Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sex and the City

Let’s ease into this subject with a mindful autumn walk.  Notice the days getting shorter... morning air chillier... leaves turning gold on liquidamber trees.

Now notice a fact as unwavering as the seasons -- the fact that sex plays a dominant role in San Diego public affairs.  Hook it up with other San Diego mainstays (uninspired leadership, stunted civic aspirations, free-floating corruption, overinflated egos, corporate welfare, legal-establishment collusion, Republican Party strategy, dubious fidelity among leading Democrats, to name a few) and it wallops a punch potent enough to knock a new mayor out of the ring and force the city into a costly, rushed election to bring in a replacement. 

Of course this is not how the Chamber of Commerce markets our city.  It’s motto: Good for Business - Good for San Diego says it all.  Same for our Tourism Authority, which promotes the city as a clean-cut, open-air paradise: 70 miles of beautiful beaches, countless parks and gardens, and endless opportunities for pampering at one of the areas many spas and resorts… an excellent destination for some quality R+R.

I've noticed that San Diego sells itself as a trophy town of moderation, rectitude, and civility.  But scratch the surface and you’ll discover the other San Diego -- a town constantly preoccupied with commercialized sexual indulgences (move over, Las Vegas). 
  • Aren’t we the fun-loving host of the over-the-line tournament, the frisky, sandy weekend of boosted beer, bouncy breasts, and bared behinds? 
  • Isn’t the weekend street scene in our redeveloped Gaslamp Quarter every bit as raunchy as the notorious pre-CCDC days of sailor bars, hookers, and peepshows?
  • And you wouldn't call our very own glistening rompers and exhibitionists at the summertime Pride Parade chopped liver, would you? 
  • How about San Diego’s collection of privately-catered swinging establishments, open to you, me, and the lamppost? 
  • And what would you say to hugh-hefner-wannabe accommodations upstairs at the U-T?
  • Have you taken the oral history tour of City Hall, a behind the scenes tale of who-did-what-with-whom (or who-was-doing-what-with-himself)?  It starts at the 12th-floor Council Chambers and works its way down.
  • And what about our ferociously fought-over 25-foot bayside statue immortalizing a sailor’s frontal assault on an unconsenting female – you know, the one with the woman in a headlock submitting to a forced, full-mouth kiss?  Once named “Unconditional Surrender” nowadays it’s known as felony false imprisonment.
Not bad for an upstanding city like ours that goes ape over tales of a mayor’s clumsy kiss, posterior pat, and too-tight arm around the shoulder.  (For a rare honest response from the U-T take a quick look at what Logan Jenkins has to say.)  Will we entertain similar hysteria over the next round of scandals that are bound to make headlines?

By now most of us who entertained high hopes for what an experienced, old-time liberal mayor like Bob Filner could bring to the city of San Diego have resigned ourselves to the new reality – which looks oddly like the old reality called business as usual.  Surely you've noticed what a busy beaver our interim mayor Todd Gloria has been in setting the clock back to pre-Filner time.  In fact, a time warp engineered by downtown Republicans along with select Democrats has pretty much erased all traces of what almost was but might have been.

Which brings us to the current candidates running to replace Bob Filner. 

Of the four front-running mayoral candidates, only one is being honest with the public about a core issue: the untenable financial state of the city.  The other three have chosen to avoid the subject.  They're choosing to promote the homespun San Diego fable about having our cake and eating it too. 

Mike Aguirre has taken every opportunity over the past couple of months of campaigning to make a simple but crucial point – that a big (and growing) chunk of the city’s general fund budget is set aside annually for payment into the employee pension fund.  This results in a significant reduction in the cash available to pay for routine city services.  This year's required annual pension payment is $275 million -- the bulk of which ($200 million) is eaten up as interest on the $2.3 billion pension deficit that drags the city down.  

Notice this contrast: a mere $55 million is allocated for our roads.  The decision to take from Peter (fire, police, roads, and neighborhoods) to pay off Paul (the City Employees Retirement System) was a choice made by former Mayor Jerry Sanders, abetted by the City Council, so he could fake a balanced budget and claim he had resolved the city’s fiscal crisis before leaving office.

You can hear plenty of campaign chatter about paved roads, upgraded libraries, recreation centers, parks, decent streets (smooth streets, in the words of Nathan Fletcher; sexy streets, per temporary-mayor Todd Gloria), homeless facilities, and other neighborhood needs.  You'll get a deafening silence from the others when Aguirre starts talking about the city's crippling pension problem. 

Aguirre is tackling the difficult financial issues head-on (despite sniping from candidate Fletcher).  The other candidates won’t touch it.  So far, neither has the U-T nor our other news and opinion providers.  Neither have the economic analysts and political gurus who comment regularly on city business.  (I noticed with dismay that then-mayor Filner also steered away from the same time bomb that's already detonating in other U.S. cities.  Detroit, anyone?)

David Alvarez has been denigrated as too young by Democrats who’ve been smitten by Nathan Fletcher.  But notice that there’s a mere three-year age difference between them -- Alvarez is 33, Fletcher is 36.  Notice that interim-mayor Todd Gloria is only 35.   Also notice that Alvarez has an upper hand in understanding how the city works and what makes it tick – an important qualification for anyone wanting to be mayor.  (Yes, I also noticed that the lack of municipal government expertise was a fatal shortcoming in the Filner administration.) 

