When politics blogger Pat Flannery broke the story last week about Mayor Jerry Sanders rejecting challenger Steve Francis’ recent handshake offer with a no-nonsense “Fuck you, Steve,” I enjoyed a bit of a giggle, but I didn’t think too much more about it—that is, until I interviewed Sanders later that same day. Of course, I had to ask him if he’d really said it.
At 1:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 23, Sanders didn’t hesitate to confirm that, yes indeed, he had hit Francis with a surprise F-attack right up in his face. “I’m into being genuine at this point,” he said. So, it was strange to see voiceofsandiego.org’s 2:46 p.m. blog post containing a denial from Sanders’ spokesperson, Fred Sainz, who said the claim was “patently false.” I suppose I should have blogged Sanders’ confirmation as soon as I returned to the office, but, frankly, it just didn’t rise to a level of importance above water-cooler amusement, and I didn’t check voice’s blog till later that afternoon, after Sanders confirmed the story.
Funny how a word so often used in regular conversation can draw so much attention. (What does that say about me and the people with whom I hang?) I can understand Flannery’s motivation—he hates Sanders and is campaigning for Francis. I can understand Francis’ desire to exploit it for personal gain. And I can understand Carol LeBeau’s excitement—methinks the straight-laced 10 News anchor doesn’t hear the word as often as I do.
But since it did become such a media event, and since some of the things Sanders and I talked about that day provided context for the refreshing outburst, and since CityBeat nearly corners the local market on profanity in the press, I looked forward to adding my 79 cents (2 cents in 2008 dollars).
As it happens, Union-Tribune columnist Gerry Braun beat me to much of what I have to say, so I’ll elaborate on his dead-on Sunday piece and offer a tease to the full Sanders interview, which will appear in next week’s CityBeat.
The infamous “Fuck you” was rooted in Sanders’ previously simmering frustration over how the city’s campaign-finance rules allow a stinkin’-rich dude like Francis to attempt to buy the Mayor’s office with several million dollars’ worth of advertising while a hard-workin’ Jerry Lunchpail like Sanders has to forage for $320 checks in hopes of piecing together $750,000 by the time it’s all said and done.
Sanders was characteristically soft-spoken throughout much of our chat; just about the only time he grew even slightly agitated was when talk of real-estate developers and fund-raising came up.
“You know what I think people are buying in to,” he said, “and it bothers me, because I think it’s very dangerous—is that it’s OK to write a check yourself for a huge amount of money, but it’s not OK to accept checks from people that want to support you, and that’s my biggest concern.”
Right or wrong, Sanders genuinely believes developers and others with potential business before city government donate to campaigns not because they expect a return on their investment, but because they simply believe one candidate will be a better public servant than another. Even when a developer’s lobbyist raises thousands of dollars in individual contributions and ensures credit by initiating all the envelopes, Sanders said, it’s still too insignificant a drop in the bucket to buy anything. And, like all pro-growthers at City Hall, he grimaces whenever builders are mentioned in unflattering terms because he sees nothing inherently evil in what these folks do for a living. After all, he pleads, everyone needs a place to live, and San Diegans refuse to stop procreating.
Nevertheless, Sanders felt obliged to cave to the perception of him as a lapdog of the real-estate business and vowed not to accept donations from locals developers. And from Sanders’ point of view, that’s akin to having to tie both arms behind his back before he charges into battle against Spendy McSpendington.
In Sanders’ eyes, everything Francis is doing is easy. Spending money is easy. Vowing not to accept contributions is easy. Saying he’ll clear the “special interests” out of City Hall is easy. Making matters worse, picking up support from the Anyone-But-Sanders crew is easy. Sanders is flabbergasted that labor unions would consider endorsing Francis, who vows to lay off city workers with crazed abandon, just because they’re pissed at Sanders for wanting to switch the pension system to a partial-401k plan (Francis supports a full switch to a 401k and, like Sanders, managed competition for city jobs). That’s how the mayor sees it, anyway. And that’s why he needed to release some pressure with a well-placed “Fuck you.”
And, by gum, we’re proud of him. Let ’em have it, Jerry.
You know what, Steve Francis should go ahead and tell someone to fuck off. So should Pat Flannery and Carol LeBeau and Fred Sainz (actually, Sainz probably needs no encouragement). Surely, they’re each pissed at someone for some grievous injustice. In fact, why don’t we all say “Fuck you” to someone who deserves it—just get it out our systems—and then get back to work. I think we’ll all feel a little bit better.
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