Lest anyone forget for even the shortest second, the Kroll report named five sitting City Council members on its honor roll of the nearly shameful. The report designated Council President Scott Peters, and City Councilmembers Donna Frye, Jim Madaffer, Toni Atkins and Brian Maienschein as “negligent” with regard to financial accounting, and “knowing” (minus Frye) with regard to breaking laws related to sewer rates. But the Kroll report has no legal weight. The U.S. Attorney has indicted five officials associated with the city's employee-retirement system. But the City Council appears safe. Do San Diegans have any say here at all?
Yep. For in the state of California, there can be recall elections, and someone's considering forcing one here in town.
According to multiple sources, a mysterious mover/shaker ordered up a poll intended to determine the viability of recalling four of the Kroll Five-Peters, Atkins, Maienschein and Madaffer. Several of these sources told CityBeat they had been told the results of the poll, though they would not allow their names to be included in this story. Former City Council candidate Phil Thalheimer told CityBeat he knew two people who received calls on the poll. Kathryn Burton, another another former candidate, said the same thing.
“As for a recall, these people are termed out [in 2008] anyway,” said UCSD political science professor Steve Erie. “The question is: who is behind a possible recall, and what do they stand to gain?”
As to that, Thalheimer and Burton indicated that the poll included several questions about former mayoral candidates and political aspirants Pat Shea and Steve Francis. Both men denied sponsoring the poll, though both had heard rumors of its existence.
Several sources speculated that Carl DeMaio, who heads the Performance Institute think tank, had commissioned the poll, but he swears he didn't. “I didn't sponsor it, nor did P.I.,” he said. “We did not sponsor this poll.” He said he knows who did but declined to give up the information, saying he was sworn to secrecy.
Other politicos from both inside and outside city government said they'd heard of the poll, but none of them knows who conducted it.
So CityBeat asks its readers to take the following results with a bit of skepticism, since they come second hand, though they do come from four independent sources. Only four of the Kroll Five were subjects of recall questions: Peters, Madaffer, Maienschein and Atkins. Frye's exclusion may reflect her current popularity, or Kroll's relative leniency on her in its conclusions. Atkins seemed in the least danger, since her constituents seem more concerned about social issues than about the pension mess. Maienschein fared slightly worse. Madaffer and Peters, according to our sources, would not survive a recall election. Complicating matters, the poll also asked how the members would do if Mayor Jerry Sanders threw his weight behind a recall: all would go down.
None of the council members named in the poll responded with comment by press time. Regardless of who sponsored the poll, the question still lingers: Would a recall election be good for San Diego?
“I don't think so,” said Republican political consultant Tom Shepard. “These council members are already sensitized to the need for action. A new council member might be less motivated to make the changes we really need.”
DeMaio indicated he'd been pondering the question, even if the poll wasn't his. “Right now, I'm looking closely at what the council members are doing to support the mayor, and what the council members are doing to support the implementation of the Kroll recommendations and the funding of the pension deficit,” he said.
Ultimately, he doesn't feel the time is right. “A recall, in my opinion, right now, would be very distracting. If the council is going to sit on its hands, then we have no choice but to pick up the torches and throw the bums out of office,” he said.
The question is hardly closed. The City Council returns from summer break early for a Sept. 6 special session. The members will begin deliberations on the mayor's proposed remediation plans to solve San Diego's accountability crisis. City Attorney Mike Aguirre has said in press conferences that the mayor's proposals are only “the beginning of the debate.”
John Nienstedt, president of polling company Competitive Edge, had heard about the poll but he argued that recall in general does not yet have much public support. “I don't think this has legs,” he said. “It's too early to say.”
David Rolland contributed to this story.