April 25 2012 09:54 AM

Our case against San Diego's most objectionable politician

Photo illustrations by Adam Vieyra

Coherent presentation of all the problems we have with Carl DeMaio's candidacy for mayor of San Diego cries out for an organizational theme. We've chosen the alphabet. We'll reveal our primary-election endorsements, including our choice for mayor, in our May 16 issue. The argument against DeMaio requires an issue all its own:


Prop. A: DeMaio's a key backer of the "Fair and Open Competition in City Contracting" ballot measure. What it would do is ban the city from requiring project-labor agreements (PLAs), a pre-hire agreement between labor unions and employers that sets the terms of work and compensation for large-scale construction projects. Opponents say PLAs increase a project's overall cost, though there's been no definitive research to prove this. But, here's the thing: No one can recall when the city's ever entered into a PLA, raising the question of why this is even necessary, save for DeMaio using it as a campaign tool.

Recently, he's been telling folks that Prop. A will get the city's roads repaired faster. That's absolutely false. As Bill Harris, a city spokesperson, once told us, "As far as any of us can remember, we don't have any project-labor agreements when it comes to street work."

Further rendering Prop. A pointless is the fact that, per state law, cities can't ban PLAs on projects for which they receive state funding.


Bully: That's how former colleagues of DeMaio describe him as they come out one-by-one to protest his candidacy. State Assembly candidate Ralph Denney tells CityBeat that DeMaio personally threatened to "cut off my balls with a rusty knife" when Denney refused to divert his volunteers to canvass for DeMaio's buddy Phil Thalheimer, who was running for City Council in District 1. District 7 City Council Candidate Rik Hauptfeld recently told the conservative blog SDRostra.com that DeMaio had tried to pressure him out of the race because it would jeopardize DeMaio's anointed candidate, Scott Sherman. "He talked about me being branded with a scarlet ‘S' for ‘spoiler,'" Hauptfeld told reporter David Ogul. "He went on to say that they would make sure I never hold public office in San Diego" if Hauptfeld was on the ballot.


Calendars: DeMaio swept into office promising transparency and accountability, including a pledge to post his monthly calendars "documenting whom he has met with and for what purpose." He kept his word at first, but during the last few months, his calendars have been coming up blank. The latest one available, March 2012, includes the phrase "Hold for Carl" 39 times, masking his actions at least once a day for the entire month.

Cat tax: It was a press-release-perfect catchphrase: "cat tax." DeMaio made international news last July when he held a press conference (starring his cat, Ace) to announce that San Diego's "cash-strapped city government" was looking to raise money by imposing a licensing fee on cat owners. That was a lie. A June 2011 report from the city auditor—that looked mainly at how San Diego was overpaying the county for animal services—suggested that cat owners, like dog owners, be required to license their pets. California is among the minority of states that doesn't require cats to be vaccinated and licensed, though organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association and The Humane Society recommend it. But, the mayor's office rejected the proposal well before DeMaio ever saw the audit—something DeMaio never mentioned in his press conference.

Competition and Transparency in City Contracting: DeMaio hoped to get this measure on the November 2010 ballot, but he failed to gather enough signatures, despite spending more than $250,000. Among other things, the measure would have made it easier to privatize city services, and it would have killed the city's living-wage law.


DirtyDeMaio.com: This is a clearinghouse of dirt on DeMaio dug up and compiled by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. Initially built during DeMaio's first run for office, it's recently been updated by master muckraker Lucas O'Connor. If this A-to-Z guide isn't good enough for you, now you know where to go for more.


Endorsements, anti-gay: DeMaio apparently saw no irony in accepting the endorsement of Roger Hedgecock, the former San Diego mayor who was forced to resign after he was convicted on 13 felony charges related to campaign fraud and perjury. Ultimately, a court overturned 12 of the charges on technical grounds and let Hedgecock plead to a misdemeanor for the 13th—but the fact remains, his mayorship ended badly.