Others question Alvarez’s independence from the Labor Council, his primary financial backers.  It’s a fair question that should be asked of all candidates running for office: Will you be free and strong enough to balance the demands of your friends and major financial backers with the good of the city at large?  While it seems to me that committed Democrats ought not to distance themselves from the union movement -- the most important ally American working people have ever had -- there's a lot of work to do by Democrats as well as labor unions before they reemerge as comprehensive, progressive, visionary leaders of the future.

Kevin Faulconer blithely sails by without anyone questioning who his keepers are.  He’s best described as San Diego’s retrograde candidate of the 20th century – a cordial, sunburned, amorphous kind of guy sporting the Chamber of Commerce logo on his sleeve.  He may well have an underside (and who among us does not?) but so far his passive, follow-the-leader style has protected him from getting bitten where it hurts. 

Here’s one good thing about Faulconer: you know exactly what you’ll get… exactly who’ll be whispering in his ear… exactly what his agenda will be… and exactly what you’ll be fighting against.  He’s someone you can depend on to deliver what he and his financial backers know how to do best: the downtown fraternity two-step (one for you, one for me, more for you, more for me).

Nathan Fletcher is a cipher.  He’s been described as a changeling, a switch hitter, a chameleon adept at overnight transformation.  Other than a photogenic face and military boasts (what kind of person capitalizes on the business of interrogating prisoners of war?) you have no idea what you’re getting… who’s whispering in his ear… what his agenda will be.   Trendy clich├ęs spill effortlessly from his lips: innovation... creativity... we put a man on the moon.  But he's like quicksand: there’s no there there. 

Keep in mind that Fletcher was adopted (metaphorically speaking) into the Qualcomm family and reaps the benefits of a well-paid corporate job and faux UCSD professorship. His wealthy and influential backers pave the way for him to scoop up high-profile Democratic endorsements like handfuls of Halloween candy.  We've all noticed that money wields inordinate influence over the political fortunes of seated elected officials as well as most of those who'd like to be.  He's belongs to somebody, but it's not the public.

Fletcher's political message boils down to this: I’m your man, San Diego!  Forget my past voting record!  Look into my eyes and trust me!

Sex and the city... the mayor's race... what's the connection?  There's no mystery to this one.  Sex has great commercial and utilitarian value in our town.  We either pretend not to notice it, or we use it as a political battering ram.  Notice that sex was the weapon of choice for deposing former-mayor Bob Filner.  It's precisely what brings us here today as we contemplate the mayor's race.  

San Diego voters will be making a choice about who will be our next mayor (notice that not choosing is a choice that permits someone else to choose for you).  My advice is to wait a while before turning in your vote.  Keep listening -- but not to the pollsters, not to political pundits, not to anyone's subjective calculus predicting the odds and trying to manipulate the outcome.
What are we listening for? less talk about smooth and sexy streets and a whole new conversation about the unsexy time bomb ticking in our back yards -- our multi-billion dollar municipal pension deficit.  

Any mayoral candidate who pretends he can fulfill his campaign promises of neighborhood improvements and safety protection by shutting his eyes to the way the city cooks the books guarantees bad consequences for all of us.  

I’ve never been good at playing the numbers (neither was my father -- though I named this blog in his honor, anyway).  I know what I've already heard and I intend to keep listening before I confirm my choice for our next mayor. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The mystery of why Qualcomm adopted Nathan Fletcher

Did you ever suspect you were being taken for a ride but decide to go along with it anyway?  Did you ever ignore that little voice inside your head warning you to watch out! because the guy conning you was so smooth, so really cute, how could you say no?

You’ve just been introduced to Nathan Fletcher in his rematch race for mayor of San Diego.

Nathan Fletcher is funny, engaging, self-deprecating, and a topnotch storyteller.  He is low-keyed even when boasting, "I interrogated al-Qaeda… I can negotiate a labor deal."  (You might remember that Fletcher was in the Marine Corps Reserves while working in the office of Duke Cunningham, a San Diego congressman who also used his military experience as a political prop to win an election.  Cunningham was recently released from prison after serving a sentence for enriching himself illegally through bribery and fraud while in office.)

Nathan Fletcher is a performer with a special gift for reading the minds of his audience and bouncing back precisely what you want to hear.  He strings his words together in a tightly-drilled speech pattern that convinces you he’s answered your question -- even when he hasn’t. 

Though once excoriated by labor unions for his conservative voting record, now his chief cheerleader is former labor-leader Lorena Gonzalez.  He’s regarded as a good catch on both sides of the fence, or so it would seem from the number of wealthy San Diegans who’ve endorsed him for mayor. 
Nathan Fletcher is the Great Gatsby of our time -- a fabricated man filled with longing and wild ambition but not quite who you think he is… was… wants to be...

Which brings us to the mystery of the week: why was Nathan Fletcher plucked from a pool of contenders by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, judged best in show, and adopted by the Qualcomm family? 

Fletcher is 
not an engineer, not a businessman, not the holder of specialized academic degrees.  Yet he's got a job at Qualcomm that pays him $400,000/year.  What makes him worth it?

Meanwhile, he’s running an all-out political campaign for mayor of San Diego on company time and the big boss is doing his darndest to catapult him into office.  How come?

When the downtown establishment throws its full faith and credit behind Kevin Faulconer, we know that they know what they expect to get from him.   Same goes for the Labor Council endorsement of David Alvarez.  But what in the world does Irwin Jacobs want and expect to get from San Diego’s next mayor, should it be Nathan Fletcher?  It's a mystery.

I have a hunch part of the answer lies in an arcane section of the San Diego City Charter, specifically Article VI - Board of Education.

