June 3, 2008, is the most important local Election Day since CityBeat began publishing in 2002, and for weeks we've been agonizing over whom to endorse for various offices. We even toyed with taking the easy way out by endorsing the candidates with the highest entertainment value.
If what you're most interested in is a rip-roarin' good time-and we wouldn't blame you-here's our Fun Factor slate of candidates:
Mayor: Eric Bidwell
City Council, District 1: Marshall Merrifield
City Council, District 3: John Hartley
City Council, District 5: Carl DeMaio
City Council, District 7: Marti Emerald
City Attorney: Mike Aguirre
How fantastic would that be? Merrifield seems to have a thing for Broadway show tunes; in place of the invocation, maybe he could begin each meeting with a song from The King and I or Oklahoma! And there'd be nary a dull moment as DeMaio and Emerald battle for microphone minutes. And Hartley? There's no telling what he might do-and where he might do it.
Actually, with Bidwell as the chief executive, we'd be fine with abolishing the City Council.
Alas, Bidwell isn't likely to emerge victorious. San Diego just isn't ready for a young, weed-smoking revolutionary with dreadlocks and a Dodge van for a domicile making decisions about deferred maintenance and business-process reengineering. Maybe someday. We can dream, can't we?
The man in the nice office on the 11th floor of City Hall come 2009 will either be incumbent Jerry Sanders or challenger Steve Francis, and so we'll definitely need the City Council to act as a legislative counterbalance to mayoral power. That's as good a reason as any to begin our recommendations with the candidates for the four odd-numbered City Council districts.
What we're looking for in a City Council is people who will do their homework, look out for San Diegans who need the most help, mind the municipal piggy bank, protect the neighborhoods and act as a check on the executive branch. We also think it's time to find out once and for all what kind of leader Donna Frye can be, so we're looking for a City Council that would give her a chance to be the president of the legislative body. Maybe she's not leader material; perhaps she's best as the noisy opposition. But she's the very embodiment of the criteria we have in mind: She's been a fiscal conservative and a guardian for the public who hasn't been afraid to anger parts of her own constituency, and her tireless work has earned her the opportunity to lead the council into a new era. With all that in mind, let's get to it:
District 1-Two Republicans and a Democrat are running to represent the area including La Jolla, University City, Carmel Valley and Rancho Peñasquitos. If we had to choose between Marshall Merrifield and Phil Thalheimer, we'd take Merrifield in a second. Thalheimer, whose name recognition and campaign organization will likely get him into the November runoff, scares us. He's too conservative for this moderate district; his concern about illegal immigration indicates skewed priorities and conjures thoughts of county Supervisor Bill Horn [shudder].
Merrifield, while obviously intelligent, doesn't fit into our progressive agenda. That's why we're endorsing Sherri Lightner. She won't set the world afire with her dynamic personality, but she's a smart cookie (longtime engineer at General Atomics) who will do her homework, read the fine print and ask the hard questions that will need to be asked of the mayor and his staff. She's paid her dues at the community level and won't need any time getting up to speed on issues involving growth and development in the neighborhoods. Having done time on the La Jolla Shores Association, the La Jolla Community Planning Association, the La Jolla Town Council and the La Jolla Historical Society, she's well versed in arcane community-planning minutia. Just as important, she'll vote the right way (the left way) on social and environmental issues.
District 3-With apologies to Paul Broadway, Robert Lee and James "God, I Hate Fags" Hartline, only three of the six candidates in this race stand a chance to advance beyond the primary: Todd Gloria, John Hartley and Stephen Whitburn. So, they're the candidates we've considered. The good news is that, in our view, you can't make too big a mistake, no matter which chad you choose to dangle.
We had a grand time talking recently with John Hartley about the issues facing San Diego and enjoyed hearing the stories from his time on the City Council in the early 1990s, when he forged his legacy, his successful drive to create district-by-district City Council elections rather than citywide votes (he'll always have our admiration for that).
It's safe to say that Hartley's main focuses, if elected, will be on law and order and engendering grassroots movements from the neighborhoods on various policies and planning issues. That's all well and good, but there's one policy on which we and he are miles apart-needle exchange. We support it; he doesn't. That's a big deal for us.And then there's the matter of his arrest earlier this spring. A couple of witnesses say he was peeing in a cup and jerking off in his car. He copped to a charge of lewd behavior, and prosecutors dropped a more serious indecent-exposure charge. He's apologized to the community at large for the mistake of choosing the wrong place to "take a leak"-perhaps the first time ever those words have been used in campaign propaganda.
