May 22 2013 10:54 AM

Only results will silence recall talk

Bob Filner and Donna Frye, when she still worked for him
Photo by David Rolland

"Look before, or you'll find yourself behind."

—Benjamin Franklin

A couple months ago, Spin Cycle had a good chuckle over a 10News "report" that, as one news anchor tweeted, "there is an effort to recall #SanDiego Mayor Bob Filner. Details at 11."

The tweet ended with the hashtag #TMD, a reference to the mayor's recent scrap over purse strings with the Tourism Marketing District. That evening, the 30-second story made no allusions to TMD, only an admission that no one seemed to know who was behind the recall effort.

Oh, and the proof that the recall was indeed on? A bumper sticker, a copy of which 10News aired as its Perry Mason moment without a clue where said stickers had originated, only that they'd been seen around town.

But with June comes gloom and also the time when Filner haters can shake off the final haze of winter slumber and get to work plotting ways to take him down. With June marking the mayor's sixth month in office, the City Charter also declares it open season for recall generals.

Spin recently corresponded with someone—let's call this person "Deep Moat" for the vast local political knowledge said person possesses—who's convinced the dough is there to mount a recall effort.

"I think they have the money ($2 million plus) to qualify," Deep reasoned via email. "They are just waiting to see if [Filner] gives them the ammo they need to rationalize it."

Moat agreed the most likely candidates for "they" are the philosophically conservative Lincoln Club and local hoteliers, and the money probably isn't sitting in some smoke-filled vault smoldering for action; rather, it likely floats in the political ether as pledges.

The website domain was registered privately in January but remains dormant, so that's out there, for what it's worth (as much as a bumper sticker).

When approached on the subject, Filner typically shrugs in haters-gonna-hate fashion, but the talk does appear to sting. At a recent session with reporters, the mayor momentarily got all "gee-whiz," referring to a recall as a "pretty dramatic step to take if you disagree with someone."

So, what's it gonna take to put the kibosh on a costly squirrel-chasing special-election cycle that has little chance of succeeding? If you ask Spin, it's time for Filner to stow the campaign-friendly "What if?" speeches and move full speed into "Get 'er done" mode.

Sure, Filner has had his share of victories—but they've come typically in the courtroom or City Council chambers, where most San Diegans dare not enter. But tangible, visible evidence of a progressive shift in a burgeoning Democratic town? Meh, not so much.

Yes, Filner's only been on the job for a short time, and the City Council hasn't even finished hashing through his first budget. But let's be honest: Unlike the previous string of Republican pearls San Diego endured, Filner the liberal mayor won't get many bennies of the doubt from local conservative ranks that permeate the political echo chamber around here—and are frankly better at "The End is Near" babble-chatter.

So, if Spin were Filner—and thank goodness he's not!—here are two things he'd do:

Stop the pie-in-the-sky pronouncements: The thing that conservatives must hate most about Filner is his ability to connect with audiences. While rarely mentioned in mainstream-media coverage of Filner, the guy is funny. Yes, sometimes dry, often skewering—but a one-liner machine nonetheless.

At a community meeting in Bankers Hill Monday night, Filner had the standing-room-only crowd in stitches for much of the hour, at one point ribbing a restaurant employee he recognized with jabs about his abilities. "Great food, but terrible service!" the mayor proclaimed to howls, including from the recipient of the jab.

When a community member eloquently argued for better give-and-take with the Mayor's office, Filner immediately made his signature I'm-putting-you-in-charge-of-that comment. More laughs.

But here's the thing, Mr. Mayor. As someone once said, "Charming people live up to the very edge of their charm and behave as outrageously as the world lets them." And one way to lose the attention of the masses that swept you into office would be to make promises not even Zeus could keep.

Example: When you unveiled last month your cheaper, easier, temporary plan to return most of Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama back to pedestrians and close Cabrillo Bridge to cars on weekends and holidays, you made this coming Memorial Day weekend the target date to begin the experiment.

That drew big cheers from the mostly supportive crowd, and perhaps it was that wave of appreciation that sparked the bold prediction. Of course, after studying the logistics further, you've come to the conclusion that Labor Day weekend is likely a more realistic bull's-eye, some three months beyond your original estimate. (Something about The Old Globe Theatre objecting to possible repercussions to its summer season was what you told the folks in Bankers Hill.)

For someone who insists on having all the facts in front of him before acting, that seemed like a pretty easy thing to determine prior to getting folks worked up about the bridge closure and a new day in the park.

Which brings Spin to his second suggestion:

Release the hounds!: Why does it seem that all who work for the mayor sport the same tense faces? The stories of staff turnover in the Mayor's office have begun to surface—Donna Frye, Filner's director of open government, was certainly the splashiest departure, but less trumpeted exits by Frye's No. 2, Steve Hadley, a bevy of schedulers and Rob Wilder, the mayor's energy and sustainability czar, speak to, well, something. Focus, maybe?

The mayor bragged about the quality of intellect he'd managed to corral into staffing him, despite a reputation as an intense boss. "I think they have an energy and a competence that is unmatched," he said when introducing his top staff in January.

So, trust that competence. Let your people go—that is, let them do their jobs. Unshackle them from the micro-managing, wrong-size-paper-clip mentality that promotes fear, which, as they say, is a darkroom where negatives develop. If someone stinks at their job, can 'em. But time's a-wastin', and the wolves are scratching at the door, wondering if it's time for a bloodbath.

Got a tip? Send it to or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.


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