Look back to 1931 – that’s when a manager-council form of government was codified in the San Diego City Charter.  Concurrently, the city’s school system (which then included kindergarten, elementary, secondary, evening, technical, and parental schools) was codified as Article VI.  It states: “The government of the San Diego School District shall be vested in a Board of Education, composed of five members who shall be elected at large by the electors of the School District at the same time as the members of the City Council.”

Between then and now there’ve been a number of minor amendments to Article VI -- one that narrowed the scope of the school district to kindergarten through secondary schools and others that adjusted salaries, terms of office, and timetables for electing new Board members.

Today, you'll still find election procedures for the 5-member Board of Education in Article VI of the City Charter and, as always, any changes to the Charter must be approved by San Diego voters.

Now think back three years when an (unsuccessful) attempt was made to amend Article VI.  The purpose was not to adjust salaries, terms of office, or election timetables but to make a significant change -- to increase the size of the School Board from 5 to 9 members by appointing 4 additional people to preside as Board members.  

These 4 would not be publicly elected.  Instead they would be chosen by a committee of Chamber of Commerce/ Economic Development business organizations, some university leaders, and a select group of parents.  We were told this change would "depoliticize" the School Board.

The two big funders of this proposed amendment were charter school proponent and 
wealthy businessman Rod Dammeyer and Qualcomm's Irwin Jacobs.  Notable boosters included organized advocates of the charter school movement.

What has this got to do with Nathan Fletcher's relationship to Qualcomm?  Might it be that Irwin Jacobs et al. have not given up on their plans to redesign the city school system in their own image? 
Is this why Fletcher has been parading his credentials as an educator?  Is Fletcher their political proxy?

Notice Fletcher’s frequent campaign remarks about school district education.  He lifts stock phrases from his Qualcomm-sponsored speeches: best practices… innovation... vocational training... the digital divide… technical curriculum for middle school and high school.  He calls for forming an independent educational foundation to guide public education.

Now notice Fletcher’s trumped-up credentials as an educator.  On January 1, 2013 Nathan Fletcher was appointed “Professor of Practice” in the political science department at UCSD.  Don't laugh.  He is the first-ever appointed practitioner of a newly-invented, no-academic-degree-required,
privately-funded position to teach part-time at the university, subject matter to be determined.  

And notice that while others in the academic jungle sweat and toil for years to attain the level of Professor, Fletcher was quietly ushered through a rear door to the top of the ivory tower -- his feet barely alighting on the red carpet linking Qualcomm headquarters to UCSD.  It's handy to have wealthy patrons in high places, even when they use you for their own purposes.

Nobody disputes the desirability of improving public education.
  The question to ask ourselves is: Is this a role for the mayor of a city 
facing unprecedented deficits and debt with no good remedies in sight? In a city that hasn't yet straightened out the kinks from our switch to a 'strong mayor' form of governance why would we want our mayor to take on the complex and challenging world of public education, as well?  Especially one who's so ill-equipped?

Might not San Diego's mayor contribute to the success of our school system through constructive collaboration with school board members, principals, parents, health officials, education experts, business interests, and others in this city who support public education.  Isn't it preferable to discourage private and political incursions into the city schools?  

What do we know about the mysterious Fletcher-Qualcomm connection?  We know that Fletcher’s status as beneficiary of Irwin Jacobs' largesse is a clue to the presumptive power behind the wished-for mayoral throne.  It reminds us that influential private individuals -- no matter how well-intentioned -- tend to feel free (even entitled) to use the democratic process to gain control of the public domain.  That might be okay with Fletcher – it's not with me.

We know that Fletcher’s concocted job in a classroom at UCSD doesn’t give him credibility for spearheading changes in our school system.  He may want you to think it does – it doesn’t. 

We know that Nathan Fletcher’s touted experience as a Marine has nothing to do with his capability or desirability to be San Diego’s new mayor.  He seems to think it does – I don’t.   

We know that we don’t know who Fletcher really is.  Within the span of 500 days he went from calling himself a Republican to an Independent to a Democrat.  He disavows his past voting record.  He says he's seen the light and now he answers to a different drummer.  He wants us to believe that an indeterminate chameleon with identity confusion would be a good choice for our next mayor -- I don't buy it.  

We know that using democratic means to achieve undemocratic ends is never a good idea.  People engaged in political subterfuge are not acting in the best interests of our collective future and should be sent packing -- I think you will agree.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Birds, the Bees, and the Wolfpack, Part III

He was pushed.  And yes, he jumped

Here’s a quick reminder about our former Mayor: there is no dispute that Bob Filner’s interpersonal habits, short fuse, and juvenile impulse control in the presence of women were blatant failings.  The problem is, these failings were embedded in a unique individual whose political agenda was like long-awaited manna to the voters who elected him. 

Tension, arguments, and righteous proclamations have erupted during these past months among San Diegans (mostly Democrats) genuinely torn between condemning a “progressive” political leader for his personal defects and giving up their hopes for a new, more enlightened social and economic agenda for San Diego -- a no-win dilemma. 

But there’s much more to the story.  Last week, in an effort to shed light on likely suspects in the political defenestration of just-elected and swiftly-deposed Bob Filner, we herded the San Diego “wolfpack” into one side of a large meeting room for some mug shots.

Members of the wolfpack (aka growth machine) are recognizable by their unique coziness with and influence over elected and unelected city officials and their uncanny ability to access public subsidies for their own (or their clients’) private projects. 

