Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parable of the little buggers

Confession: I get a daily dose of viruses, bacteria, parasites, protozoa, ticks... little buggers that like to lurk in raw milk, sexual escapades, other people’s sneezes.... Okay, I don’t get these infections, I get to talk about them (mostly with my infectious disease-expert husband).

But even he was stumped when I described a mysterious epidemic sweeping through San Diego.  I said it was targeting unsuspecting voters.  Very unusual...he said.

To me the diagnosis is clear: San Diegans have been exposed to a politically-motivated disease, spread along the campaign trail by a pair of genetically-modified-look-alike-mosquito-bots.  They're zeroing in for the big bite come the June 5 mayoral primary.

Who are these twin buggers? none other than candidates Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio. They're the active agents transmitting perilous pathology, namely intimidation… manipulation… political sociopathy…

If you're concerned about the health and well-being of your loved ones, here’s what you need to watch out for:

The Peril of Intimidation
* Nathan Fletcher's bullying threats to city workers: "I interrogated al-Qaeda…I can negotiate a labor deal" are overkill.  His contempt for ordinary civilians who live what he calls a "climate-controlled life" is way out of line.

Skills in the martial arts have little to do with the qualities and qualifications citizens deserve in their elected officials.  You might remember that Fletcher’s former employer Duke Cunningham also used his military record as a weapon to win election -- then the Duke engaged in bribery and fraud and ended up in prison for abusing the public trust.

* Carl DeMaio is no novice when it comes to bullying and aggressive behavior but here’s the difference: DeMaio doesn't glad hand.  He's not a chameleon.  What you see is what you get...whatever that's worth.  
The Peril of Manipulation
* Nathan Fletcher is no shirker when it comes to manipulating the public.  He delivers feel-good declarations of political independence but marches in lockstep with conservative mentors like Newt Gingrich, Pete Wilson, and Karl Rove.  

To advance his political career he maneuvers behind the backs of the public at the behest of downtown redevelopers.  He aggrandizes himself in public appearances as a lion in combat.  He capitalizes on the brutal deaths of two north county girls -- a callous exploitation of the grief and misfortune of others.

* Carl DeMaio has a knack for turning ordinary words inside-out.  He zeroes in on commonplace democratic (as in small d democracy) snags and hitches and attributes them to “out of control government bureaucracy.”  He twists the word reform to try to crush city unions and eliminate living wage protections.

Out of his mouth, reform means outsourcing government services to private monopolies.  His mission is to “shrink government to the size where we can drown  it in the bathtub,” in lockstep with the ideals of his guru, Grover Norquist.

The Peril of Political Sociopathy
* Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio are running neck and neck in this category.  The two of them share a common history.  Both, at a young age, were scooped up, tutored, and polished by powerful upper-echelon masters in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Both have a knack for manipulating public discontent to promote ideological, political, and personal agendas. They exemplify a brave new world of millennial confidence men masquerading as populists.

Both candidates exhibit strikingly similar idiosyncracies: repetitive, tightly-drilled speech patterns...oddly-robotic responses…unblinking, vacant eye contact.... It's possible that San Diego will go down in history as the first American city where not one but two manchurian candidates ran against one another for the office of mayor.
The moral of this parable? Physician, heal thyself.  It means that the cure must come from our own actions.  It's as simple as that.  Don't forget to vote on June 5.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Two things I need to clarify

First thing: Some regular readers of NumbersRunner questioned last week's harsh assessment of how San Diego is faring under our ‘strong mayor’ system.  Actually, I understated the problems -- they're much worse than you think.

While it’s not unheard of for city leaders to sweep messy problems under the rug, the lack of professional management inside City Hall and the disintegration of public accountability and honest disclosure under our current mayor are -- without a doubt -- San Diego's most closely guarded secrets since Diann Shipione (former board trustee of the San Diego City Employees Retirement System) spilled the beans about gross mismanagement, lack of disclosure, and deceptive practices shrouding our pension system.  

Honestly, I went much easier on our mayor than he deserves.  After seven years of  inverse leadership, his legacy to the people of San Diego consists of a dismantled, hollowed-out city...ripe for the picking by wily political and corporate opportunists.

So woe to the public -- UNLESS our next mayor surrounds himself with experienced people, skilled at managing a big city.  And woe to the public -- UNLESS he surrounds himself with people of integrity who value our neighborhoods and communities and can be counted on to reestablish more public right-of-ways into his office at City Hall.  

Second thing to clarify: A few other readers said they didn’t get last week's Sigma Chi allusion -- especially the sweetheart part.  What, they asked, does a golden-oldie college fraternity song have to do with the San Diego mayor’s race?

Look at it this way.  We already know what a tight-knit town San Diego is, manipulated by a shadow government of bankers, developers, lobbyists, and tourism folk.  A kind of home-grown fraternity.

Turns out that an influential contingent of San Diego's men-about-town really are bonded and united...by a fraternity pledge.  “Once initiated, Sigma Chi is for life.”  

Here's a sampling of local movers and shakers bonded in the brotherhood of Sigma Chi (with apologies to the brothers I left out): 
  • Doug Manchester, hotel developer and owner of the Union-Tribune  
  • Bob White, senior advisor to Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger  
  • Jim Schmidt, executive VP of San Diego Federal Savings Bank
  • Ben Clay, founder of San Diego’s preeminent lobbying firm Carpi and Clay
  • Bob Page, CEO of San Diego Ranch & Coast newspaper group
  • Mike Morton, owner of the Brigantine restaurants
  • Harry Summers, residential, commercial & industrial real estate developer...you get the picture... 
As for the sweetheart ritual -- in much the same way they anointed their fraternity sweetheart in the days of old, the now-grown-up, big-men-on-campus get to handpick their very own political candidate for mayor (and anything else that runs).

