You learn more about yourself while campaigning for just one week than in six months spent with a psychoanalyst.—Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965), presidential candidateThe bucket of popcorn mashed on my head by a purple-suited behemoth clown at Cirque du Soleil should have been a sign that last week was going to be a weird one in the annals of San Diego politics.
And sure enough, it was. Wannabe Freuds and Jungs seemed to hover over our embattled city like so many death-defying, chandelier-swinging gymnasts. Was it coincidental that this latest incarnation of the Cirque was dubbed “Corteo,” which translated from Italian equates to a funeral procession?
The performance, according to the program, juxtaposed “the ridiculous with the tragic and the magic of perfection with the charm of imperfection” set to music in which “illusion teases reality.”
How does this much-loved high-wire troupe know San Diego so well?
Maybe they could smell election season in the air. You know the odor—the whiff of money mixed with something from the barnyard floor topped with a hint of bravado. Not a fragrance Chanel will be bottling anytime soon.
So, before the popcorn smell could be rinsed from my head, here was Union-Tribune reporter Alex Roth going toe to toe with City Attorney Mike Aguirre under a tree in tranquil Presidio Park. Now, clearly there's no love lost between these two, but what seemed to carry the day was Aguirre's suggestion that Roth seek counseling.
Unusual? Most certainly. Surprising? Not really, considering that Roth has been goading Aguirre and his staff for months to spill the beans on an ongoing, supposedly confidential investigation of Aguirre by the State Bar of California, which happens to have as one of its board members long-time Aguirre despiser and U-T favorite, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Dumanis, who also happens to sit on the State Bar's discipline committee, hasn't let her disdain for Aguirre go unnoticed, using words like “abusive” and “terrorizing” and “reckless” to describe her nemesis. (Interesting note: When Dumanis ran for a spot on the State Bar, her opponent? None other than Aguirre.)
But now the criticism has entered the psychological phase, and it's interesting to watch. Interesting, that is, in a kind of seat-squirming way.
NBC 7/39 was thoughtful enough to post on its website last week the Roth-Aguirre debate, which ran about 10 minutes and has been described in ranting terms unbecoming any would-be psychiatrist. Some Aguirre critics were puzzled why Aguirre didn't simply answer Roth's question, which he managed to ask at least eight times in that Monday confrontation. Just say “No comment” if that's your preference, the critics argued.
Well, I counted four times Aguirre said, “I can't talk about any of it,” or something to that effect, during the conversation, which in my book comes pretty close to “No comment.”
Later, Aguirre would appear on NBC 7/39's “Politically Speaking,” a half-hour show hosted by longtime San Diego reporter Gene Cubbison. Now, I've known Cubbison for years, admired him, in fact, for his newspaper background in a business filled with Miss America contestants and GQ models.
But Cubbison is no shrink. The interview at first seemed to be moving in a substantive direction, delving into issues that will certainly be grist for the American Gladiator-style campaign that is bubbling forth in the jam-packed city attorney race.
Then, after Aguirre said he stood by what he told Roth about seeking psychiatric assistance and his description of the U-T as “a political organization with a printing press,” Cubbison, bless his heart, seemed to come apart.
Cubbison reminded Aguirre that some in the blog world were blasting him as “Yosemite Sam,” “the Emperor” and “Mike ‘Nifong'” Aguirre” and that even Lamont Ewell, the former city manager who high-tailed it out of town before the financial walls closed in, had called him a “megalomaniac.”
“Whaddup with this?” Cubbison asked, going urban. “Your mental competency is in question here? Have you sought counseling? Have we seen anything along those lines in domestic papers?”
I'm not even sure what that last sentence means, except for the fact that the U-T once called on Aguirre to unseal his divorce papers. Perhaps Cubbison will follow up on that. (My thought? I say if Aguirre unseals his, then so, too, should Mayor Jerry Sanders.)
At that point, the interview devolved into something akin to a domestic spat with Aguirre questioning Cubbison's journalistic integrity. “Seriously,” Aguirre said, “I mean, we're here to discuss the issues and you're acting more like a candidate.”
That same day, Cubbison came up to me during a press conference in which former city attorney candidate Lee Burdick, who oddly had never even pulled nominating papers, endorsed fellow candidate and City Council President Scott Peters. Cubbison, clearly still on the sugar rush of his encounter with Aguirre, seemed most agitated by Aguirre's suggestion that he wouldn't ask similar mental-health questions of other elected officials and candidates.“Are you going to ask if they're crazy?” he said, paraphrasing Aguirre. “Yeah, I will.”
So, it appears the pop psychology in this town will continue on. In fact, it already seems to have spawned others to take the Freudian dive. Late last week, voiceofsandiego.org, in a follow-up to an article about lesser-known city attorney candidates, wrote that Amy Lepine said Dan Coffey “probably spends too much time thinking about the city attorney. Coffey's obvious hatred of Aguirre is his sole underpinning for running for city attorney… and that's not healthy.”
Meanwhile, Peters apparently thinks Roth should chill on trying to pry information from the State Bar investigation.
“Mike deserves to have that discussion be confidential,” Peters said at the press conference. (Peters acknowledged that he filed a complaint with the State Bar against Aguirre two years ago but said investigators had only recently been in contact with him.)
Of course, he followed that up with “But I understand I'm not the only who filed, so I think you should know that there are probably several people who filed complaints.”
That sounds a tad schizophrenic to me. But, hey, I'm no expert.
Perhaps we should take the advice of the 2003 version of Dumanis, who acknowledged her own previous bouts with depression and suicide: “You shouldn't make judgments about people because you don't know where they've been and what they've gone through.”
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