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.


Fire Flap

Okay, so Sanders and Aguirre disagree on what to do with state and city recommendations on creating stricter building code standards for homes in San Diego’s now well-proven fire-prone areas. Aguirre thinks such standards should be applied to all residences, those currently existing and those which are still but a twinkle in a developer’s eye. Sanders has balked, opposing retroactively applying such regulations to existing home owners. And legal experts say Aguirre may be off base in proposing to do so. Trying to enforce new fire codes on existing homes is a likely first-class ticket to the courts.

There goes that whacky old Mike again, making policy recommendations he isn’t charged to do that are legally dubious at best, politically disastrous at worst. And, once again, Aguirre is also right in what he’s advocating, even as the slings and arrows of the Mayor rain down upon him.

He may not be politically right, calling on home owners who have a good chance of being burned out in what, given global warming, will probably become even more frequent wildfires gone wild to take proactive steps now to prevent catastrophic loss later. It’s the classic short-term thinking free rider program. What homeowner wants to willingly shell out money now for a fire that may or may not (read “Will”) come later? Especially if the government can be relied on to rush in and spend whatever it takes to protect whoever needs protecting despite how little they’ve done to protect themselves?

This is America, dammit, where people are free to make any dumbass decision they want and expect everyone else, through the instrument of the state, to shoulder the cost. And Sanders, facing an unexpectedly contested reelection campaign, isn’t about to put the slightest pressure on a volatile electorate, public safety and common sense be damned. Interesting that, also facing a significant electoral challenge, Aguirre doesn’t flinch from pursuing what he thinks is good policy and plain common sense.

You see fire is a funny thing – it don’t give a wit if the house it’s chewing on is new construction or old, Your house gets in the way of it—be it a home in a brand new development or an old, established community, the fire dragon will eat it up and spit out the ash. What about the last two great fires don’t people get? So exempting any home in a fire-prone zone from upgrading to higher safety standards is going to result, when the next big one comes, in either more houses burning than should have or a bigger cost to our firefighting budgets—and potential lives of firemen—than should be, or both. My bet is on the later.

It seems likely the legal experts are right — attempting to do what Aguirre calls for and retrofit all homes for fire safety may be illegal under current law and will certainly draw legal challenges. So how about our local state legislators get off the stick and change said laws, indemnifying the City from challenges and damages in enforcing the sorts of fire codes we should have adopted decades ago in the first place? Then the messy business of making people do what is good for themselves and not push the cost of their inaction off onto everyone else can be addressed.

And if the Mayor and City Council don’t like the City Attorney crossing lines and usurping their legislative prerogative, then how about they get of the stick, too, and take real steps—potentially politically painful ones—to protect the people of San Diego from the inevitable next inferno.

But that Aguirre, man. Wanting to guarantee every home is adequately prepared to deal with the next fire. What a nutjob.