The same can't be said for Hedgecock's career as a right-wing-radio blowhard. Peddling hate and fear has paid off with national broadcast deals. The LGBT community sees the irony, especially when it comes to DeMaio's sexuality. In 1986, Hedgecock said he wouldn't march in the San Diego Pride parade because he blames gays for "the worst plague that we have had in Western culture since the Black Death in the 16th century." In 1994, Hedgecock sued Pride on behalf of "normal people" who wanted to march in the parade. In 2009, Hedgecock wrote a column that mocked the idea of homosexuality being a civil-rights issue.

LGBT activists are also outraged at DeMaio's other anti-gay supporters, including Judge Larry Stirling (who famously order his courtroom sanitized after an HIV-positive defendant coughed) and Bryan Caster, whose family were big funders of the Prop. 8 prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Ethics: On Dec. 5, 2008, the day he took office, DeMaio issued a press release proclaiming that he'd save taxpayers money by not taking a pension. But, on the same day, he sent a letter to the San Diego Ethics Commission, asking questions about whether he could spend his council-office budget on constituent communications ranging from "telephone town halls" to flyers and mailers. It's all legal, he was told, as long as mailings didn't exceed the limit set by state election laws. Did the letter foretell an elected official angling to spend public money on self-promoting materials? Totally. See "Junk mail," "Roadmap to Recovery" and "Publishing services."


Frye, Donna: Frye was heading into the home stretch of her nine-year term on the San Diego City Council when DeMaio was elected in 2008 to represent District 5. Though she's an environmental-protection-minded Democrat and he's an anti-government Republican, the two shared an interest in watching out for taxpayers and making city government as transparent as possible. So, Frye partnered with DeMaio on open-government issues as soon as he was elected, which instantly gave DeMaio a certain degree of enhanced credibility among Frye's constituents and admirers.

However, by the time Frye left office in December 2010, she'd completely had it with DeMaio's act. For her, the last straw was his behavior amid the council's frenzied attempts to find a new site for the emergency winter homeless shelter. Frye and other members who favored a reasonable location in Barrio Logan needed DeMaio's vote, but he instead chose to grandstand, insisting that the shelter be housed in Golden Hall at the Civic Center, even though there was no other support for that idea. Frye later told CityBeat that she was so angry at DeMaio that she was driven to tears during that meeting, and, these days, will tell any reporter who asks exactly what she thinks of him—in interviews, she's referred him as a "bully" (see "B") and a "political sociopath."


Gingrich, Newt: Among the many quirks of Gingrich's political career—the multiple wives, the ethics violations, the moon-base plan—it's hard to place the former speaker of the house's decision to give Carl DeMaio his big break with a job at the Congressional Institute. Perhaps DeMaio just reminded him of a baby panda, an adorable little conservative to whom he could feed his principles like so many bamboo shoots. Whatever the case, just remember your history: Gingrich gleefully shut the government down for 28 days in 1995 and 1996, resulting in the end of his political career.


Hypocrite: One of DeMaio's opponents, Nathan Fletcher, has exploited DeMaio's hypocritical charge that any candidate who's accepted an endorsement from a labor union is burdened by a conflict of interest—because the mayor negotiates with unions. But, as Fletcher rightly notes, DeMaio has received plenty of endorsements and campaign cash from people and organizations who have business with the city, whose chief executive is the mayor. For instance, DeMaio has been endorsed by the Building Industry Association, the Associated General Contractors and the Associated Builders and Contractors, three groups that regularly lobby the city for policy favorable to the building industry.

And there are other examples: DeMaio has built his political career on saying he's looking out for taxpayers and castigating boondoggles. Yet, DeMaio supports an expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, a project with a financing scheme that relies on higher hotel taxes, may be illegal and has great potential for boondogglery. He trumpets transparency, but he has stopped publishing his meeting calendar (see "C"), blacklists reporters who dare to ask critical questions and blocks people from his Facebook page.


