Last weekend, along the sun-splashed eastern shore of Mission Bay, some of San Diego's brightest and most dedicated activists gathered to cheer on public-interest lawyer Michael Aguirre as he officially kicked off his election campaign to become San Diego's next city attorney.
And while Aguirre drew the lion's share of attention that day, it was hard to ignore the off-the-cuff introductory words offered by the event's mistress of ceremonies, San Diego Councilmember Donna Frye.
"Today, what I am asking you to do is to step outside your comfort zone," she told the crowd of about 100, although her message was clearly geared to the more apathetic among the local electorate. "One of the things we do in San Diego is we... don't like it when people challenge the conventional wisdom.... We don't like it when people ask us to do something that we think might be too difficult. We don't like it when we feel that we're not part of the "in' crowd. I like it, but what can I say."
The crowd chuckled, and then Frye went for the gut. "We have to get away from being a city of individualism," she said. "We need to become a city that is unified, a city of community. Not a city of me-first, give me what you can, give me a contract and screw the public. That's not the kind of city that we should have, but that's the kind of city that we have gotten.
"You have the ability to change that. You have the ability to support someone who, yes, is going to push you outside of your comfort level, who is going to tell you the truth about things you may not want to hear and may make you a little uncomfortable. But it's what you need to hear, and it's the truth."
Frye was referring to Aguirre, of course, but she just as easily could have been making that speech on her own behalf.
And we here at Spin Cycle wish she would seriously consider doing that.
Not that Frye's plate isn't already full-she's dealing with special interests in her own district that want to transform Mission Bay into some sort of Disneyland South nightmare, but San Diego finds itself at a critical crossroads in its disjointed, bend-to-the-political-wind history.
Truth be told, San Diego has been for sale to the loudest and most plugged-in bidders for decades. For every Frye, there are 100 anti-Fryes, all looking to feather their own comfy nests at the expense of citizens who have no voice-save for Frye's-at City Hall.
Are we the better for it? If most San Diegans pulled their noses out of their own personal kingdoms and their ears away from their cell phones for a moment and thought, the answer might well be "no." For all things unique about San Diego-predominantly balmy skies, natural beauty-there are snakes all around who would gladly turn this city into a schlocky, cookie-cutter sinkhole that treats citizens with disdain in good times and politically motivated concern in bad.
The recent wildfires that swept through a section of Scripps Ranch are a perfect example. While no doubt a tragedy for many families, has it deserved the almost 'round-the-clock clucking and preening by local politicians and wannabe mayors, many of whom pre-fire had little interest or time to devote to the subject of fire protection?
Did anyone-anyone-take a time out from the recent Olympic sport of Gov. Gray-bashing to wonder what would happen if Gov. Arnold actually followed through with his campaign promise to repeal Davis' vehicle-license fee hike? Now that he's done so, city leaders-including our own Mayor Yellow Jacket-have scampered up to Sacramento to plead with the Governator not to empty city coffers to pay for the tax repeal, even though state officials have already proposed holding back on those payments to cities until 2006.
You think fire protection is under-funded now-imagine if this city is shortchanged by some $50 million next year, as some believe it will be. We'll probably look fondly on the days when firefighters had to borrow garden hoses to battle the flames.
Top that off with continuing private negotiations with the Chargers-at a cost rapidly approaching $1 million-and the council's (save for Frye again) see-no-evil stance on the city's woefully under-funded pension system, and what you have here is a potential fiscal meltdown that will make the fires pale in comparison.
This March, San Diego voters will have the opportunity to choose a new mayor, new city attorney and half a new city council. Listen carefully in the coming months, and ask yourself if the people running for these positions sound a) real, thoughtful and compassionate, or b) calculating, canned and indifferent. Are they playing to a certain constituency they think they need to win, or are they telling it like it is and damn the consequences? Why is this important? Because you're likely to be stuck with these folks for a good chunk of the coming decade. So choose wisely.
"San Diego needs to rebuild its moral, ethical and legal infrastructure," Aguirre told CityBeat this week. "Donna Frye is the only person on the political scene that has a chance to do that. If she were mayor, she could do it better and faster than as a council member. Trust is a rare commodity these days amongst political figures. She has managed to build a broad coalition of reform-minded San Diegans who trust each other.
"All of us would be ready to march if she decides to lead the charge...."
A check of political observers garnered a variety of opinions, from robust support to abject derision. "Talk about Frankenstein marries Godzilla," snorted consultant Larry Remer about an Aguirre-Frye "Clean Up City Hall" slate. Considering Remer's client list has included former DA Paul Pfingst, perennial mayoral hopeful Ron Roberts and "80s swindler J. David Dominelli, maybe the idea's not so far-fetched.
Frye herself has expressed reservations about a 2004 mayoral run, whether she's ready for the job and what would happen to her district if she moved up a floor at City Hall-valid concerns that speak not to her abilities but to her own comfort level. But the only quality that made our last two mayors "ready" for the job was the ability by their handlers to convince enough voters that they were.
Frye abhors handlers. That alone puts her light years ahead of the competition.
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