March 16 2016 02:02 PM

Lifeguard union head/former councilmember joins a packed mayor’s race

Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris joins field including Lori Saldaña to challenge Mayor Kevin “Blissful Abyss” Faulconer.
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

When you’re hanging on by your fingernails, you can’t go waving your arms around. —(Actor) Ed Harris in The Abyss

Interesting six-degrees-of-separation factoid about late-entry San Diego mayoral candidate Ed Harris and his Oscar-nominated namesake: Harris, the actor, portrayed Virgil “Bud” Brigman in the James Cameron-directed 1989 underwater sci-fi epic The Abyss.

Harris, a San Diego lifeguard for 26 years, former appointed District 2 city councilmember and one of eight who have filed papers to challenge Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the June primary, was a test diver for Cameron leading up to the director’s record solo deepsea dive into the famed Mariana Trench in 2012.

“I’ve always been very aquatic,” Harris told Spin Cycle on Saturday. A lifeguard sergeant who also serves as the union representative for city lifeguards, Harris had just been warmly greeted by labor leaders, social-justice advocates and other progressives at a precinct-walking “Raise the Wage” rally in the shadow of the green water tower in North Park.

The mission that day for walkers: Get the word out to voters that roughly 200,000 San Diegans struggle to make ends meet and “are counting on us to get this message out so that they can have a raise as soon as this measure is passed,” Councilmember Todd Gloria told the crowd of about 80 volunteers, referring to the June ballot measure that would raise the city minimum wage to $11.50 and mandate five days of paid sick leave per year.

“With the help of Ed Harris and [colleague] Marti Emerald,” Gloria said, “we got that done a few years ago. But you all know what happened, right? You all know that the mayor vetoed it”—a chorus of boos rang out—“and that billionaires and corporations who don’t even live here paid a ton of money to repeal it and delay it for two years. They may have money… but they don’t have you.”

Gloria told the crowd Harris was “the deciding vote” on the issue while on the City Council in 2014, filling in for Faulconer when he rose to the mayor’s office—the position from which he would later veto the wage/sick-leave decision. “Ed was there fighting with me,” Gloria said, “and he got the thing done.”

As the rally evolved into a training session, Harris broke away for a few minutes to talk to Spin Cycle about his decision to join the race. But he may have summed it up best as he took a hug of congratulations from a rally attendee.

“Yeah,” Harris said with a laugh, “they finally pissed me off.”

The Point Loma resident said he’s been gratified by the outpouring of support, considering what he freely described as a campaign in embryonic form. “My rollout is terrible, so I have a lot of people to talk to,” he said.

What he’s clearly projecting is a Mr. Regular Guy persona. “People always say they want a normal person to run,” Harris said, making no apologies for the late entry. “Normal people are not going to take a year and a half making promises to run for an office when they really don’t need to be there. There’s no job you can’t get done in three months.”

Harris seems relaxed for this fight, one you can tell he’s relishing. He’s patched things up with local Democratic Party Chairwoman Francine Busby after a 2013 email she sent out that erroneously tried to link Harris to a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against the city by a female lifeguard as he contemplated a run for the District 2 council seat. He chose not to run but blasted the inference during the tainted Bob Filner era.

“She got to know me and I got to know her,” he says. “Same with labor. Labor didn’t back me when I was appointed to council. But I tell them the same thing: I’m not in this office because you supported me, and I don’t owe you anything. So they’ve more than warmed up to me. I mean, they’ve been asking me for six months if I’d run, and I told them, quite frankly, this is a business where I don’t trust anybody.”

Added Harris: “The only people I want to work for are the city employees of San Diego and the citizens. And trust me, if June comes around and the citizens decide they want the status quo with Kevin, I’m going to be OK. I’m going to go back to the beach and go backpacking with my son. But I’m offering myself up to fix things, and I’m OK with that.”

The fix-it list is long and getting longer: Over his work radio and talking to dispatchers, he’s learned about delays in picking up 911 calls. “You call up and your kid’s not breathing or is choking, and you’re getting put on hold by 911 for unbelievable amounts of time,” he said. “You can’t have people on hold for 10 minutes.”

The exodus of city employees to greener economic pastures isn’t helping, he said. “I think we’re seeing it on every level. Everybody is saying we’re in trouble.”

Vacation rentals are a growing worry for some communities, Harris said, while admitting he has rented out his house before while on vacation. “But I came back to be the resident. That fits within the existing municipal code. But now a lot of people are making a business out of it. Neighborhoods are upset because they don’t have neighbors.”

He supports the Citizens Plan, the ballot initiative aiming for November that would raise the hotel tax to 15.5 percent and reform how that money is spent. Faulconer’s $200-million commitment to a Chargers stadium? “Just another taxpayer giveaway, like Belmont Park,” Harris said, referring to a lease agreement at the Mission Beach site he vehemently opposed.

Harris said voters are tired of the “deception of government,” in which politicians “perfect the ability to not tell the whole story to the public.” How good is Faulconer at that? “I think he’s really good. He’s an illusionist. He’s a magician, and I think his victim is the taxpayer. All he wants to do is show the budget is intact, show that it’s all smiles and walk over our backs to climb up into the governor’s chair.”


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