Institutes: DeMaio's a rich dude. Loans he's made to his mayoral campaign, City Council campaign and political-action committee total more than $1 million. So, where did this cheerleader for government privatization get all this money? DeMaio's Performance Institute, which he founded in 2000, secured millions of dollars in government contracts during the Bush administration to advise the government on how to award contracts to private companies. And, in 2003, he started the American Strategic Management Institute, which advised the private sector on how to win those government contracts. In 2007, he sold both companies to Thompson Publishing for an undisclosed amount.


Jack Black: Many years ago, Black played a slobbering, teenage devotee of a faux presidential candidate in the film Bob Roberts. And damned if he doesn't look exactly like what DeMaio must've back when he was a slobbering, teenage political fanatic.

Junk mail: Back in 2000, DeMaio was formally cited by the Federal Communications Commission for sending out unsolicited advertisements via his fax machine at the Performance Institute in Virginia. A decade later, DeMaio continues to send out junk mail, but this time on the public dime. In his first year in office, U-T San Diego reported, he sent out 45 times more mailers than the rest of City Council combined, costing taxpayers almost $32,000.


KUSI: The local TV station willingly serves as a propaganda machine for DeMaio and the San Diego County Republican Party, even going so far as to use a loophole in federal communications law to use its resources to coordinate a televised petition drive with DeMaio for his pension-reform bill.


Late to the game: DeMaio likes to score political points by squawking about government waste and inefficiency, but, strangely, his outrage often seems to manifest long after he actually had a chance to take a stand on the issue. Two examples come to mind:

• In July 2011, DeMaio made a big fuss out of asking local legislators to shut down the Service Authority for Free Emergencies (SAFE), the agency that controls highway call boxes. He called SAFE the "poster-child of an unnecessary government program," borrowing straight from an earlier CityBeat report on how the group had racked up more than $12 million in reserves, even as the whole idea of call boxes has become obsolete in a cellular age. But here's the thing: DeMaio sat on SAFE's board for two years without uttering a peep about unnecessary taxation and waste. He even accepted campaign money from the contractor who manages the program.

• In December 2011, DeMaio grabbed headlines when he demanded that fellow City Councilmember David Alvarez, who chairs the council's National Resources and Culture Committee, schedule a hearing on problems with the city's water billing system. Alvarez fired back that there'd already been a hearing, and DeMaio had missed it. Voice of San Diego's Liam Dillon went back and watched the tape: DeMaio did, in fact, bundle up his laptop and scoot out of there right before that agenda item was discussed.


Manchester, Doug: The hotel/real-estate mogul has long been a big-money backer of DeMaio, including chipping in $100,000 toward DeMaio's first San Diego political committee. Now that Manchester owns a newspaper (U-T San Diego), Papa Doug and his underlings can exploit an exemption for media in the city's lobbying regulations to hold secret backroom meetings with DeMaio—and has done so.

Michaels: For his 2011 "state of the district" address at Marshall Middle School, a member of DeMaio's staff spent $162.50 in taxpayer money on fake plants from Michaels to decorate the stage.


Needle exchange: Earlier this month, DeMaio was the only City Council member to vote against allocating $51,000 from the city's Community Projects, Programs and Services account to fund Safe Point San Diego, a program that gives IV-drug users a place to exchange dirty needles for clean ones. Since it began in 2001, Safe Point's kept 1.5 million dirty syringes off the streets and helped refer almost 5,000 people to detox and drug-treatment programs.

North Clairemont Recreation Center: In February, DeMaio held a press conference in front of the empty playground of the North Clairemont Rec Center to pitch his ideas to boost volunteerism (and to blame city labor unions for limiting volunteer opportunities). The rec center's empty playground was intended to convey the message that, if not for budget cuts, it would've been filled with kids.

While the rec center didn't officially open to the public until 12:30 p.m. that day, there was a Tiny Tots program and a senior fitness program that were using the facility when DeMaio and his staff showed up. The Tiny Tots happened to be on the playground. So, DeMaio staffer Jeff Powell asked program director Kim Bruch to take the kids inside. "I found that request fairly rude," Bruch wrote in an email to CityBeat, "especially since I am basically volunteering time to support a community program for small children." Bruch also said that DeMaio's description of the rec center as under-used was "completely ludicrous"—after school, and especially during basketball season, the rec center is "packed to capacity," she said.