We don't know for sure what happened in that pickup truck, and we don't really want to know, but the whole thing smacks of a serious lapse in judgment, and we worry what other forms it might take in the arena of public service.We like Stephen Whitburn a lot; much of what he says about the issues is music to our ears. We believe Whitburn, a former radio news reporter who came to San Diego six years ago in search of a career in politics, would be a strong advocate for smart community planning that seeks to preserve the character of the city's diverse neighborhoods. We're convinced that he would vote CityBeat's way almost all of the time. He's a classic liberal, and we love classic liberals.
But our guy in this race is Todd Gloria, who serves as the chief of Congressmember Susan Davis' City Heights office. We'll admit that we were once skeptical of Gloria's candidacy. We initially saw him as the "establishment" Democrat who might too often cave to the wishes of people with money and influence. We were as concerned about his contributions from developers as are the folks more inclined to back Whitburn in this race.
But then we met with Gloria, and he impressed us mightily. He knows the issues as well as any candidate for city office who's come down the pike during CityBeat's six-year ride. In particular, we like what Gloria has to say about affordable housing; his time on the Housing Commission has served him well. A San Diego native, he knows the city like back of his proverbial hand. We love that he lives in City Heights, San Diego's most ethnically diverse neighborhood and location of the city's poorest precincts. Lastly, one City Hall observer who's known Gloria for many years told us, "Todd won't be afraid to say no to developers."
By no means do we intend to slight Whitburn-we look forward to supporting him in the future, but this time we're going with Gloria.
District 5-Small-government advocate Carl DeMaio came bursting onto the scene several years ago promising to help end an era of backroom shenanigans and budgetary boneheadedness. Never the object of affection among people who appreciate what unions have done for working families, DeMaio arrived carrying the baggage of affiliations with folks who want to shrink government down so small it can be easily drowned in a bathtub.
As such, he's not our kind of public official. Add to that his gargantuan ego, which has reportedly alienated even some pro-business types and some taxpayer-advocate types, and what you have is a guy who's liable to be awfully lonely at City Hall.
Nonetheless, his message is likely to resonate with the conservative voters of Rancho Bernardo, and we predict he'll win going away. If he does, we hope he stays true to parts of his platform: government transparency and meaningful separation of powers. At least the man doesn't think the mayor should pick his own auditor.
But having watched DeMaio operate for the past five years, we can't help but think of the guy as a slippery snake-oil salesman. We half expect him to sell us a dangerous, dilapidated monorail system before singing and dancing his way out of town with a suitcase full of money: "Well, sir, there's nothing on Earth like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail!" (The Simpsons, "Marge vs. the Monorail," Season 4, Episode 12.)
DeMaio's opponent is George George. Really, that's his name. George Squared-who's heard all the jokes, so save 'em-is a Democrat and former fire chief who knows fire. He really knows fire. Seriously, the dude knows fire. And he owns a kettle-corn company. Who doesn't like kettle corn? We endorse him.
District 7-The top two candidates running to replace Jim Madaffer offer voters a choice between a liberal populist backed by labor and Donna Frye and a fiscal hawk supported by business and taxpayer groups. The liberal, Marti Emerald, is a charismatic career journalist who's made a name in San Diego as a TV-news consumer advocate. The conservative, April Boling, is a soft-spoken politically connected accountant who once served as the head of the local Taxpayers Association. It's perhaps the most intriguing race, playing out in a district (College Area, Rolando, San Carlos, Del Cerro, Tierrasanta) where Democrats outnumber Republicans, but where a large group of decline-to-state independents tends to vote conservative.
We've given Boling a long look in this race. There's plenty to be said for electing a CPA with extensive knowledge of city finance and taxpayer-advocate credentials to a legislative body that's facing several more years of tight-belt budgeting. Boling was a member of former Mayor Dick Murphy's Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances and later chair of the city's Pension Reform Committee. She knows her stuff, and we believe she'd not only read the fine print of financial documents but also understand it. Outgoing City Council President Scott Peters likes to say that City Hall suffered a heart attack in 2003; one could make the case that Boling's just what the doctor ordered.
