"We need to stop with the happy talk and actually deal with what's going on.”
Those words demonstrate that Gregory Thomas Morales is not your prototypical political candidate in the making. Most notably, the Encanto resident can't imagine accepting campaign contributions—particularly from the working-class San Diegans he hopes to represent as mayor.
Indeed, Morales wants to step into the vacuum that is the June mayoral primary, from which more recognizable names such as Todd Gloria and Toni Atkins have flinched due to polling and perceptions that incumbent Kevin Faulconer is unbeatable.
Morales, who spent 10 years as a member of Encanto's community planning group, thinks otherwise, but with a huge caveat. “He is beatable, as long as it doesn't depend on spending money or the ability for the news to control all access and representation,” he said during a three-hour conversation over lunch last week at the iconic Salazar's restaurant in East Village.
“The people are going to have to do it. I can't do it,” he continued. “And the idea of me raising money to try to combat somebody that already has half a million dollars—who hasn't even started campaigning yet—is absurd.”
Talking to Morales, Spin Cycle must admit, can make one's head spin. He is a wealth of information, culled from a voracious reading appetite and an observational eye that compels him to put words to paper. He says he writes 2,000 words a day, much of it on the plight of people who have little or no political power.
A self-described decline-to-state fiscal conservative/social liberal, the Texas native is not one to mince words. Kathleen MacLeod, a retired county administrator who served with Morales on the Encanto planning group, calls him “absolutely fearless. He will address the elephant in the room.”
“I think he's a very principled person,” MacLeod added. “I have a lot of respect for him. He has voiced a lot of ideas about land issues here. He just runs into a lot of brick walls, mostly the bureaucracy.”
Brian Peterson, a veterinarian who's bumped heads with city leaders over development as leader of the Grantville Action Group, said he first met Morales in 2008, when they both attended a “gathering of the dissidents” in Ocean Beach. They have been friends ever since.
“He always tells me about socio-economic theories he has that are difficult to understand at first,” Peterson wrote in an email. “But the more you think about it, they make sense.”
Peterson specifically points to Morales' argument against gentrification of poorer neighborhoods. “The thing that really makes sense is that the avenue to wealth for the underprivileged communities is home ownership,” Peterson wrote. “Gentrification should not displace current residents. Gentrification in order to provide affordable housing is retarded—my word, not Greg's—because by definition, the area is already affordable.”
Morales described his stint from 2000 to 2010 on the Encanto Neighborhoods Community Planning Group as “purgatory.”
“I was the only Latino in a Latino empowerment district,” he said. And he bristles that his City Council District 4 is considered a “black district” by leaders. “It's against the Voting Rights Act. [Former city attorney] Mike Aguirre agreed with me. Even back in 1998, District 4 was a Latino plurality population.”
When Morales pointed out the lack of Latino representation on local boards and nonprofits, he said the late firebrand Councilman George Stevens once told him, “‘When you get to be a politician, they're all the same color—money green!' Probably the most honest answer I've ever gotten from a politician. He was straight up.”
Despite the rhetoric, Morales said, “I'm not trying to promote Latino-ism or gay-ism or straightism or Republican-ism. I'm trying to say that all people should have equal and just access to the political system and representation. You should have as much sway over me as any millionaire, and that's not happening. And there's a lot of us making less than $100,000 than more, so who deserves the most access?”
As for the $100,000 and change the mayor pulls down in the job, Morales said he would set his salary based on the median income in San Diego, which he said now hovers around $63,000. The rest, he said, he'd give away to underprivileged students. His staff would also be required to make that commitment.
“We have a lot of good people in San Diego who are perfectly willing to work for what the average person in San Diego makes,” he said. “Getting rich off the public? Access to government jobs is the highest form of social welfare.”
Raised on a farm in Texas outside of San Antonio where he said his family dates back “maybe 300 years or so,” Morales fondly remembers summer jobs “pitching watermelons and growing peanuts.”
“It was good work,” he said. “There was a sense of accomplishment, and nobody was angry about working.”
After a stint in the Navy, Morales held a variety of jobs that took him to worldly places including Antarctica with famed Scripps oceanographer Walter Munk— jobs he talks about not in the sense of the actual work but the interactions he had with fellow workers.
On his Twitter page he refers to himself as a “socio-economist,” a self-given title he said was at first met with laughter.
He most recently worked as an equipment installer for AT&T until last year, when hoisting the standard 28-foot ladder issued to employees led to a torn rotator cuff and tendons in his left arm. He laments not completing that job, or rather, his effort to study that labor population.
Over the years, he estimates he's written 48 articles on the economy and labor “and pretty much been right on all of them.” In 2008, he wrote “City Planning in Zero-Water Environments” (he believes the city's water woes will escalate dramatically next year) but got no feedback from the city.
He calls the current political system in San Diego a “mutual benefit society that's taken over our city.”
“It is odd,” he added, “because public relations here is more important than policy.” He considers Faulconer “awfully vanilla tapioca for a strong mayor, and if he's not a strong mayor and he doesn't have a policy stance, who's running the city? A strong mayor should be able to fix things. Maybe I'm naïve.”