As you noticed, the room overflowed with bankers, big business owners, consultants, convention center purveyors, developers, financiers, hoteliers, law firms, lobbyists, newspaper owners, Port of San Diego interests, and the real estate establishment, in addition to sports team owners. 

It’s a formidable crew, never loathe to do whatever it takes to retain control over what they consider their turf.  For a personalized look at some of the alpha dogs in this pack you might take a look at this informative story recently posted by the Voice of San Diego. 

Today we’ll get a look at the insiders from Bob Filner’s office.  They’re a clue to the mystery of how Bob Filner was pushed and why I also say he jumped.

While it’s common knowledge that the ex-Mayor’s relentless habit of coming onto women provided his political enemies with enough free ammunition to hound him out of office, there’s an irony here: the story that was assembled to bring Bob Filner down had less weight and substance than the seeds of his real undoing – his underestimation of what it would take to successfully run the city as Mayor in the face of fierce resistance by San Diego’s elite power structure, as well as certain members of his own party.

Here’s how I laid it out many months ago: Even a virtuoso player like Mayor Filner can’t do it on his own.   A first-class leader needs first-class backup.  Perhaps more than any leader in our city’s history, this Mayor needs a strong, dedicated, high-quality group of advisors and staff members to back up his proposals, shore up his policies, strengthen his outreach, and advance his goals.

Despite his experience as a city councilman, despite multiple terms in the U.S. Congress, despite his lively mind, sharp wit, ethical agenda, boundless energy, and first-class vision, Bob Filner didn’t do sufficient homework on what it takes to run city business while keeping his political adversaries -- inside and outside the door of his 11th floor office -- at bay.

You’re invited to join me on another mindful walk through the Mayor’s office.  This time we'll do a closer job of noticing.

Everyone noticed that Bob Filner became Mayor of San Diego with the help of Tom Shepard -- an unlikely campaign advisor best known for bringing to fruition the campaigns of a great number of (predominantly) Republican candidates, including former Mayor Jerry Sanders.  

You might remember that in the Mayoral primary, Shepard was the campaign manager for the unsuccessful Nathan Fletcher.  Not one to spend time licking his wounds, Shepard sent people in a tizzy with an announcement sent to Fletcher supporters: 
"Yesterday, Bob announced I will be running his Mayoral campaign.  Now I’m asking you to take a fresh look at Bob Filner and consider joining me in support of his candidacy. I believe Bob offers the best hope for realizing Nathan’s vision and spirit that inspired us during the primary campaign."  A curious proposition… ominous, in fact.
Bob Filner obliged by offering Fletcher a “high-profile job” once he took office, an opportunity Fletcher rejected for a vastly more attractive alternative -- a $400,000/year position doing odd jobs… this-and-that… at Qualcomm. 

It was hard to have to notice that once Filner became Mayor, Tom Shepard and associates stayed on as friendly advisors -- a function they had performed for previous Mayor Sanders.  In Filner’s defense, his options were limited.  Given the city’s longstanding political history as a conservative business, developer, and tourism town there was a paucity of expert, experienced, and trustworthy advisors and staff readily available to work alongside a new Mayor like Filner.  The leadership of the local Democratic Party bears considerable responsibility for a chronic failure to focus on training, nurturing, and supporting strong new leadership within the party and to develop a smart and forward-looking political and economic agenda for our city and region.

On top of that, Filner was repeatedly undermined by fellow Democrats who identified more closely with the empty mumblings of the con-man Nathan Fletcher than the old-time liberal convictions of the pugnacious Bob Filner.  Democratic Party leader Jess Durphy went AWOL much of the time.  His replacement Francine Busby seemed to be permanently sitting on the fence.  Political powerhouse Lorena Gonzalez predictably chose self-interest over principles.  And Democratic city council president Todd Gloria -- who could have offered the new Democratic Mayor useful know-how, cooperation, and moral support -- chose to publicly screw Filner at every turn (a princeling honing his skills at regicide).  It was and remains an unsavory portrait of the Democratic Party with dismal prospects for the city's Democrats. 

I noticed, and maybe you did too, that Bob Filner compounded his difficult predicament by making  some peculiar... no, bad... no, deadly choices in setting up his office.  Maybe  he was just heeding an ancient military lesson about keeping your friends close but your enemies closer.  If so, Filner misjudged the cunning of his enemies as well as the loyalty of his “friends” -- fatal mistakes, as it turned out.

His choices were poor, even for his campaign staff.  The crew he brought with him was frustratingly ignorant of city matters.  But Filner was a quick learner with a gift for winging it.  He succeeded in flying solo through much of his campaign.  Once he became Mayor that technique would no longer work. 

The first nail in his coffin was his choice for Chief of Staff.   Vince Hall may have been a known entity to Filner in a sea of unfriendly faces and may have had his strengths, but he was the wrong person for this demanding and complex job.  His volatile temper, inconsistency, cluelessness about municipal processes, and rigid administrative style thwarted the creation of a cohesive, purposeful, and well-functioning office.  

It’s true that stability and smooth functioning take time to achieve (think back to the rapid staff turnover, internal juggling, and development scandals of the early Sanders administration).  But Filner’s Chief of Staff repeatedly turned his back on experienced and knowledgeable true allies.  He seemed indifferent to the complicated staffing needs of the office and the intricacies of city politics. He turned a blind eye to subversive rumblings and monkey wrenches.  He iced-out knowledgeable supporters, shut his door to staff complaints, and stiffed news reporters.  Was it hubris? insecurity? being in over his head?  His departure came too late.

