A few years ago, days before former City Councilmember Ralph Inzunza was found guilty of conspiring to ease restrictions on strip clubs in exchange for campaign contributions, we excoriated him for his abominable behavior and declared him unfit for public office—largely because of the manipulative way he schemed behind the scenes to conceal what he was up to.
One activist from the Service Employees International Union ripped us in a letter to the editor because we dared to criticize a Democrat. In her mind, we were complicit in an underhanded campaign by the Republican Party to strip the City Council of three progressive Democrats (Charles Lewis and Mike Zucchet were also indicted, but Lewis had died by the time of our editorial, and we were far less convinced of Zucchet's role in the conspiracy).
A few months ago, in an editorial, we praised Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders for changing his mind and supporting a City Council vote to join a state Supreme Court battle on the side of gay couples wishing to get married. But in a phone call with our editor, a progressive community leader expressed polite disapproval of that editorial and another one mildly criticizing City Attorney Mike Aguirre, a Democrat. She felt that commending the mayor, even though it might have been the first kind word we've said about him since he took office, could, however slightly, help Republicans at the ballot box.
From our perspective, the citizenry can ill-afford such partisanship for partisanship's sake. We understand their logic—Democrats are far more likely to advance policies that conform to their worldview—but we'll take good government where we can get it, and we feel compelled to acknowledge it when an elected official does the right thing, regardless of party affiliation.
Which brings us to Republican City Councilmember Jim Madaffer. Has he quietly undergone a miraculous transformation? Has his body been snatched and replaced with a more populist model? Is this some sort of Madaffer Version 2.0?
Madaffer's shift has been so pronounced that he's even getting blasted by the right wing. In a Dec. 7 post on Red County San Diego, blogger “Hiram Johnson” wondered, “Seriously, what is going on with our good ‘Republican' friend Jim Madaffer?”
Last Wednesday, during a meeting at which the City Council's Land Use and Housing Committee was considering an update to the city's General Plan—a blueprint of sorts that guides land-use policies decades into the future—Madaffer opposed the mayor's proposed removal of language that stated a preference for jobs that pay a “livable wage.” Social-justice advocates have long been fighting against an hourglass economy that squeezes out the middle class, and for hardened policies that bring more working people out of poverty. San Diego's tourism interests lobbied Sanders for removal of such language, preferring wording that expressed vague support for a higher median income overall.
Republicans tend to consider things such as advocating for higher wages in a land-use document to be foolhardy social-engineering meddling. But there was Madaffer, not only voting to retain references to “livable wage,” but even castigating hoteliers and restaurateurs for thinking they can raise the median income by paying poverty wages.That was only Madaffer's latest foray into progressive populism. Earlier this year, he voted in support of both gay marriage and, more recently, environmentalists' call for sewage water recycling. At an October San Diego Association of Governments meeting, he stepped in the way of an effort to limit the time disgruntled transit riders had to express opposition to a fare increase.
CityBeat's been pretty hard on Madaffer throughout its five-year existence—and for pretty good reasons. He's been at odds with us on just about every controversial policy, such as when he and Councilmember Brian Maienschein managed to kill, temporarily, the city's needle-exchange program when the council was shorthanded. We didn't like it when he used community money to fill a fairly lucrative yet unnecessary position with a press secretary to former Mayor Dick Murphy. And we were incensed when we learned from a voiceofsandiego.org investigation that he worked behind the scenes to secure retroactive pension-benefit enhancements for former city officials—perhaps in exchange for help acquiring land for a park in his district. We were so riled by his shenanigans that we once felt compelled to call him an “insufferable little turd.”
Who is the real Jim Madaffer? Could it be that he truly is the kind of old-breed Republican populist that's been pushed aside by the new right wing? After all, he's always advocated for humane treatment of homeless folks. Or could it be that he needed to veer leftward in order to ascend to the presidency of the California League of Cities, as was posited on Red County San Diego and by other sources.
Whatever the reason, for the sake of San Diego's lower- and middle-income citizens and its other traditionally underrepresented populations, we like it and hope it continues into Madaffer's final year on the City Council.