“As far as I'm concerned, I prefer silent vice to ostentatious virtue.”—Albert EinsteinBoy, these are far from salad days for two legs of the ballyhooed Axis of Virtue.
Union-Tribune columnist Gerry Braun coined that phrase last July after meeting with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' secretive Public Integrity Unit. At that time, Dumanis suggested that only three local public officials were, as Braun put it, “beyond reproach, whistle-clean.”
The trio consisted of herself (surprise!), Sheriff Bill Kolender and long-time pal San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. Last week, two of the three were spinning like figure skaters on wet ice.
Axis club president Dumanis found herself in the media glare over how her office had mangled its case against Marine widow Cynthia Sommer. In November, a jury found Sommer guilty of murder in the 2002 arsenic-poisoning death of her husband. But the trial judge overruled the verdict, saying prosecutors had focused so much on Sommer's breast-augmented, partying lifestyle that it denied her a fair trial.
As both sides prepared for a second trial, Dumanis surprisingly dropped all charges last Thursday after forensics determined that no arsenic was found in Marine Sgt. Todd Sommer and that previous tissue samples containing arsenic could have been contaminated. Pathologists now believe Sommer died of a heart ailment.
Sommer's new defense attorney said the DA's office had ignored evidence for years that would have cleared the mother of four, who spent nearly two-and-a-half years in jail for a crime that prosecutors now say she didn't commit.“Justice has been done,” a stone-faced Dumanis declared to reporters last Thursday.
Allen Bloom, Sommer's attorney, had a different perspective. “Justice was done,” he told KUSI News, “but it wasn't because of, it was despite the District Attorney's office.”
Bloom said “a single phone call” from the DA's office to the lab that held the tissue samples for six years would have cleared this case. “They didn't do it until I demanded they do it,” Bloom said incredulously.
Dumanis said her office “moved as expeditiously as possible. In fact, we spared no expense to get to the truth.”Bloom wondered aloud if this isn't a more system-wide problem for Dumanis and her minions, who “get so focused on being aggressive in their prosecution that they don't do what they're supposed to do.”
Like doing that justice thing.
Meanwhile, Axis pledge chairman Sanders seemed not to be enjoying his visit to Sunday's EarthFair in Balboa Park—at least the part where he had to sit with four other mayoral candidates for a sometimes-raucous, noon-hour debate on a variety of environmental issues pertaining to San Diego's green future.
Sanders kicked off the proceedings by presenting EarthFair matron and debate moderator Carolyn Chase with an official city proclamation. This immediately seemed like an attempt to tilt the crowd in his favor, but the catcalls and boos and the dozen or so picketing city workers from AFSCME Local 127—you know, the forgotten city employees who aren't police or firefighters—soon made any talk of victory on this day a distant memory.
While Sanders delivered his opening remarks, the picketers silently marched in front of him. He didn't exactly grab the crowd when he proclaimed, “I'm not going to talk about what I would do. Let me talk about what we've done in the city….”
He touted several green city programs and an EPA-bestowed nod to the city's use of green power, which chief rival and rent-a-nurse mogul Steve Francis later noted arrived prior to Sanders' arrival in the Mayor's office. Sanders also boasted of his calls for water conservation and challenged his opponents to make public their residential water bills for the past two years, like he has. But talking about the past when the city's future is so cloudy did not sit well with most in the audience.
With his wife Rana Sampson generating the most applause from front-row seats at the curiously daytime-lit Organ Pavilion, Sanders was frequently heckled for his developer-friendly stand on the historic-home-saving Mills Act and his gushing support for Sempra Energy's Sunrise Powerlink. To raucous boos, he also called recent opposition to the Kensington Terrace project “the height of arrogance.”
Francis pounded the mayor fiercely, calling the mayor's Powerlink support premature and his Mills Act revamping plan a boost to developers who want to “scrape our neighborhoods” and build high-density residential projects.
When Sanders gets uptight, he sometimes clicks a pen feverishly, a practice that was on frequent display during the debate. When Francis suggested that the Powerlink was more about corporate profits for Sempra but that he would “listen to both sides,” Sanders icily shot back, “Obviously, a poll said don't take a position on energy and the Sunrise Powerlink.”
It's a line Sanders is using more frequently these days, that Francis is aping what “Washington, D.C., pollsters” tell him to say just to get elected. That didn't go over well with the sun-baked crowd of about 150. When Sanders said he was planning to meet with Powerlink opponents this week, an audience member chided, “Bring your crayons!”
Sanders' handlers, sitting in the back, squirmed frequently during the hour-long debate. Spinmeister Fred Sainz and campaign architect Tom Shepard sat silently, perhaps hoping for a sudden wildfire to whisk the mayor away.
When asked what environmental groups the candidates belonged to, Sanders and Francis came up with equally lame answers. “I belong to the city of San Diego,” Sanders replied, to a chorus of groans and boos. Francis noted his association with Father Joe's Villages, which he thought of as important because “homeless people cause a lot of pollution.”
The candidates were asked what environmental book has influenced them, and Francis stole candidate James Hart's answer of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, an early-'60s book credited with kick-starting this country's environmental movement. “I enjoyed it, but it was a long time ago,” Francis said. This might surprise his friends at the conservative Reason Foundation, which has bashed the book for its opposition to the use of DDT in developing countries to reduce malaria outbreaks.
“Revolutionary” candidate Eric Bidwell made Spin Cycle feel old by admitting he hasn't read a book in years, saying, “Maybe it's a generational thing.” He also provided few concrete answers, claiming he was not formally invited to the debate. A brief debate with Chase over that claim provided the day's highlight for him.
Sanders said the poetry of Robert Frost “has most influenced me on nature and on life.” This time, the crowd laughed. Perhaps they were thinking of the Frost lines, “Nothing to look backward to with pride / And nothing to look forward to with hope.” Send tips to email@example.com.