Another nail in the coffin was former councilmember Donna Frye, a shoo-in for the position of Director of Open Government.  Her first-hand experience with city governance, policies, and San Diego politics were invaluable resources, but she was continually blocked by the Chief of Staff and excluded from the Mayor’s inner circle of advisors.  For reasons of her own she chose to remain quiescent rather than fight for the internal changes she believed were necessary and for her place in the sun.  On the heels of an altercation with Vince Hall she abruptly walked out.  She had come into Filner’s office as an asset and departed three months later as a liability, bitter that her dedication and efforts toward increasing transparency in city government were thwarted by an obstructive Chief of Staff and squandered by the Mayor.

This valuable ally was soon to be transformed into a potent opponent.  Working in sync with her longtime friend and legal advisor Marco Gonzalez and their mutual associate attorney Cory Briggs, she called for Filner’s resignation. The anti-Filner forces were already gathering momentum to bring the Mayor down and the action of this trio became the bugle call to all Filner-detractors, antagonists, and opponents that the time was ripe to redouble their efforts to run Filner out of town.  (For a long and detailed account of the Frye/ Gonzalez/ Briggs action I recommend this interview by Citybeat’s David Rolland.) 
As reported, the action of this trio was based on allegations of harassment by a set of women, one of whom was the Mayor’s Director of Communications Irene McCormack.

The appointment of Irene McCormack provided an especially long nail in the Filner coffin.   McCormack(-Jackson) let it be known that she took a significant salary cut when she left her good job at the Port District to go to work for the new Mayor.  Discerning people will notice that she was actually facing termination at the Port and was rescued and hand-delivered to the Mayor’s office (by Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, perhaps, or?).  Soon she became the Mayor’s personal handler and companion at his afternoon and evening appearances at community events and meetings.

The fact that McCormack took frequent detailed notes about her personal interactions with Mayor Filner was revealed at a press conference when she and her attorney Gloria Allred publicly accused the Mayor of sexual harassment.   During the many months that McCormack chronicled her case against the Mayor she had refrained from sharing her discomfort and distress with fellow staffers, although she must have discussed details with other women associates and helped them relive and publicly report their stories from times past.  The question of how many dollars it will take to erase the memories of some uncomfortable encounters is a tantalizing one, indeed.  The city will eventually cough up some generous settlements.

Then there’s Allen Jones.  From the beginning, people noticed that, given his long professional career in private real estate and land development, the appointment of Allen Jones as Deputy Chief of Staff seemed inconsonant with Filner’s preference for development policies that benefit the public over private interests.  Jones, like Chief of Staff Hall, had worked for Filner in the old days.

Before long, Jones had backed the Mayor into a swamp of legal disputes involving Sunroad Enterprises' high-profile development project in Kearny Mesa, ironically the same one that had given Jerry Sanders severe heartburn a few years ago.  Could it be that Jones’s binding ties were not to the Mayor but to the people who dealt in oversized buildings, upzoned land uses, and creative deviations from city code?  From day one, his peremptory attitude alienated ought-to-be Filner supporters.  He was a thorn in the side of Earth Day’s founder and promoter Carolyn Chase.  And he shut the door on the legal perspectives of public interest attorney Cory Briggs, who subsequently joined up with Donna Frye and Marco Gonzalez to force the Mayor's resignation -- he with accusations of development-related corruption and “caving-in” and they with assertions of female harassment.

Lee Burdick also played a complex role in the Bob Filner saga.  Hired as Director of Special Projects and Legal Affairs, her position in the Mayor’s office was ill-defined and second tier.  She had a talent for keeping her head down and, like Donna Frye, was not included in Filner’s inner circle, despite her informal title as the Mayor’s in-house attorney.   Burdick (once partner in an influential San Diego law firm whose clients included the CEO of Sunroad Enterprises) had joined Hall and Jones in rebuffing legal recommendations and advice from Cory Briggs, particularly concerning the Sunroad project.  He was disappointed, he felt betrayed.  These unsatisfactory encounters with the Filner administration were the final straw.  He hardened his heart and finalized his decision to join forces with Gonzalez and Frye to let it all hit the fan.

At some point -- noticing the handwriting on the wall -- Vince Hall gathered his marbles and left the game, shooting off some disloyal and self-serving parting words on his way out.  Lee Burdick stepped into the position she had been hankering after and assumed the role of Chief of Staff to a beleaguered Mayor and a much-reduced office.   

The nail driven by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was a doozy.  I’ve noticed all along (haven’t you?) that the City Attorney overplayed his hand from the day Filner took office.  The (quasi-legal) strategy emanating from his office to obstruct, thwart, demean, limit, and ultimately oust the Mayor from office was as vigorous and relentless as Todd Gloria’s or Kevin Faulconer’s, but less visible to the naked eye.  Goldsmith’s efforts to organize a recall-Filner campaign… his deference to the sheriff’s intimidation of the Mayor’s staff (who knocked at their doors in the dead of night to question them about what went on in their workplace)… his role in the bugging of the Mayor’s office… his schemes to lock the Mayor out of City Hall… his unwholesome coupling with Lee Burdick… should make us all tremble for our own safety.  