This year something went awry.  The designated winner on Doug Manchester's dance card is Carl DeMaio.  But on Bob White’s it's Nathan Fletcher. (What about Bonnie Dumanis, you ask?  It looks like whoever brought her to the dance has  unchivalrously retreated.)  

Obviously, the voters will have the final word on this beauty pageant.  But despite differing styles as they strut their stuff on stage and TV, it's not so easy to distinguish candidate Fletcher from DeMaio from Dumanis. 

Take a look at their voting records, campaign promises, stump speeches. What picture emerges?  A threesome, joined at the hip by identical political agendas, goals, objectives, plans, proposals, philosophies, and political persuasion.  And each of the three wants you to know he/she'd be one TOUGH sweetheart:
-- the one who hammers city workers the hardest  
-- the one who interrogates foreign enemies the fiercest  
-- the one who targets child molesters and sexually-violent predators the severest
-- the one who says what he means, even when you don’t like what he says 
-- the one who tells you whatever you want to hear, even when it isn't true
-- the one who packs the meanest pistol  

Psst... I know a mayoral candidate who doesn't choose to terrorize, strut, swagger, bully, double-talk, or self-aggrandize.  He's getting my vote.  Final hint: he's not one of the above.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sweetheart of Sigma Chi

Suppose a pollster called you on the phone and asked your opinion about whether a “strong mayor” form of government is a better deal for San Diego than a “city manager” system?  Would your answer be: uh…well…hmmm…?? 

Okay, let’s admit it -- most of us don’t pay that much attention to City Hall.  And for sure, most of us don’t have a clue about how the switch to a “strong mayor” government (which we voters agreed to seven years ago) has affected daily life in San Diego.  

Given that our first strong mayor will soon be replaced by our city’s second strong mayor (Bob Filner? Bonnie Dumanis? Nathan Fletcher? Carl DeMaio?) a few clues about how city government has been faring these last few years might prove helpful when choosing our next mayor.  A quick reminder of how we got here might also come in handy.  So read on.

How We Got Here
Under our old “city manager” system San Diego's mayor and council members -- a total of nine -- sat together, side by side, at open public hearings, at weekly council sessions, and at committee meetings, listening and responding to public testimony and then casting their votes…one vote each...majority ruled.  

The mayor was always a key political player but the mayor didn’t run the city.  That was the job of the appointed city manager.  He (it’s always been a ‘he’) was responsible for organizing, coordinating, and overseeing city affairs.  Also for executing the policies, legislation, regulations, and directives of the mayor and council members.  Also for hiring and firing department directors.  Also for creating and managing the city budget.  Not a job description for the faint of heart.  Not a job for amateurs!

Curious to know how the switch to “strong mayor” came about?  It was the longed-for baby of San Diego bankers, developers, real estate establishment, lobbyists, hoteliers, and other old-guard wheelers and dealers intent on gaining easier access to city officials.  A switchover would increase their clout and undercut the sometimes-recalcitrant city council.  

There were other supporters who felt the time had come for San Diego to slough off its image as a ‘well-managed town’ and take it's place among big-league cities.

When the news hit the fan about ethical and financial malfeasance by city officials, municipal union chiefs, and retirement board members (remember Enron-by-the-Sea?) San Diego voters became easy prey to the pitch that a switch to a strong mayor form of government would usher in public accountability, greater efficiency, and open government.  The buck stops here sort of thing.  So we switched.

So How's the City Been Faring?
 The picture is murky…very murky.  So far our “strong mayor” system has resulted in:
  • less professional management of city departments and city services
  • less community/neighborhood access to city officials, notably the mayor
  • less independent action and advocacy by city councilmembers 
  • less access to city information
  • less responsiveness to public inquiries, complaints, and problems
  • less oversight of city departments and city contracts
  • more political manipulation of city data and financial accounting
  • more control by private interests
  • more back-room political maneuvering
  • more passing the buck by all elected officials

Is the strong mayor system at fault for the bad news?  Or could much of the backsliding be attributed to the person occupying the “strong mayor” seat?  

Perhaps I should tread lightly here because Mayor Jerry Sanders may well go down in history as the most genial, endearing, charming, and upstanding leader the city has seen in...I don’t know how long (ex-mayor Murphy, move over).  The sweetheart of Sigma Chi.

Our termed-out mayor is not merely nice but also very magnanimous.  Get this -- he's making a jaw-dropping parting gift to our financially bankrupt city of a generous budget SURPLUS!  The audacity of this legacy-polishing duplicity kind of takes my breath away.

But wait -- maybe this is really good news in disguise.  If the system isn't entirely at fault we've got a fighting chance that a competent and trustworthy person sitting in the mayor's seat -- beholden to the San Diego public and not to ideology, upward mobility, or the status quo -- might turn things around.

Which brings us back to the June 5 primary and our choice for mayor.  Bob Filner? Bonnie Dumanis? Nathan Fletcher? Carl DeMaio?  

Here’s where things get personal: I’ve been around city government for a long time. I have high standards for our city. I know and love San Diego politics.  I’m a realist.  I’ve done serious homework on all four candidates.  I’m no dope.  I know 'em when I seem 'em.

I’m choosing Bob Filner for mayor.  He's competent, trustworthy, consistent, and public-spirited.  He's not buddy-buddy with San Diego's old-boys club.  He'll never be the sweetheart of Sigma Chi.  To me, that's a really good thing.