Aug. 22 2012 11:48 AM

Top 10 local political craw-stickers

Donna Frye, before the November 2004 election
Photo by David Rolland

"It is only prudent never to place complete confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived."

—Rene Descartes

Ten years ago, San Diego's housing market sizzled while its public financial house of cards revealed poor construction, and the City Council butted hardhats over the location of a new main library and a ticket-guarantee deal with the itchy-trigger Chargers that was devouring city funds.

A decade later, we're still arguing over the city's money plight as the Chargers prepare for another season in Mission Valley. At least the central library finally found a new East Village home.

But 2002 seems a good jumpingoff point to demonstrate the penchant for twisted logic by which San Diego leaders seem to live and die. Accordingly, here are 10 utterances that left Spin scratching his noggin:

1. "I wish I could take back that vote": In his 2011 biography, San Diego's Judge Mayor, Dick Murphy (aka Mayor 10Goals, Mayor Yellow Jacket, eventually Mayor 1Goal) lamented his 2002 vote that helped balloon the city's pension-fund deficit into the federally investigated serpent that officials still wrestle with today.

The book conveniently ignored embattled pension whistleblower Diann Shipione, whose warnings about the underfunding echoed nearly undetected down the corridors of City Hall and among mocking pension officials, including one who took out an ad in the Union-Tribune, proclaiming, "Chicken Little would be proud." If the house of cards contained a joker, it was the ever-in-denial Dick Murphy, who resigned in 2005 shortly after Time branded him one of the country's three worst big-city mayors.

Murphy's book was no mea culpa; instead, he blamed the dotcom bubble and underlings who snookered an "unwitting City Council" with complex jargon.

2. "Augmenting" the ballot: Speaking of bubbles, what was up with Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner's ruling that voters who had written in mayoral candidate Donna Frye on the November 2004 ballot were simply "augmenting" the ballot? In other words, 5,544 voters just decided to scribble down the populist council member's name for the sake of, well, who knows what. That ruling produced the abbreviated second term of Murphy and a 2011 state law validating a written-in name.

3. "Most efficient city government in California" award: Courtesy of an energetic new millionaire in town, the city of San Diego received that honor in 2002 from the little-known Performance Institute. Five years later, that new resident—soonto-be City Councilmember Carl DeMaio—pleaded embarrassed-as-charged to San Diego Magazine. "Oh, absolutely," he told Tom Blair in 2007. "When I found out we had such problems in San Diego, one of the things that drove me was a sense of outrage at folks out-and-out lying to the public."

And an in-labor's-face political-reform career was born.

4. "Enron-by-the-Sea": When The New York Times used that over-the-top phrase in a September 2004 headline to describe San Diego's red-ink-splattered fiscal picture, it was a photo of Shipione with City Attorney candidate Mike Aguirre accompanying the story that probably burned city leaders' biscuits as much as the national publicity hit. No fun to be linked to a company that's transcended into "a popular symbol of willful corporate fraud and corruption," as Wikipedia puts it.

The pension scandal so enveloped the city's psyche that for a time the city's audacious nickname—"America's Finest City"— disappeared from the city's official website, only to return in 2005 by order of the city's new mayor, smilin' Jerry Sanders. But the weird Enron taint lingers.

5. "The dinner table for private enterprise to feast upon": Julie Meier Wright, then head of the influential San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., clearly didn't know what developers would serve up four years later: an unsightly, Lego-box-style hotel complex recently unveiled for the primo Lane Field bayfront site.

Wright made that comment at a Port District ceremony shortly after Spin Cycle returned in 2008. But U-T readers had a different take last week. "Did someone hold a ‘Design the Ugliest Hotel Imaginable' contest?" sniped one.

Yes, so far that's a menu choice only an unimaginative developer could love.

6. "From the fire and landslide I learned sometimes the city attorney can help by silence":  Boxer-cum-City Attorney Aguirre liked to deliver his own State of the City addresses as a  counterweight to Sanders' annual happy-talk speeches.

Facing fierce re-election opposition in 2008, Aguirre attempted humility in response to U-T claims that he'd called for a full city evacuation during the horrific 2007 California wildfires. (Aguirre said he merely issued a memo that discussed the rationale for a potential voluntary evacuation.) He drew sharp rebuke again for saying the city might be at fault for the 2007 La Jolla landslide.

Aguirre went on to lose handily to Jan Goldsmith, who highlighted Aguirre's inability to keep his yap shut sometimes.

7. "Fuck you, Steve": Smilin' Sanders wasn't so amenable in 2008 in the midst of a hard-scrabble re-election campaign against wealthy rent-a-nurse mogul Steve Francis. After a mayoral aide denied to Voice of San Diego the personal comment while the two crossed paths prior to an Earth Fair debate, the mayor himself later copped to the pottymouth moment, claiming he was tired of media inattention and his opponent's well-financed attacks.

Not saying the mayor contributed to the local slide into basement-level political discourse, but the bubble of Sanders' affable persona had burst.

8. "I think it's time for fresh and new thinking at the port": DeMaio had yet to take his City Council seat in October 2008 when he went off on port übermeister Steve Cushman during a period of tense Convention Center expansion talks. DeMaio accused Cushman of using the port "as his own personal sandbox" and relished his departure after an unprecedented three terms. Now Sanders' behind-the-scenes port dealmaker, Cushman made nice with DeMaio, endorsing him for mayor. Apparently "fresh and new" means same old, same old.

9. "Krvaric said he doesn't know why the state GOP is broke": So said U-T San Diego last month, with nary a "Huh?" Curious, since Tony Krvaric—leader of the local Republican Party and self-anointed conservatives-only wealth manager—happens to be a state GOP board member, which the U-T neglected to mention. Time to don the green visor, mister, and crunch some numbers!

10. "They said they didn't need the opinion of anybody else." Leave it to San Diego to take a simple premise—remove parked cars from Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama—and blow it up into a billionaire engineer's wet dream of complexity. Irwin Jacobs tickled the town when he offered to shepherd millions into the plaza makeover. But when his plaza committee told sharp political cookie Laurie Black in early 2012 to cancel public meetings she was organizing, she quit, offering Spin the above explanation. What ensued was a roiling, impassioned public process for a massive project that many critics regarded as a fait accompli from the start and wholly unnecessary to accomplish the original goal. Next stop? A courtroom, of course.

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