the representatives of the City in the same building every day? They should be in the communities they represent. And access is power, something, interestingly enough, mayoral candidate St. Francis of the City acknowledges when he’s suggested the Mayor’s office be moved to City Heights or some such . Why do you think the very first battle in every new administration, be it mayoral or presidential, is who gets the office closest to the chief? You keep city government downtown and,–Surprise! Downtown money interests get disproportionate influence.

Finally….

4. Fix the City Attorney conflict. An elected City Attorney cannot faithfully serve both the people who elects him or her and the members of City Government as the interest of the People and the Government often conflict. This puts the CA in an untenable position: either be a lapdog of the Mayor and Council (as past CAs were and which the Council and Mayor would like the current and future ones to be) or be a public advocate at odds with the very City Government he or she is called upon to represent. So, as I’ve advocated before, split the job. Create a new position of City Counsel to represent the City in legal affairs and turn the CA into something more akin to the County DA—a watchdog representing the legal interests of all members of the community. Do that or simply abolish the elected status of the CA and return the position to that of Council/Mayor appointment. You can’t have a good watchdog and lapdog at the same time. (Well, actually you can as my ninety pound shepherd-collie-Afghan mix attests to, but you get point.)

There are other tweaks that can be done (like having truly independent City Auditors appointed by a “blind” panel of public citizens and a truly independent City Ethics Commission. But these are my Big Four for Charter Reform.

Then again, why fix anything? I mean, things have been running so well in San Diego government for so long, if it ain’t broke……

Stirring

Stirring

In the end-of-semester grading rush, I completely overlooked blogging on the Mayor’s State of the City address two weeks back. You remember, the one where Gentleman Jerry gave a rousing speech on how peachy-keen things were going in San Diego and how even more peachy-keener they would be this year? And then the next day announced just how deep that pool of red ink the city was drowning in would be this year?

Let me say this about Jerry’s speech: Yawn.

Between the State of the City and the State of the Union addresses (the one where the Obama snub of Clinton was the most substantive thing to happen), all I can say is wake me up when it’s 2009.

Oh, and St. Francis of the City, take heart—Sanders continues to be so awe-inspiringly uninspired and you just might have a chance to win this thing come June.