As for DeMaio's claim that city labor unions are putting a stranglehold on volunteerism, last July, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith issued an analysis of the city's legal ability to use volunteers, concluding that the city may not supplant union workers with volunteers. The city can lay off employees and replace them later with volunteers, but not if the goal is to save money by replacing paid labor with free labor (see "V").


$100,000 Club: DeMaio knows nothing riles up the public like a big, round number. That's why he periodically generates a report of the number of city workers that make six-figure salaries and calls them "The $100,000 Club." Never mind that, as U-T San Diego reported, of California's 15 largest cities, San Diego came in 12th for the number of employees making that much. For example, San Diego had 1,250 city employees making more than $100,000, compared with Los Angeles' 14,277 and San Francisco's 8,312.


Pension Reform: Many of the core criticisms of DeMaio can be rolled up into one issue: the so-called Comprehensive Pension Reform measure that will be put before San Diegans on the June 5 ballot. It encapsulates his ideological antipathy toward government, his tendency to self-aggrandize and his singular talent for misleading his audience and omitting facts in order to get what he wants.

If you listen only to DeMaio, you'll come away thinking that he conceived and authored the initiative and milled the wood that created the paper it's written on. While it's true that DeMaio has long pushed for reducing benefits for city employees as a way to curb government spending, he was merely one of a handful of leaders responsible for the ballot measure. Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed the ballot measure first; then DeMaio successfully demanded that it include additional provisions. Sanders was instrumental in raising money for the campaign while DeMaio did the heavy lifting on collecting petition signatures and has been the public face of the campaign, as he's essentially appointed CPR as his running mate.

What bugs us most about how DeMaio's selling this measure to the public is that he never bothers to say that the long-term pension liability was dramatically reduced in 2008 through negotiations between the Mayor's office and the labor unions. When he displays charts showing rising pension costs, his charts stop just before the numbers start to decrease as a result of those 2008 reforms. He wants you to think that a switch to a 401(k) saves money. It doesn't. It actually costs money. The savings in the measure comes in a different provision that may be illegal.

Publishing Services: DeMaio may be among this city department's best customers. In the last two years, he's spent roughly $40,000 of your money on self-promotional flyers, handouts, posters and booklets.


Queasy: This is how he makes us feel.


Road Repair Rally: Last April, during one of his appearances on KUSI's morning show, DeMaio talked up what he dubbed a "Road Repair Rally" in Scripps Ranch. Volunteers, he said, would walk the streets, spotting potholes that would then be filled by a city crew and workers with the Alpha Project's "Take Back the Streets" program, which provides job training to formerly homeless men (a program that DeMaio declined to endorse for federal grant funding a couple of months earlier). But, as CityBeat reported, the nonprofit was never told when and where to show up.

And, as for the city crew, DeMaio failed to line that up, too. There were other issues, ranging from liability to ac cepting donated materials (gravel) without notifying the city's philanthropy office, per city policy (to ensure there are no conflicts of interest). Instead of copping to poor planning, DeMaio went back on KUSI and blamed the city's labor unions for meddling, claiming he had a letter from the city attorney that said the unions had complained that DeMaio was having volunteers perform the work of city employees. That was a lie. No one from labor complained, and what the city attorney really told DeMaio is that the rally wasn't a city-sanctioned event, meaning the city wouldn't be liable for injuries or other damages.

Roadmap to Recovery: Dubbed DeMaio's "debate prop" by opponents (because he brings it to mayoral debates and, at some point, holds it up), the 80-page booklet lays out his vision for fixing the city's budget. To put the Roadmap together, DeMaio used $36,900 in taxpayer money to hire actuarial consultant Bill Sheffler. He then spent at least $7,600 to print up copies to hand out at town halls and other events (including a special "preview" for a who's-who list of GOP insiders). Though DeMaio touts the Roadmap as being a "comprehensive" plan and himself as the only mayoral candidate to have such a plan, the reality is that the Roadmap's based on outdated budget numbers; its largest cost-savings—reforming retiree healthcare—has already been done (without DeMaio's support); and, as the city's Fiscal Sustainability Task Force found, its claim of saving $87 million was overstated by more than $45 million.


