Politics Ain’t Beanbag

| October 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Eight days after Bob Filner resigned in disgrace, acting mayor Todd Gloria and city councilman Kevin Faulconer spoke to a standing room only audience of The City Club of San Diego at La Jolla Country Day School.

The purpose of the gathering was to look beyond Filner’s 246-ruinous days in office and to our city’s future. But before that there needed to be an accounting of how badly our city fared under Filner.

Allegations of sexual harassment brought Filner down, but almost from the outset of his mayoralty the city had been disserved because Filner micro-managed everything; a fact no better illustrated than his insistence upon signing-off on $50 vouchers. You cannot run a company or a corporation that way, and you certainly cannot run America’s eight largest city, with a population over 1.3 million and nearly 10,000 employees, that way – and he didn’t.

I am not sure we will ever know the full extent of how Filner’s incompetence as San Diego’s chief executive hurt our city, but listening to Gloria and Faulconer on that Saturday, I am convinced the hurt is big.

But as the Kennedys don’t do wouldofs, couldofs or shouldofs, neither should our city leaders nor our citizenry. Too much is at stake.

We would do well, therefore, to heed the advice of Benjamin Disraeli, one of Britain’s great prime ministers, who said, “I have made it a habit to close the gates of my life behind me.”

So should we.

What was quite clear that Saturday at Country Day was how hard Gloria and Faulconer had worked to keep some semblance of order in a city where there was everything but. For that effort, both gentlemen and their colleagues, as well as city attorney, Jan Goldsmith, are owed our gratitude.

When both Gloria and Faulconer had finished their remarks and taken questions from those gathered, they received a standing ovation, led by Dr. Irwin Jacobs. Was it deserved? Absolutely.

Todd Gloria, as acting mayor, quickly decided after he was sworn in, he couldn’t do both, serve as acting mayor and run for the same office. So he put the interest of San Diego above his own and announced he wouldn’t. No doubt the cynics among us will question his sincerity in making that call, but that’s why they’re cynics because they are incapable of accepting the integrity of others, having so little of it themselves.

Kevin Faulconer made a different decision; he announced he is running for mayor. In making that choice I find no fault, because his council duties differ significantly from those of a mayor – acting or otherwise.

Beyond Faulconer, what about the more than 30 (as of this writing) in the race for our city’s highest elective office?

The total number running is bewildering; one day people announce they’re in and then the next announced they’re out – all quite confusing.

But with all due respect to those who say they’re in and stay in, a laudable commitment, seriously, as they are doing something neither you nor I have the courage to do, so give them that, the race mostly will be about Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher.

What about former city attorney Mike Aguirre?

If Mike Aguirre fits your idea of a calm and rational person, someone who has mastered his emotions, someone who has evidenced an ability to work with others, then by all means support him. But if that is who you think he is, than I would suggest it would be appropriate to do some additional fact-checking.

There is also city councilman David Alvarez, a young man who impresses people, but most think it’s too soon for him to be judged seriously as a mayoral candidate. That is not necessarily my view. I think if you wish to run, you run, because where others think you are in your life is irrelevant; they don’t know, only you know, and if you feel a duty to run, and then run, because, at the beginning of the night, The People will decide whether you are ready.

Let me expand slightly about Mike Aguirre and David Alvarez:

Aguirre had a tumultuous run as city attorney and the tumult he caused – even if at times with due cause – is why Goldsmith now holds that office. I always allow for personal redemption, for dramatic change in one’s behavior, but if Mike Aguirre has been on the road to Damascus, he must have missed the blinding light and the voice from heaven.

David Alvarez is unknown to me, save in this instance: When Jerry Brown came to The City Club/Chamber luncheon in January 2011, Alvarez requested he be seated with the Governor at our table. I accommodate his request, even though he knew nothing about City Club, which merely happens to be one of America’s greatest public forums (people will say that when you’ve presented 1,066 programs in the public interest) and was clueless about me. Not knowing me is okay; lots of people don’t, but not knowing The City Club, isn’t. It tells me you are fundamentally uniformed about life in your city.

About Nathan Fletcher: A couple of years back there was a grand Spirit of 45 remembrance on the carrier USS Midway. It was a really big deal, and I had the privilege of serving as MC. Fletcher, then a state assemblyman, was invited to speak.

Not having met him before, I was impressed as he impresses most people – handsome, articulate, an ex-Marine, which causes people to often invoke comparisons to Pete Wilson, who remains, 30-years after he left office and became a U.S. Senator and California’s governor, San Diego’s greatest mayor.

I concede, therefore, what others believe about Fletcher, but I have no clue as what Nathan Fletcher believes. I don’t know what cause he embraces. I do not know where he stands on poor people, the homeless, veterans, immigration, relations with Mexico. I do not know the man’s moral center.

What I know is he was a Republican who ran for mayor against Bonnie Dumanis, Carl DeMaio, and Bob Filner. But he fared poorly and decided, rather late, to announce he was no longer a Republican candidate for mayor but an Independent. That didn’t work and he lost.

Had he, however, heeded Steve Peace’s advice and declared as an Independent much earlier, the outcome of the mayor’s race might well have been different, because Filner thought Fletcher was the one candidate he couldn’t beat.

And, now, Fletcher’s a Democrat. I’m good with that because I’m a Democrat, but he must persuade a whole lot of people he is sincere in his political evolution.

About Kevin Faulconer: Of the three most important local causes in my life, the downtown ballpark, strong mayor government, and The City Club of San Diego (and The City Club is the only one in which it can be said I have a self-interest), Faulconer has been there with me. Does loyalty and friendship trump political party? Yes. Is that an endorsement? No. (Remember I endorsed Bob Filner, and look how that turned out.)

True, Faulconer is a Republican, but he’s a throw-back Republican; the kind remembered and celebrated for being fiscally conservative and socially conscience, and he will bring those values to the campaign, and it will be Fletcher’s challenge to see if he can match him.

I want to close by returning to the matter of Bob Filner. I do so because I had a long conversation about our ex-mayor with Mike Dukakis, the former Massachusetts governor and Democratic nominee for president in ’88, who asked, “What had gone wrong with Filner?’

When I had done my best to explain my view of Filner’s undoing, the governor said people like Filner baffle him. He said, “I can’t figure it out. When you think about all the good people who believed in him, helped him, campaigned for him, raised and gave money to him, how do you then turn around and betray those very people?” I can’t answer that question, but Bob Filner needs to.

Peter Finely Dunne is remembered for his famous aphorism, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” No, it’s not. Therefore, those who love San Diego have a moral obligation, not only to pay attention to this mayor’s race, but find a candidate you believe in and work in that candidate’s behalf – it is what we do in a democracy.

That said, I don’t know if this mayor’s race is the most important ever, but it’s too important to ignore.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader. He can be reached at, gmitro35@gmail.com

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