But it's her participation on the Blue Ribbon Committee that has raised questions about how she might comport herself in a leadership role. In 2002, one member of that panel, NASSCO president Richard Vortmann, wrote a memo to his colleagues that expressed concern that the committee hadn't rung a loud enough bell signaling financial disaster at a time when city officials were borrowing money to pay for construction of Petco Park and entering into negotiations with employee unions. That memo was unearthed by CityBeat in 2005, and Emerald has beaten Boling over the head with it, loudly wondering why Boling, whose mind we now know was like Vortmann's on the pension-related problems, hadn't shouted about it from the mountaintops before the City Council gave away the store in union negotiations in the spring of 2002.
It's a good question: Why was it Diann Shipione, a member of the city's retirement-system board, who blew a whistle in November 2002 (to no avail), and not Boling. Perhaps she has an answer, but she's not saying. CityBeat recently offered her a chance to talk about it, but she clammed up. And that, coupled with the fact that Boling is sure to vote against progressive policies that we're likely to favor, is why we can't endorse her.
Instead, we're backing Emerald. We tend to get nervous about people as slick and polished as this TV personality, but we've been assured by folks we respect that she's got brains underneath the veneer and will do her homework. We know she'll be a strong liberal voice when it comes to social policies, and we hope that she'll join Frye in holding the line on spending, particularly when it comes to approving union contracts.
Words can't express our disappointment in the absence of a viable progressive in the mayor's race. We don't appreciate being put in a position of having to choose between a conservative incumbent-who has neither a vision for the future nor the capacity to inspire us to follow him into it-and a made-for-television challenger who's politically viable only because he's rich.
Steve Francis, the challenger, apparently made a fortune in the temporary-nurse business after a short career in the Nevada Legislature, where he established himself as a paint-by-numbers conservative Republican who earned low marks from unions and environmentalists.
Now he wants us to believe that the green he's interested in is the color of conservation, not the color of money, and that he's a guardian of working families. He wants us to take it on faith that this miraculous turn of a new leaf is the result of personal growth rather than because the only route to the Mayor's office is to the left of the incumbent.
Never mind that in 2005, when the open path was on the right flank, that's where you could find Francis. This time, the city's conservative establishment committed early to Jerry Sanders, so Francis started talking almost like a liberal populist-except, that is, when it comes to gay marriage, where Sanders just happened to veer off the conservative road. The constituencies alienated by Sanders are critical of his cozy relationship with business-oriented special interests such as developers and hoteliers. What a coincidence: Francis is disgusted by the very same thing! Uncanny.
Guess what. We're not buying what Francis is selling. We're well-stocked with products peddled by pandering politicians who use too much hairspray. But wait, you might counter-Francis wouldn't present himself one way during a campaign and then revert to his old self after winning the race, yelling "Suckers!" and barring his new office doors. Would he?
One would think not. But we don't trust the guy. He just doesn't seem real.
By contrast, Mayor Sanders, the person, is nothing if not genuine. With apologies to his strident critics, we like the guy. We've tried not to, but we can't help it. Sanders' unfortunate neglect of San Diego's homeless citizens notwithstanding-and that's no small hash mark on the wrong side of the ledger-we believe he's generally a compassionate man. His heartfelt declaration of support for the right of gay and lesbian Americans to marry the partners of their choice sent us a positive message.
Actually, that event told us a number of things, one of which is that we have reason to be concerned about the mayor's political operation. The advice he was given, which he was initially inclined to follow, was to veto the City Council's decision to support gay marriage in a case before the state Supreme Court. To borrow from Abe Lincoln, Sanders, whose daughter is gay, listened to the better angels of his nature and rejected the advice. We worry that he doesn't have the guts to do that nearly often enough. We suspect that too often he follows advice aimed not at doing the right thing but protecting and advancing the interests of the political machine.
For Sanders, job No. 1 is to back the city's RV away from the jagged cliff of bankruptcy and get Wall Street to believe it's OK to think warm, fuzzy thoughts about San Diego again, and, honestly, we don't have too much to gripe about there. We don't so much mind his generally hard line on the white-collar employee union, which benefited handsomely from city leaders' stupidity in the late 1990s and early 2000s but now has to be part of the solution. Like with City Attorney Mike Aguirre, we're inclined to give Sanders a fairly long rope when it comes to correcting the mistakes of the past. Neither man was responsible for this mess.