Sanctuary city: In 2010, DeMaio was the lone "no" vote on a City Council resolution opposing SB 1070, Arizona legislation that made it easier for police to detain someone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. His campaign website says he "strongly opposes any and all efforts to make San Diego a ‘sanctuary city'"—a red-herring term used by the anti-illegal-immigration contingent to describe cities that don't actively assist federal authorities in enforcing immigrations laws. But, as local law enforcement officials have explained repeatedly, not only do they not have the resources to enforce immigration laws, doing so would break down trust they've worked to build in immigrant communities and make it difficult to solve crimes.

San Diego 311: While we'll agree that it's a good idea to allow residents to submit complaints to the city about potholes, burned-out streetlights and other kinds of blight via smartphone, DeMaio's San Diego 311 app begs for efficiency. Last year, even though the Mayor's office told him it was working on a no-cost app, DeMaio paid $9,900 from his office budget to L.A.-based Freedom Speaks Inc., for a San Diego version of that company's "CitySourced" app. Contrary to how DeMaio initially pitched it to the press, the app doesn't integrate with the city's computer system. Instead, all complaints are routed through DeMaio's office, where some poor staffer has to then send the complaint to the appropriate city department.

The contract with CitySourced is up next week and, by deadline, we hadn't heard whether it had been renewed. If so, it means DeMaio's successor's going to be stuck with extra work when he leaves office in December. Meanwhile, the Mayor's office will roll out an app in a month or so that does all that 311 does and more—and at no cost to taxpayers.


Teleprompter: For his 2009 and 2011 "state of the district" addresses (he didn't hold one in 2010 or 2012), DeMaio spent $1,680 in taxpayer money to rent teleprompters. One of those rentals was for a pre-event run-through of the speech and cost $400.


Unions: During a June 29, 2011, campaign fundraiser at Jerome's Furniture, DeMaio ridiculed public-employee unions by comparing them to temper-tantrum-throwing children. The Mayor's office is the lead negotiator when it comes time to bargain for new contracts with the six unions that represent roughly 10,000 city employees. Being a tough negotiator is one thing, but casting your employees as a bunch of crying babies is another thing entirely. It's true that a few of the people who led the unions in the late 1990s and early 2000s overreached on retirement benefits, but now DeMaio is overreaching by alienating an entire city workforce. We don't want to live in a city where nearly all of the public servants find their boss repulsive. Do you?


Volunteerism: That's DeMaio-speak for replacing municipal professionals with free labor from youth, unpaid "fellows" and Baby Boomer retirees. His plan calls for 1-million hours of volunteer service, the equivalent of 46 minutes per resident.


Wisconsin of the West: That's what DeMaio asked his supporters to make San Diego, according to a paid Republican Party hack's account of a campaign event posted to SDRostra.com. At the time, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was in a nuclear showdown with government-employee unions over collectivebargaining rights, a scorched-earth battle that DeMaio would love to set afire here. But DeMaio ought to be careful what he wishes for: In March, a federal court struck down portions of the Wisconsin law, and Walker has become the first Wisconsin governor to face a recall election.

Wikipedia weasel: This term became applicable after DeMaio used his council staff and interns to make flattering edits to his Wikipedia entry in violation of the website's rules. Users are barred from writing about themselves or their organizations on Wikipedia, and DeMaio was a repeat offender. DeMaio had his page deleted three time previously for copy-pasting his handcrafted biography from his consulting firm's website. Similarly, an intern for DeMaio's Performance Institute was caught writing the organization's Wikipedia page. To this day, more respectable Wikipedia editors are battling DeMaio supporters attempting to scrub negative information from his Wikipedia page.


You know what? We think you've had enough. If you're still a DeMaio supporter, there's no hope for you. Ha!

Got something to say? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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