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.