News conferences in San Diego, by and large, tend to be exercises in goofball entertainment rather than forums for the dissemination of useful information. As such, we at CityBeat find these little media-and-politics get-togethers immensely pleasurable.
We attended two of them last Friday and Saturday—that's right, Saturday; there's nothing we won't do for our readers—and they scored particularly high on the CityBeat Fun-O-Meter™. Instead of commenting on the issues discussed at the press events in some boring editorial, we thought we'd pit them against each other in the first-ever Goofball News Conference Challenge™.
In one corner is the Kindly Mayor of San Diego, everyone's favorite Business Reengineering Processor with the Winning Smile, Jerry Sanders! Yay! Sanders gathered the press to announce he's carrying on the 17-year battle to save the Mt. Soledad Cross. And in the other corner, the Dreaded Chairman of San Diego County, that Marijuana Hatin', Illegal Immigrant Bashin' Supervisor who Laughs in the Ugly Maw of Controversy on a Weekly Basis, Bill Horn! Boo! Horn assembled the media to announce that he wants the feds to kick down the cash to pay for county services provided to illegal immigrants. Good luck, gentlemen-let the Goofball News Conference Challenge™ begin!
Best maneuver to keep the press off balance: The winner here is Sanders. It's all about timing. Sanders picked Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m., knowing that TV news hotties would have to wake by 5:30 a.m. in order to primp and still be on time, and that print reporters would be too hungover to ask hard questions.
Best political-intrigue sideshow: Horn wins in a landslide. Well, it wasn't much of a show, and only CityBeat paid it any mind, but on hand for Horn's event was Joan Wonsley, the chief of staff with whom Horn's rumored to have been gettin' down and nasty. Thinking we might need it later, CityBeat snapped a couple of photos of Wonsley, who responded by saying people should have to apply for permits to take pictures. When CityBeat said it hopes she and her hostile attitude toward press freedoms never get elected to public office, Wonsley said not to worry; that'll never happen. The best Sanders could do in the category was invite City Attorney Mike Aguirre, during whose turn at the microphone City Councilmember Brian Maienschein had quite an obvious giggle with someone off to the side of the TV cameras.
Most orderly baton-passing: Sanders brought a set of backup singers with him. In addition to Aguirre and Maienschein, Sanders had City Councilmembers Tony Young and Kevin Faulconer, as well as former City Council candidate and current cross crusader Phil Thalheimer, along for the ride. They minded their manners and took their turns at the mic, making it easy-as-pie for reporters to figure out who said what when they went back to their notebooks later—nothing like Horn whose dizzying, back-and-forth tag-teamery with Congressional candidate Brian Bilbray made reporters woozy.
Best use of extras: Horn and Bilbray used no extras at all, other than a few loitering yes-men, making the two pols look like Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in Jerry. (Don't fret; no one else gets the reference, either. How about Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman in Ishtar, only without the hot chick. Not yet? Two dudes alone in the desert! Sheesh.) On the other hand, thanks, apparently, to gabby radio gasser Roger Hedgecock, Sanders had 60 to 70 cross-supportin' San Diegans seated on the steps behind him, cheering for any speaker who uttered pleasantries about the erect hilltop monument. Makes good television, wethinks.
Best question by a journalist: Horn wins this one. He set the North County Times' Gig Conaughton up beautifully as he told reporters how certain he is that illegal immigrants siphon money away from the county like so many gasoline pirates, and that's why the county needs to do a study to show the feds how much money it's losing. Conaughton prefaced his question by saying that some studies have shown that illegal immigrants are an overall economic benefit, and then asked: Will the county be studying the gains as well as the losses? No, Horn replied, someone else can study that. Of course, not looking at both sides of a ledger renders any financial study completely useless. The best Question to Sanders was something akin to “Really? Are you serious?”
Best setting: No doubt about this one. Sanders. Horn set his podium in front of the County Administration Building. Booooooring. He had so many other options. How about beside an immigrant shamefully accepting medical care. Better yet, beside an immigrant woman brazenly giving birth to—gasp!—a new American baby boy who did nothing to deserve his citizenship. Horn just wasn't thinking creatively. Granted, Sanders' choice was obvious, but the crisp morning air at Mt. Soledad was so delightful, the view from the peak so heart-stirring, that even people who take the U.S. Constitution seriously might have paused before condemning the mayor.
Best avoidance of flip-flopping sidekicks: Say what you want about Horn and Bilbray, but they've never wavered from their extreme distaste for illegal immigrants. Strangely, Sanders invited Aguirre, who'd been quoted in the press just days earlier saying it's a waste of time and money to appeal a judge's recent order for San Diego to rid Mt. Soledad of the cross in 90 days or start paying $5,000 a day in fines. Amid words of support for the mayor's plea, Aguirre had to caution that any legal maneuvering would be of an uphill nature. The city attorney's prior stance prompted one woman, makeshift cross and American flag in hand, to give him a firm talking to after the conference. Horn wins this one.
Dumbest idea: After much thoughtful deliberation, even though neither man will suffer politically, it's a tie. These are both colossally dumb ideas.