What’s this about unwholesome coupling?  Let’s take a peek through the keyhole at a startling and hushed-up set of events:
  • The Mayor’s office was bugged.  Someone spent time listening in on staff conversations in the Mayor’s conference room and office of the Chief of Staff.  For how long is anyone’s guess.  
  • Lee Burdick found out about being bugged when the Mayor was away in therapy.  She went for a chat with the City Attorney.  Seems like Goldsmith already knew about the bugging.  The Chief of Police was called in but he didn’t follow up.  Lee Burdick also decided not to follow up.  Is anyone curious about who was responsible for bugging the Mayor’s office? or why no one wanted to find out?  Shhh, it’s still a secret. 
  • Burdick and Goldsmith changed the locks to the Mayor’s office.  To keep out the cleanup crew? the mysterious bugger? the Mayor? 
  • Burdick met with the City Attorney to discuss how to really keep the Mayor out.  They agreed that a temporary restraining order could legally bar Filner’s reentry into his office.  If they did it right, he could be kept out of the entire building.
  • Burdick solicited signatures from the remaining Mayor's staff claiming that the Mayor’s office had become a hostile work environment for each of them.  Filner got wind of the plan.  He blew up and it fizzled.
  • Attorney Gloria Allred put an ageing city volunteer in front of TV cameras to tell the world that the Mayor’s presence in the City Hall lobby created a hostile work environment for her and that the Mayor should be prohibited from returning to City Hall.   Coordination? or just a coincidence.
  • Bob Filner scheduled negotiating sessions with the City Attorney (briefly including Gloria Allred) and opted to save himself from a financial wipe-out from the litigation being heaped upon him.  He submitted his resignation as the eight-month-old Mayor of the City of San Diego.
Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction.
Many questions remain: 
Was there a wizard behind the curtains, coordinating the multi-pronged assault on Mayor Bob Filner?
Was Lorena Gonzalez an early instigator of the Marco Gonzalez /Donna Frye/ Cory Briggs trio that sparked the brutal siege to bring down the Mayor?  Was her friend Nathan Fletcher the intended heir of her largesse?
Was Bob Filner’s fall facilitated by sabotage from within by some of his staff, consultants, and advisors? 
Were there other options for the politically experienced and public-minded Frye/ Gonzalez/ Briggs trio to expose the mayor’s purported failures and transgressions?
Shouldn't there have been a public process through regularly-scheduled  elections to judge the Mayor rather than a public execution via public relations firms, press conferences, and the news media? 
Might the trio have dissociated themselves from the Mayor's perceived “corruption” and made sure the public knew that, in their eyes, Filner was not a true Progressive or even a good Democrat?
Might they have advised the San Diego public to politely but firmly turn down the Mayor's annoying advances, should he ask them for kiss or a date? 
Might they have warned the public to be watchful, to protest, to oppose his initiatives on Sunroad, to sue him if necessary, and then refrain from electing him to a second term? 
Isn't this what we have done in the past when dealing with elected officials we disagreed with or even detested? 
What did these politically sophisticated activists assume was going to happen if/after Bob Filner resigned?  Who did they think would be a suitable replacement?  Did they tally the costs?  Did they even care?  
To give them the benefit of the doubt, is it conceivable that this savvy trio acted on their emotions and impulses and simply forgot to think about the consequences of their actions? 
It’s time to wrap up this tale. One day there’ll be an intrepid investigative reporter who’ll spill the rest of the beans.  As for now Filner is out.  The interim Mayor, with the help of the City Attorney and other good-old-boys, is doing his darndest to wipe away the last trace of Bob Filner and return San Diego to the days of yesteryear.   So hold onto your hats.  We're going to spin the wheel and pick a new Mayor.  Soon we might find out what real rape and pillage is like.

Shut your eyes, Nancy Drew.  You're in an x-rated city.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The birds, the bees, and the wolf pack, Part II

Did Bob Filner jump? did he fall? was he pushed?
Forget you, Nancy Drew.  You’re being replaced by Perry Mason, super-sleuth defense attorney from old TV days.  Every week at the zero hour this guy would laboriously rise up in the middle of the courtroom and pull a rabbit out of a hat.  First he'd say something enigmatic to the judge, then to the jury.  Soon he’d turn to the seated onlookers and dramatically finger the real culprit… swindler… murderer… for a histrionic wrap-up to another solved case.

Problem is, the case against Bob Filner doesn't lend itself to cheap theatrics.  The complexity and political fallout of Bob Filner's ouster bring his political demise closer to classic tragedy than pulp fiction -- not merely for him personally but for the future of our city.  

So let's stick with the diligent approach of Ms Drew to arrive at some answers to this mayoral mystery: did Bob Filner jump? fall? or get pushed? and when the curtains are drawn back will we find a master manipulator slinking around in the shadows? 

A quick recap: The overblown Bob Filner pseudo-sex-saga (are you married... I’d like to kiss you... come to dinner with me) elicited an outpouring of righteous indignation from all corners of the city -- from Democrats and Republicans, males and females, reporters and readers, heavyweight professionals and the up-and-coming.

And a bevy of hometown political strivers got into the act -- the Jan Goldsmiths, Kevin Faulconers, Todd Glorias, Sheriff Gores, Nathan Fletchers, Carl DeMaios – decrying the former-mayor’s “disrespect” for women and shedding crocodile tears for the rainbow of plaintiffs who were hand-delivered on schedule to local reporters, TV anchors, and the national media to bare their mortification and shame to the viewing public. 

After hounding the mayor out of office our Republican city council members and Democratic council president glommed onto a megaphone provided by the local news media to broadcast their litany of coded slogans: Heal our cityEnd the civic nightmare! Get San Diego back on track!   

Translated that means: Turn the clock back to the Jerry Sanders era of business-as usual!  Purge all traces of Bob Filner’s political, economic, environmental, and social agenda from the political record!  And from public memory!