However, we do have some issues with Sanders:
He was too slow to acknowledge the disaster that was the Sunroad Enterprises too-tall office tower scandal. Sunroad's owner was a campaign fund-raiser for Sanders, and even though he didn't raise a ton of money, the incident, in which the city failed to make sure Sunroad complied with federal aviation standards, cast light on Sanders' administration's smoochy-smoochy relationship with developers and raised questions about preferential treatment for fund-raisers. And his internal "investigation" of the matter was a traveshamockery. You heard us-a traveshamockery.
One of our gravest concerns during the 2005 campaign was Sanders' pledge to grease the wheels of the development permitting process, and Sunroad showed us we had plenty reason to fret. Sanders now acknowledges that his zeal to get out of the way of builders was a mistake and points to Sunroad as his worst failure.
We appreciate Sanders' efforts to "reengineer" the city's "business processes," a euphemism to beat all euphemisms that we think means "make sure departments are running efficiently." That's a good thing. But he went too far with his "managed competition," another euphemism meaning "outsourcing city jobs."
What we fear Sanders is doing is officiating a race to the bottom, encouraging private companies (Sanders' constituency) to score contracts by undercutting city departments in pay and benefits. We're as chagrinned as anyone about the abuses that occurred during past negotiations with the unions, but we don't want to hand city government over to the private sector. Alas, the voters gave Sanders the go-ahead, so we shall see how transparent the competition is. That brings us to:
Sanders' poor record of open government. As we've mentioned, too much of the mayor's crew's energy seems to be spent on protecting the machine. One way that's done is by keeping too much public information private. The recent brouhaha over an e-mail from Sanders spokesperson Fred Sainz to U-T editorial page editor Bob Kittle (the e-mail is part of a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by a top Sanders official) exemplified the administration's attitude about public information. Sanders' team held on to the e-mail for too long in spite of the public's right to see it. The e-mail turned out to be much ado about nothing, in our judgment, but the mayor's insistence on hanging onto it was revealing.
The mayor has shown no interest in doing anything for homeless San Diegans other than arrest them. When City Attorney Mike Aguirre proposed a safe zone Downtown where homeless folks could sleep without fear of arrest, Sanders reacted like a compassionless ogre. Not cool.
He craves more power than we want him to have. In an interview published last week, Sanders said City Councilmember Tony Young has a different idea than he does about the balance of power at City Hall. Well, that means we and Sanders have different ideas, because we agree with Young. Sanders supported an initiative to require the City Council to muster six votes-out of eight total-to override a mayoral veto of a council decision. Thankfully, he lost that battle. Sanders thinks his office should have greater power than the council. We disagree.One might conclude, given this litany, that we can't possibly endorse Sanders for reelection. One would be right about that. We cannot, in good conscience "endorse" him. However, considering that our choices are Sanders, Francis and some other guys who don't stand a chance, and since we really don't want Francis to be the mayor, we're recommending a vote for Sanders. Believe us, it feels weird saying that, but that's where we are.
Nowhere else but in San Diego is a city attorney election so damned interesting. Nowhere else but in San Diego has Mike Aguirre been city attorney.
Love him or hate him, Aguirre has forced us to examine the role a city attorney plays in local government. Is it a City Hall watchdog and white-collar crime fighter? Is it simply the legal counsel for the City Council, litigator for the government and prosecutor of misdemeanors? Is it all of the above? Can it be all of the above? Will we ever decide?
Five people want the job. One says, "I'm Mike Aguirre, and I'm going to keep on being Mike Aguirre." The other four say, "I'm not Mike Aguirre, and I'd like to send Mike Aguirre on a no-return train ride to Somewhere Else."
Brian Maienschein-The Republican member of the City Council is apparently popular in his home district (Rancho Bernardo area) but failed in eight years on the council to distinguish himself in any meaningful way.
Maienschein was one of the people who voted for an idiotic deal in 2002 in which the council approved new and retroactive pension benefits for city employees that the city could not afford to pay; in exchange, the city's retirement-system board of trustees, which included union representatives and other city employees, agreed to allow the city to continue to shortchange the pension system. The agreement was a recipe for financial disaster.
