Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who's on top?

Remember that old, old, old radio game show Can You Top This?  If you missed it in its first incarnation, don’t fret.  You can get an updated replay by tuning in to San Diego’s mayoral race.  Nowadays it's called Can Fletcher Top Demaio? … Can Demaio Top Dumanis? … Can Filner Top All Three? 

The spectacle of four mayoral candidates climbing over one another in a leapfrog contest to see who’s got the best two-minute answer to questions (posed by reporters or the usual set of candidate-forum panelists) that DON'T HAVE QUICKIE ANSWERS is not just embarrassing, it's downright useless, meaningless, and deceptive.

Frankly, I’d be happier if Demaio, Dumanis, Filner, and Fletcher forget about answers altogether.  What I’d like to know is what they think are the most important questions, issues, problems, and obstacles facing the city and the next mayor.  

I already know what’s important to me, but before I cast my vote in the June 5 primary I want to know what makes them sit up and take notice.  I want to know which one of them really gets San Diego issues.  Who among them recognizes what needs fixing?

I'll learn a lot more about their priorities and their values if they tell me what they believe is going wrong in our city.  

Political pundits like to say that the public only likes good news...voters want a positive message...nothing negative. 

Not me.  

I want a mayoral candidate with enough integrity and independence to ignore the happy-face talk coming out of the lame-duck mayor’ office.  I want to hear a thoughtful analysis of what each of our mayoral candidates thinks is going in the wrong direction.  Then I’ll  know in whose hands we might stand half a chance of making progress in our city.

An honest analysis of our city's problems would be the most positive message I can think of.

(For the San Diego version of Can You Top This click here.  It might take a second or two to load but it’s worth the wait.)  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Life lessons

Why do I feel as if our U-T San Diego daily newspaper is shouting at me?  Headlines are so big.  So BOLD.  They jump right off the page. 

Just take a look.  It’s back to kindergarten with color-coded newspaper sections.  The BUSINESS section is dollar bill green.  SPORTS is football brown.  LOCAL is bay blue.  FOOD is plum purple.  

And what do you make of those front-page editorials that hammer away at us, nagging with instructions to love and embrace this or that splashy downtown development project -- aka vision?  Move over world and national news, you're getting in the way!

I guess Doug Manchester and John Lynch, the new U-T newspaper owners, figure that readers can’t be trusted to make the ‘right’ decision about what’s good or bad for San Diego.  Maybe they’re worried that readers are just yokels, too unsophisticated to flip to the back pages where most reputable newspapers put personal opinions and editorials. 

I guess that if you’re wealthy and accustomed to getting your way in The World’s Greatest Country and America’s Finest City you can buy the major newspaper and slap your marching orders on the front page.  Under the flag.

On the other hand, I guess U-T owner Doug Manchester can’t help it.  He never pretended to be an honest-to-goodness purveyor of the public good.  As far as I know, he has no pretensions of virtue in any sphere, public or private.

And he’s not the first newspaper owner to be a ham-handed handler.  He’s just our city’s latest and most blatant contributor to a deviant newspaper tradition called mouthpiece journalism – using the daily newspaper to control San Diego’s political, economic, and/or social decisions.  It's not the same as yellow journalism.  But he’s still new at the game.


Despite the heavy-handed bludgeoning and over-the-top style of the new U-T, I’ve learned at least four useful things from its new owners.  Life lessons, you could call them.
          a) Being very rich doesn't necessarily mean you're all that smart.  What is means, basically, is that you've got a certain knack for making lots of money.  And for those who simply inherited their wealth, a knack for keeping it and making more.
         b) Some very rich people do happen to be pretty smart.  But not all…not by a long shot.
         c) Very rich people (smart and/or borderline) usually wield inordinate influence over elected officials.  By virtue of their wealth they have special access to meet and greet in private sessions with decision-makers.  They tend to make good headway in these sessions. 
         d) Finally, while it's true that the public is often in awe of the very rich, it's also true that smooth talk, unctuous flattery, bullying, and financial heft don’t cut the same cake with the public as with politicians.* 

*In the interest of historical truth we might make an exception for John Moores.  He seduced the public with the same finesse and success he used on our local public officials.  But enough looking back...