On the surface, ex-mayor Filner’s agenda seemed benign.  He promised voters he would: 1) bring new faces to the table; and 2) use the tools of government to benefit the public at large, not just the financial interests of the private sector.  Yet the evidence is clear that from the day he stepped into his 11th floor office, efforts were underway outside and inside City Hall to abort his term as mayor... to get rid of him ASAP.  

Within a week the City Council President (a fellow Democrat) began undercutting the mayor's agenda.  Within a two weeks the City Attorney began commenting publicly about the mayor's temper and other "behavior issues," an approach he recently acknowledged was part of an overall "strategy."  Within a month Filner was being caricatured in the U-T and on-line press as the outsider… the other.  By summertime he was being painted by nationwide commentators as the pervert.  Through concerted efforts he was methodically quartered and drawn... demonized.  It was an ugly process.

What made Bob Filner so intolerable to the city’s traditional power brokers and political rivals to justify a crusade so wildly disproportionate to the low-level harassment accusations leveled against him?  His behavior toward women was foolish and puerile but the threats he posed to the San Diego wolfpack must have loomed large… he-man sized.  The threat of new faces? new voices? the plan to benefit the public?

It’s still too early for definitive identification of all the faces behind the ouster of Bob Filner (the upcoming mayor’s race and ensuing battles for control will fill in many of the blanks) but we’ve got plenty of clues to start us off. 

So here’s the plan: all suspects in what has been labeled a political coup will be herded into one big room and sorted out. Players from outside the mayor’s office will be directed to the left side.  Players from inside the mayor’s office will keep to the right.  A path down the middle will be kept clear for surreptitious comings and goings by people straddling the fence.

Here's who gets sent to the left:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The birds, the bees, and the wolf pack - Part I

Part I: A story about sex… more or less

Once upon a time there was a man with an unquenchable impulse to invite women out to breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  He seemed oblivious to a fact most other men understand -- there are circumstances when it’s okay to sweet-talk a woman and other circumstances when it’s not. 

For a man known to be adept and dynamic at public speaking he was oddly banal and unimaginative at the art and practice of seduction: are you married… you are beautiful… your eyes mesmerize me… I want you to have dinner with me. 

This man, according to TV and news accounts, routinely crossed the proverbial line.  It was reported that he surprised some women with a kiss on the cheek, or forehead, or mouth – even, purportedly, a french kiss.   Two or three women said he patted the vicinity where their rear ends reside.  There were reports of fumbled attempts to touch a breast.  A few recalled provocative whispers in their ear. 

Several women said he detained them with a firm grasp of his hands on their hands or his arm wrapped around their shoulder in the region of their clavicle.  Professional women with business ties to the tourism industry told tales of being flummoxed by his too-chummy style.  A tough, well-seasoned rear admiral divulged her discombobulation when he placed his index finger on her cheek.  A volunteer at the city hall senior desk reported she was a victim of his bantering but now she’s a survivor.

Each day a new woman got seated in front of the tv cameras to describe her personal mishap with this man.  For some it provided a few minutes of free airtime to publicize a newly-published book or company or business.  Or to make a case for a quarter -- no, make that half-a-million dollars in compensation for emotional distress and psychic injury.  

As reported by commentators and the news media from coast to coast, this man’s unwelcome passes were startling, confusing, unnerving, and enduringly haunting to dozens of independent, upstanding, self-sufficient, fully-grown women.  He was mercilessly caricatured as a monstrous serial cad capable of transforming sturdy women into “victims” in need of societal protection and even restitution.   No proof needed.

Oddly, no woman has come forward with a story of retaliation, revenge, retribution, loss of employment, reduction in salary, bad letter of recommendation, cancelled contract, torn-off clothing, slapping around, or attempted rape if or when she refused this man’s request for dinner, a hug, or a kiss.  Nevertheless, he was deemed responsible for singlehandedly precipitating an epidemic of PTSD among San Diego’s most accomplished women.

The man in question is Bob Filner, long-term U.S. Congressman and short-lived mayor of San Diego.

Some readers will criticize me for not being sufficiently PC

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Filner Headlock Exposed

Mere words cannot do justice to the abusive and degrading maneuver commonly called the Filner Headlock.  Consequently, please heed this important warning:
 The following photo essay is explicit and revealing.  It is not intended for the fainthearted or for adults and/or children with unusually delicate or immature sensibilities.
However, for the stouthearted among us I ask you to take a peek at a variety of permutations of the infamous headlock technique ascribed to our mayor. 

Then I ask you to select the picture that corresponds most closely to your mental image of what a Filner Headlock really is.  Would it be a:

girly-girl headlock?

rough stuff  headlock?
 don't you worry headlock?
phone sex headlock?
gotcha headlock?

interracial headlock?
sweetie-pie headlock?
hoopster headlock?
 gone golfing headlock?
got your sunblock headlock?

same sex headlock?
what's-sauce-for-the-goose headlock?

 or maybe an old-fashioned headlock?

Monday, July 15, 2013

A mindful walk through treacherous territory

 Today I’m on a mindful jaunt through America's finest sexiest city.  Not just ordinary sexy but exuberant sexy... in-your-face, over-the-top sexy.  It’s a walk that calls for extra-special noticing (though not much letting go).

I notice that there’s a three-ring circus in town, selling its special merchandise to participants and spectators alike -- an exotic brew of beer-soaked hormones, pheromones, secretions, and sundry other exudations.