Once San Diego was dubbed "Enron by the Sea," Maienschein pretty much disappeared, keeping quiet as colleagues Jim Madaffer and Scott Peters waged a war of words against Aguirre. Later in his tenure, Maienschein was often missing from City Council meetings, recently telling the press that he'd been absent because of a sick daughter. He reemerged when his district was in flames last fall. Whatever. We see no reason at all why anyone would support his candidacy.
Scott Peters-The moderate Democrat is the embodiment of the anti-Aguirre crowd. He sees the current occupant of the office that he seeks as a reckless loon who's needlessly costing the city millions upon millions of dollars in legal fees in a quixotic quest to prove he's right and everyone else is wrong.
Peters has acknowledged that under-funding the pension system was "stupid" (his word), but he insists there was nothing nefarious about the deal involving the crazy-expensive employee benefits. Whether or not the pact was corrupt is for a judge to decide, but regardless, it was a cowardly move by a City Council that wanted to take the easy way out of a budget mess in the short term, leaving taxpayers holding the bag in the long run. A highly intelligent individual, if anyone knew what was going on and what the consequences were, it was Peters.
Peters wants credit for how the council responded after all hell broke loose and investigators of all shapes and sizes descended on City Hall. Everyone makes mistakes, is his position, and the City Council recovered by reforming the pension board, hiring investigators and prohibiting under-funding in the future, among other fixes.
"You have to look at how people recover from their mistakes," he told CityBeat recently. "I just think it's so incomplete not to talk about how we've addressed it, because we have fixed it."
The flipside of that claim is that the City Council had no choice but to make those changes, politically speaking.
Another problem we have with Peters and Maienschein is their refusal to correct a serious problem with the way San Diegans were being charged for use of the sewer system. The City Council was informed in 2002 that it was illegally overcharging residents and undercharging industry, but the City Council was defiant in its lack of action-until a class-action lawsuit forced a fix, costing the city $5 million in attorney fees. Aguirre can't be blamed for that one.
On the positive side, unlike Maienschein, Peters took on a leadership role amid the chaos. He's admired in some quarters for his ability to broker deals behind the scenes-"compromise" might as well be his middle name-and our friends in the environmental and labor communities say he's easy to work with, even if he doesn't always vote their way (See: Rose Canyon, La Jolla seals, living wage).
Peters would probably be a good manager of the office, which is essentially a large law firm, but we want a city attorney with a bit of fire in the belly. Peters doesn't like confrontation, and we think he'd be lousy at the part of the job that would require him to root out malfeasance at City Hall. With all that's gone down in the past eight years, we just can't support him for this job.
Jan Goldsmith-At first glance, Goldsmith, a superior court judge currently on leave, seems like a good choice to follow Aguirre's act. He says he agrees with at least the gist of what Aguirre believes is wrong with City Hall but promises to attack it with a more, shall we say, even-keeled approach and a more, shall we say, deliberate legal analysis.
It's tempting to side with an outsider who'd perhaps calm the ever-present hubbub, particularly someone who preaches a dispassionate application of the law to whatever conundrum emerges. Goldsmith goes to great lengths to say that his opinion won't factor into legal decisions.
That attitude concerns us because we don't think it's possible. Laws are interpreted all the live-long day. What is an interpretation if not an opinion of what was intended with a piece of legislation?
For example, we asked Goldsmith how he would have handled the lawsuit filed by lawyers representing a handful of homeless people, which argued that citing them for sleeping in public when there's not enough shelter beds to go around is unconstitutional. It was modeled on a similar suit from Los Angeles that was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Aguirre settled the suit by helping broker a deal between the plaintiffs and the cops that allows sleeping in public at certain times. Goldsmith said he disagrees with the court's opinion in that case and would have fought the homeless folks' lawyers.
First of all, Goldsmith contradicts his own assertion that he wouldn't have opinions-by stating his opinion! Secondly, we don't like his opinion. We don't want a city attorney going into legal battle against homeless people, and we're concerned that his stance on that matter is a canary in a coalmine when it comes to all manner of other issues. It doesn't bode well-nor does his endorsement from District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis bode well for his willingness to fight white-collar crime or hold cops accountable. We can't endorse Goldsmith.