On to Doug Manchester.  His (dead-end, outmoded, elitist, tunnel-) visions for San Diego’s future are projections of his personal ambitions for greater power and wealth.  To manipulate the system to his advantage he should have done it the regular way -- behind the scenes, behind closed doors. 

He wasn't using any smarts by turning his newspaper into a missive aimed straight at the public.  In the fresh open air, anyone could see how blurry his vision is.

When the city's well-being is at stake, San Diegans clearly have enough common sense and backbone to resist.  This fact should be another life lesson.  It could be our not-so-secret weapon, the saving antidote against both the grandiose posturing of some rich folk among us (smart and/or borderline) and the wishy-washy, floppy, timid inclinations of some elected representatives. 

Public spunk – it's the secret elixir that could ward off the wealthy and powerful not-so-smarts wishing to run our city and pump up our could/would/should have been bolder elected representatives.  As always, it's up to us.  

Friday, March 2, 2012

Running on autopilot

ATTENTION NEXT MAYOR: San Diego is desperate for a leader who possesses the following four attributes –
  1. Wide open eyes (to see the whole picture)
  2. A truthful mouth (to speak with integrity)
  3. A strong hand (to act with resolve) 
  4. An outstretched arm (to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people)
History will be the final judge of our current lame-duck mayor and his tenure in office.  So far, the record reveals seven years of incompetent management, conflicted stewardship, revolving doors, political posturing, neglectful oversight, and willful failure to address (let alone acknowledge) the city’s crucial challenges. 

What’s been going on? The city is in arrears for almost a billion dollars worth of deferred maintenance on sub-standard city streets…buildings…sidewalks…storm drains...alleyways.  City facilities like recreation centers and libraries are in the pits.  Pension debt is over $2 billion – each year gobbling up bigger chunks of the city budget.  Water-main breaks plague our neighborhoods.  Skeletal crews of city employees have been spread thin and thinner.  You get the picture.

Wasn't our new “strong mayor” system of government supposed to turn our city around?  In his inaugural address our first “strong mayor” Jerry Sanders declared that the era of delay, deception, and denial was over.  But what did we get?  Less political accountability than ever before.  Less public access.  More pulling-the-wool-over the public’s eyes.  More passing the buck!  

Time to expose the down and dirty secret about what’s really been going on.  For the past seven years of this current administration -- that is, ever since our “strong mayor” form of government became official – city government has been running on autopilot.

Autopilot means no one is at the helm…in the cockpit…behind the wheel…pedaling the bike…minding the store...  

Running the city on autopilot has been a monumental swindle.  It's resulted in a hollow city.  It's caused San Diego to decay from the inside out.

Therefore, we're sending out an SOS.

ATTENTION NEXT MAYOR: San Diego is desperate for a leader (with wide open eyes, a truthful mouth, a strong hand, and an outstretched arm) who will use the position of  “strong mayor” to accomplish two fundamental tasks –
  1. Appoint a professional, experienced, well-trained city manager as his/her right hand man/woman -- someone to run the day-to-day operations of the city and restore efficiency, accountability, oversight, and effectiveness to all city departments 
  2. Forget the dead-end mindset that's been San Diego’s trademark for far too long.  Turn the city around.  Pour San Diego's pent-up energy and resources into our city's Infrastructure, Institutions, Individuals, and Innovative opportunities.  It's the magic formula for long-range health and productivity.  
COME ON NEXT MAYOR: You've got nothing to lose and San Diego has everything to gain.  Open your eyes.  Never speak with a forked tongue.  Make good use of the "strong mayor" toolbox.  And do right by all of us.