It’s being peddled on Fiesta Island at the annual beach bacchanal known as the Over-The-Line Tourney -- a boozy, raunchy, let-it-all-hang-out display of tantalizing semi-bare bodies engaged in personal pleasures and pursuits and not-necessarily-innocent fun and games.

It was widely available at the LGBT Pride Parade – a comparable extravaganza of raunchy, let-it-all-hang-out semi-bare bodies engaged in the celebration of freedom to be and liberation from the shackles of conventional restraints and taboos.

It’s a staple at the upcoming multi-million dollar Comic-Com International – another wild blow-out promoting freedom from (or on behalf of) shackles, alluring and revealing getups, escapist fantasies, and sky’s-the-limit flights of fancy.

We can call it a concatenation of profligate events -- to say it the fancy way.   A magical alignment of the moon and stars -- if you're a romantic.  A capitalist capture of the lucrative business of selling sex -- to be prosaic.   It's a sign of how cosmopolitan, uninhibited, and open-minded we San Diegans are.  We're way cool.

I notice that the same potent brew is fueling another major event in San Diego -- a blaring sideshow about sex… raunch… personal pleasures… liberation from conventional restraints… not-necessarily-innocent fun and games.  The big difference is that the public isn't allowed into this one for a for a first-hand look.

This raucous major event focuses on the sex life of our mayor.  It deals with the

Monday, July 8, 2013

A mindful walk down Sunroad Lane

To tell you the truth, these mindful walks can give me a headache…notice and let it go… notice... let go…

When I started these walks it looked like letting it go would be the hard part.  Turns out the noticing part is worse -- because what I’ve been noticing is really screwy.  In fact, it stinks.

I notice that while Republican voters no longer dominate San Diego elections, the city's entrenched wheeler-dealers (still predominantly Republican) persist in manipulating, controlling, and subverting city government, the news media, and public opinion.

I notice that the spiked cudgel wielded by the U-T San Diego (reduced to a 3rd-rate tabloid under heavy-handed revamping by owner Doug Manchester) is the designated weapon to batter, bludgeon, and defame those who dare challenge the hegemony of San Diego's developers, bankers, hoteliers, downtown partners, Chamber of Commerce, and Republican Party-backed officials.  The editorial page churns out distorted, uninformed, hypocritical tirades with nary a blush.  Doesn't a city like San Diego deserve better?

I notice, unhappily, that our news alternatives (with some notable and promising exceptions) still hang out at the shallow end of the pool, content with sniping, feinting, and water-pistol wars.  San Diegans desperately need more wave-makers and intrepid underwater explorers.     

[And speaking of water -- it's worth your while to read this excellent story in the VOSD about the politics of San Diego's water supply.  We can't afford to lose you, Will Carless!]

I notice that our local legal system lineup of superior-court judges, federal attorney, sheriff, district attorney, city attorney, police chief, and lobbyist-law firms frequently distorts the legal system in the service of (i.e. aiding and abetting) the city’s power brokers.  One recent example among many? 
an unseemly coupling between our city attorney and court judge to prosecute Jim Jeff Olson for chalking anti-bank slogans on sidewalks near Bank of America.  

I notice that these law-enforcement Rockettes

Friday, June 21, 2013

A mindful walk through the mayor's office

Turns out that mindful walks aren’t guaranteed to be soul-soothing.  But one thing’s for sure -- they’re invariably eye-opening.  Once you start noticing, you’ll find plenty of things you never noticed before.

You'll remember that last week I walked the walk in La Jolla.  A few days ago it was Mission Valley.  Yesterday it was downtown.  But I’m putting aside downtown and Mission Valley for the time being and inviting you to keep me company on today's mindful walk... through the mayor’s office... figuratively speaking, that is. 

Picture us on the 11th floor of City Hall.  Take a seat alongside me in the outer vestibule of the mayor’s suite.  Notice the elevators and toilets to our left.  Notice the worn carpeting and sullen lighting.  Now follow me into the inner sanctum.  

Be mindful how you walk.

Inside you’ll notice a brightly-lit chamber

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hanging on... letting go

I took a mindful walk through downtown La Jolla this morning.  It was my version of a meditative exercise that’s supposed to smooth your soul and clear your mind.  Here’s how it’s done: you put one foot in front of the other in the usual way of walking while you notice what's around you. 

First you notice.  And then you let it go.
Notice…and let it go. 

These are some of the things I noticed on my mindful walk:
    •    marred and scarred sidewalks; cracked and fissured streets (the touted La Jolla Village patina?)
    •    cheerful tourists snapping photos of one another and guessing the name of those lavender-blooming trees (jacaranda)
    •    scores of cormorants, pelicans, and raucous sea lions lolling, diving, swimming, and engaged in uninhibited large-bowel activity on the LJ Cove bluffs, in flip-off contempt of microbial scrubdown experiments
    •    June gloom
    •    signage announcing a new-to-the-neighborhood Goodwill resale shop just a few storefronts down from Roche Bobois
    •    a surge of remodels and dense multi-family construction
    •    dozens of homeless men and women, some on benches, some hauling loaded carts in the direction of the Vons recycling depot

 I also noticed that the noticing part of a mindful walk is easy.  The letting go part is another story.  And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me who has trouble letting go.

Take the U-T San Diego, for example.  I’ve noticed that since Bob Filner became mayor the people at the U-T started acting act like crazed dogs, compulsively gnawing at old bones and obsessing about the mayor’s personality quirks.  They publish half-stories that omit core information a reader needs to get a full picture.  Their editor tears his hair out