Mike Aguirre-So much to say about the man; so little space. We like Mike, we really do. We sometimes even like the way he wants to talk about important issues on Saturday mornings when all we want to do is veg on the couch. We were gung-ho with him when he charged into office on a crusade against corruption. We agreed with his attempt to nullify the pension benefits that the City Council so dumbly approved. He was spot-on in his criticism of the Sunroad debacle. We had no problem with his handling of the Mount Soledad landslide. We think he's generally right on the substance of important issues, and we're in sync with his broad worldview.
But there are undeniable downsides to this Tasmanian Devil of a city attorney.
Briefly: He's too combative to the point of counter-productivity. His well-publicized skirmishes against former Union-Tribune reporter Alex Roth were childish. His conspiratorial claims against KPBS were ill-advised and just plain nutty. His press conferences are too frequent and too time-consuming. We worry that he's not capable of saying, "I was wrong."
More importantly, though, he seems to be too tunnel-visioned about his legacy case-the "illegal" pension benefits. Even former Aguirre supporters, people who aren't always gassing on and on about what a horrible person he is, say he's let too many other duties fall by the wayside. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad if he'd been successful in his big case, but, while it's on appeal and there's still a chance, there's no indication that he's going to win back all that taxpayer money.
We've come to conclude that city attorney is just not the right position for Aguirre. He's long desired public office, and he finally got himself elected to one, but we believe he's better suited to a seat on the City Council. He'll argue against this, strenuously, but what he really wants to do is make public policy, and we think he'd be a damn-good policy maker. We'd actually like to see him run against Kevin Faulconer in District 2 in 2010. Wouldn't that be a hoot?
It pains us to say this, but we can't endorse Aguirre, either.
Amy Lepine-So, that leaves us with two choices: Lepine or None of the Above. Lepine hasn't given us any reason to think she'd be good or bad at running a huge law firm. All we know is that she agreed to Aguirre at first and then soured on him real quick. She's feisty and likes his notion that the office should be independent and not just a consigliere to the City Council. Maybe that's enough, but if we were to endorse her, it would probably be just because she's not named Maienschein, Peters, Goldsmith or Aguirre. Besides, she's not going to make it past the primary whether we back her or not.
So, this has been a terribly longwinded way to say that we're not prepared to endorse any candidate for city attorney. Maybe in November when there are only two choices, but not now. You're on your own.
San Diego School Board
Elections for school-board trustees work like this: Voters within a district decide which two candidates get to advance to the November general election when the entire city gets to decide the winner. This year, there are three seats on the ballot.
District A-Though school-board seats are nonpartisan, party affiliation seems to be defining this race, with Democrats lining up behind psychologist John Lee Evans, who launched a run for Congress before switching to school board. The incumbent, Republican Mitz Lee, also toyed with running for a different office: San Diego City Council.
We've seen no evidence that Lee is using her position to advance any sort of GOP agenda-if anything, she's disappointed hard-core Republicans in at least one instance when she declined to chastise a school for allowing its students to participate in the annual gay-pride parade. We've seen Lee in action for a few years, first as an involved parent and now as a trustee-she's smart and does her homework. Both Lee and Evans will advance to the general election but, for now, there's no reason District A folks shouldn't re-elect Lee.
District D-This is an easy one. Only one candidate got enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot: Richard Barrera, an organizer with United Healthcare Workers. Though we suspect local Dems are grooming Barrera for higher office (too often, school boards are the jumping-off point for aspiring pols), we would have endorsed him anyway.
Incumbent Luis Acle, who's running as a write-in, broke a whole bunch of campaign rules and got slapped by the city's Ethics Commission with a fine the size of a small house-literally ($210,000). Yikes! So, if you happen to live in District D, you'll have no problem filling in the bubble for Barrera.
District E-There are three candidates vying to represent the area east of the 805 and north of the 54 freeway: incumbent Shelia Jackson, retired teacher Marjorie Thomas and high-school math teacher Xeng Yang. While Jackson's impressed us with her strong stance against state budget cuts to education, this race will likely become about charter schools, which are disproportionately located in Jackson's district. Jackson's been critical of charters and is often the lone vote on the school board against new charter-school proposals. Thomas, on the other hand, sits on the board of the Nubia Leadership Academy, a charter school, though we've not heard a peep from her as a candidate. Yang, who currently teaches high school in the Grossmont School District, wants to see more emphasis on technology-an area in which the school board could certainly use some expertise. While we see no reason to oust the incumbent, we'd like to see Shelia Jackson and Xeng Yang move on to the general election in District E.
