May 2 2012 12:06 PM

Just can't get excited about DeMaio, Dumanis, Fletcher and Filner

Photo by Dave Maass

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan."

—Eleanor Roosevelt

Maybe it's five days' worth of fever talking, but Spin just can't seem to get excited in any way about the race to determine San Diego's next mayor. Unless you're a wonk with a numbers fetish or a partisan with a taste for political blood, the coming month of blah-blah advertising and he said / he said / he said / she said political brinksmanship just doesn't bode well for this city's future.

My boss, a whip-smart guy despite his love for the Dodgers, responded recently to a Twitter comment that the "Padres need to get their mojo back. Seriously."

"When was the last time they had mojo?" the boss replied. This got Spin to thinking that this mojo-depletion syndrome not only befalls our sports teams, but also the city as a whole. Maybe it's what we deserve for turning cemeteries into parkland or ancient sacred lands into housing developments.

What it all really seems to boil down to is money. This, of course, should be of no surprise to anyone who's followed politics for any length of time—and, again, this could be the fever talking—but it all just seems so depressing this time around.

In this race, you have Carl DeMaio, who's doing his level best to portray public employees as the devil incarnate, which would be fine, I guess, if roads never cracked open or water mains didn't fail or buildings didn't burn or people committed no crime. But all of those things do happen, so the question remains: How does DeMaio as mayor get done what needs to be done with employees he demonizes?

In the first campaign mailer to hit the Spin mailbox, DeMaio looks great kneeling atop a patchwork road, but it's hard to imagine those pasty white hands spreading hot asphalt by themselves. The mailer also notes that taxpayers "deserve to have a council person who demands quality in repairs. To ensure results, Carl will appoint an inspector general for roads to provide oversight of road conditions and quality of repairs."

Quality, indeed, should be job one, but DeMaio is seeking the office of mayor, so the "council person" reference is confusing. Also, showing an aerial shot of the Mount Soledad landslide above the blaring headline "ENOUGH POTHOLES!!!" is a bit of a dramatic stretch.

Then there's Nathan Fletcher, the former U.S. Marine and current state Assembly member who rejected his own Republican Party after the local GOP rejected him in favor of DeMaio. This dramatic turn of events has attracted a wide spectrum of reaction, from national columnists who dream of a return to moderation among party loyalists to the partisans who equate it with leaving soldiers behind on the battlefield. (Yeah, even the small minds on the U-T San Diego editorial board fell for that metaphor.)

But polling among likely voters doesn't seem to indicate any significant bump for Fletcher since he took the independence dive, which would suggest that he needs new voters to come out June 5. And when was the last time a primary election in San Diego demonstrated anything but depressing voter-turnout figures?

As for the third right-leaning candidate in the race, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Spin is hearing little more than her argument that she offers solid organizational skills. Does that mean her desk will be resplendently pristine? Frankly, Spin would prefer a messy desk and some outside-the-box thinking. And according to polling that puts her near the bottom in the race, so would voters.

Or maybe they've just grown tired of law-enforcement types thinking they know how to run a city.

Which brings us to the fourth major candidate, San Diego's favorite punching bag among conservatives, outgoing 10-term Congressmember Bob Filner. Filner must be tapped into Spin's computer, because as soon as Spin typed his name, the phone rang.

"Hi, Mike. It's Bob Filner," the voice on the other end said. Boy, this fever is really playing tricks with the brain, Spin thought.

After determining right phone number, wrong name, Filner spent a few minutes poking fun at DeMaio. "He says we need an inspector general for road repairs. I think I'll hire him for that," Filner said. It's a tactic he's used endlessly on the campaign trail for most of his mayoral competitors, and it's one of the reasons I say this campaign seems boring.

"You should be excited!" he argues. "Change is coming to City Hall!"

Spin asks: OK, so say you win, but so does Proposition B, the "comprehensive pension reform" ballot measure embraced by all DeMaio's major opponents. What then?

"If I win, I think that makes Prop. B moot," Filner said. "And with a little backbone shown by the Mayor's office, I think the City Council will come around, too."

Much has been made of Filner's fiscal plan—not exactly the details of it, but when it would be released. Some mainstream media types have even taken to counting the days between when he expected to release it and when he finally did this week.

Filner confirmed rumors that he had a plan back in December and had hoped to see it put on the June ballot. But after he ran it past several council members for their feedback, Filner said those members "clearly got cold feet. We almost had it, but after that, I decided to pull back" on the idea of a ballot measure.

The plan, he said, is the same—capping pensions below $100,000 for future retirees, negotiating a fiveyear deal with employees (including a two-year pay freeze) and creating a task force that would consider other pension reforms, like seeking $750 million in pension obligation bonds (POBs) that he hopes would take advantage of low interest rates.

That last idea does not sit well with Filner supporter Donna Frye, never a fan of POBs. But other details impressed her, particularly avoidance of years of litigation if Prop. B passes.

"I see more potential," Frye told Spin Cycle, "to actually solve the pension problems using Filner's approach because it starts at the bargaining table rather than at the courthouse and includes lowering the assumptions on investment earnings, which I believe is a realistic solution."

Maybe Spin will just climb back into bed. Wake me when the primary's over.

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