Because it takes either an act of God or a scandal of the most unsavory kind to remove an incumbent supervisor unwillingly from office, there's really no point in giving these races any ink at all. But just for fun, we endorse challengers Howard Johnson (over Greg Cox in District 1), Rudy Reyes (over Dianne Jacob in District 2) and John Van Doorn (over Pam Slater-Price in District 3). OK, moving on .
Most of the primaries for state Senate or Assembly are either wholly owned subsidiaries of entrenched incumbents or, in the case of open seats, the candidates are running unopposed for their party's nomination. The Democratic race for the nomination in the 78th assembly is the lone exception in our area. Of the four Democrats in the race, the only one we really can't abide is Auday Arabo, the head of the Independent Grocer's Association. Not only did Arabo switch his party allegiance from Republican to Democrat shortly before this election cycle, but he once worked for Republican Brian Bilbray in Washington. Guilt by association.
But among the other three, we kind of like them all. Retired college professor Maxine Sherard gave Republican incumbent Shirley Horton a pretty good run last time around. Arlie Ricasa has been elected twice to the Sweetwater Unified School District board, and as a Filipina would represent an underrepresented minority in the district. Marty Block is a white-guy liberal who won two elections for the Community College District. All of these candidates believe that education funding, improved healthcare and protecting the environment are top priorities. But we've endorsed Sherard before-no reason to stop now. We'd like to see her get a chance against Chula Vista City Councilmember John McCann in November. Please vote for Sherard.
District 52-For once, San Diegans have an open seat to contemplate, or at least, East County San Diegans do, with the retirement of Duncan Hunter after his perhaps too-subtle attempt to become president. His son, Duncan D. Hunter, has declared his candidacy for the 52nd District seat, and has secured half a million dollars in fundraising. But frankly, all of the Republicans are too God-fearing for our taste, so we're going to have to strand East County Republicans without the benefit of our advice.
On the Democratic side, we like both ex-Navy SEAL Mike Lumpkin and health-and-education advocate Vickie Butcher. A vote for either of these candidates would be a vote for the good guys, but we're going to suggest you pick Lumpkin. We want to see Republicans accuse an actual Iraq veteran of cutting and running when he advocates Iraq withdrawal.
District 50-Up in North County, any Democratic challenger looking to unseat Rep. Brian Bilbray will have his or her hands full. School psychologist Cheryl Ede is running a scrappy campaign, but her preference to withdraw American troops from foreign military bases is a little too isolationist for us. Attorney Nick Leibham wants a fixed timeline for troop withdrawal, believes San Diego can be a leader in developing clean-energy technology and has already shown himself an able fundraiser, possibly able enough to duke it out with a well-funded Republican incumbent in the fall. Our pick in this race is Leibham.
District 53-Closer to home, incumbent Democratic Rep. Susan Davis has to cope with a primary challenger in the form of microbiologist Mike Copass. We're disappointed in Davis' lack of leadership on so many issues important to us, whether it's bringing home the troops, fighting global warming or improving healthcare coverage. We acknowledge that Copass is a long-shot to win, but we suggest voting for him to give Davis a wake-up call. Vote for Copass.
Districts 49 and 51-Rep. Bob Filner, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to improve conditions for our returning veterans. We admire his positions on the border and immigration. We're happy to continue to support him. Do whatever you want in District 49; Darrell Issa's not going to lose.
Endorsing candidates for judge is tough because, by nature of the position, they're not going to loudly declare their positions on issues. Sure, we'd love a candidate who's openly opposed to the death penalty and has opined publicly that there are better options than prison for low-level drug offenders. That's not to say there's nothing to make us prefer one candidate over another in the two contested judicial offices. For Office 19, Paul Cooper, who serves as counsel to the San Diego police chief, is running against Superior Court Commissioner Garry Haehnle. For Office 45, it's Robert Faigin, chief legal advisor to the Sheriff's Department, versus Deputy District Attorney Evan Kirvin. (There's a third open seat with only one candidate.)
Kirvin and Faigin were involved in a rather unpleasant skirmish over the accuracy of each other's candidate statement (a judge ultimately ruled that both included misleading information), but we'll pick Kirvin over Faigin for the same reason we're endorsing Haehnle over Cooper. Law-enforcement officers in California enjoy strong protections when it comes to making public anything in personnel files-and because of that, any time an officer is accused of excessive use-of-force or shoots and kills a civilian, it's difficult for the public to find out what really happened. In cases where someone takes a police officer to court for alleged misconduct, a judge will decide whether or not to make that officer's personnel file available to a plaintiff. Personnel files are where a jury can learn whether an officer's got a clean background or has been accused of misconduct before. It's been Cooper's and Faigin's job to argue to keep that information sealed. While we have no good evidence that they won't weigh these sorts of decisions carefully as judges, we feel strongly enough about the issue to be wary. That's why, for judge, we support Haehnle in Office 19 and Kirvin in Office 45.
Props. A, B, C
In 2006, voters gave the mayor of San Diego the authority to outsource more city jobs to the private sector through a competitive process. We were against it, but we obviously failed to convince enough of you people that it was a bad idea. Prop. A would prevent the city from handing over public-safety jobs to the Acme Police and Fire Co. That's a good thing. Vote yes on Prop. A.
Prop. B would require the city of San Diego to ask us, in 2010, three questions: Should we make the trial executive-mayor form of government, scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2010, permanent? Should we add a ninth seat to the City Council? If we do add a ninth seat, should we make it so the City Council would have to come up with six votes to override a veto by the mayor? Remember, voting yes on Prop. B isn't saying yes to those three questions; it's just saying the city has to ask us about those things in two years. This is a no-brainer. Vote yes on Prop. B.
Currently, the San Diego city auditor, the person who makes sure the municipal finances are on the up and up, is a member of the mayor's staff. That's no bueno. The auditor needs to be out from under the mayor's thumb. Prop. C improves the situation significantly. The auditor would be appointed to a 10-year term, supervised by an audit committee (two City Council members and three citizen finance experts) and removed only with a two-thirds vote of the City Council, upon recommendation by the audit committee.
But this isn't good enough. There is no reason for the mayor to have anything to do with the process, but under this measure, the mayor picks the auditor, albeit subject to council confirmation. The mayor is also part of the process for picking the majority of audit committee members. The city's former auditor, John Torell, whom we admired, left because of the dysfunction at City Hall. He's against Prop. C.
Furthermore, there's too many other items in this initiative. It also makes permanent the office of the council's independent budget analyst and creates a chief financial officer. We like those elements, but we don't appreciate having them lumped in with this controversial auditor business. Vote no on Prop. C.
Props. 98, 99
Both of these statewide propositions deal with eminent domain and both seek to prohibit governments from transferring seized properties to private owners or developers. But that's where the similarities end.
Prop. 98 is spearheaded by organizations like the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights, but it's been largely bankrolled by landlord interests. That's because veiled language in the so-called "California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act" essentially seeks to eliminate rent controls. In addition, the measure attempts to stymie eminent domain except in specific cases like the implementation of vital public works projects or the razing of crack houses. But the broad scope of 98 could also effectively hamstring land-use regulations, environmental protections and legitimate economic development projects. When a proposition is conservative enough to be endorsed by the California Republican Party but radical enough to be opposed by two Republican governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson), it probably has "bad idea" written all over it. Vote no on Prop. 98.
Prop. 99 isn't exactly fried gold, but it does offer a more conscientious attempt to reform eminent domain. The measure aims to prevent governments from seizing an owner-occupied home with the purpose of transferring the property to another private owner or developer. The proposition-supporters range from the California Democratic Party and the Sierra Club to the League of Women Voters and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi-also allows for several exceptions, most of them falling under the banner of protecting public health and security. Problem is, while somewhat obligatory, those exceptions are open to interpretation and thus, potentially, abuse. At worst, 99 will effect little practical change from the current system. At best, it would help safeguard against the most egregious abuses of eminent domain. Either way, it's a call-imperfect though it may be-to clarify and reform an area of state law begging for clarity and reformation. Vote yes on Prop. 99.