"Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within."
For San Diego, the Decade of Carl DeMaio ends not with a bang, but with some flailing and a whiny whimper. Should we have expected anything less?
While local media outlets whose owners had a financial stake in the tight congressional race that DeMaio conceded Sunday seethe with crocodile outrage over a bloody political fight lost, San Diegans are left to ponder if this is the last we'll see of this curious manchild who first appeared on our doorstep some 10 years ago.
A self-promoter as prolific as San Diego may ever see, DeMaio vaulted into the city's political consciousness as a self-proclaimed "government budget geek" intent on beating San Diego's mounting financial deficits into submission.
"We seek big change in the way city government operates, not only by offering cost-savings ideas but by facilitating a public process to build political will for government reform," he said back in the early days.
But the numbers from his Performance Institute think tank raised eyebrows among his detractors almost immediately, and thus began his rise to become what he gleefully described as "the skunk at the party."
The thing about skunks is that they are unaffected by their own fragrance and have little control over who's hit by the smell. DeMaio burned bridges with fellow Republicans from the get-go, starting with Mayor Dick Murphy and ending with Mayor Jerry Sanders, whose favorite word when talking about the credit-hogging guy was "bullshit."
DeMaio and Sanders made nice long enough in 2012 for the outgoing mayor to anoint his most rabid critic at City Hall as his choice to replace him as San Diego's top politico, a race he would eventually lose to Bob Filner. Perhaps one of the most frigid spectacles wrapped in a warm public-relations blanket, the event prompted perhaps the most telling line of that nasty race when Sanders revealed, "I respect Carl, but I like beer."
In many ways, it was a sentiment that DeMaio cultivated and yet somehow found simultaneously confounding. It always seemed like it was not enough for DeMaio to be cast as the contrarian—he also wanted to be liked.
By the time DeMaio found his way into the race to unseat incumbent Rep. Scott Peters in the 52nd Congressional District, you could count elected-official support on one hand. Even Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who'd already committed to backing him in 2013, could barely reiterate his endorsement when asked just days before the election.
It's Spin's hunch that DeMaio never cared whether he was liked, but he craved to be respected. That was the brass ring that he tried to will himself. But it didn't help that he stepped on many fingers as he headed up that ladder in dogged pursuit.
Former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, who many consider a close second in San Diego's all-time self-promotion depth chart, once called DeMaio "an Ivy League charlatan." Aguirre frequently considered one's academic underpinnings as an accurate measuring stick of culpability—among council members, he considered Peters most liable in the city's pension-underfunding debacle because he attended Duke University. [Editor's note: Please see the clarification below.]
But what guys like Aguirre, Filner and DeMaio all share is an unwavering belief in their own virtues, whatever the cost. Such iron-clad constitutions can bring great results when targeted for the greater good, but with it comes the risk of appearing blind to one's own faults.
This trio also shared another common trait: an almost manic love / hate relationship with the media. Swallow the Kool-Aid with no resistance, and unfettered access is yours, they seemed to say. Gag a little on the intake and the door becomes padlocked.
DeMaio is now reaping the benefit of those cozy relationships, busy selling his version of victimhood to willing media megaphones like KUSI—whose owner, Michael McKinnon, invested generously in DeMaio's campaign. Mega-developer Doug Manchester's own U-T San Diegoseems ready to continue the bitter campaign battle well into 2016, when San Diego will likely be abuzz with political fervor, which would only be heightened should longtime U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer decide against seeking a fifth term.
Spin won't bore you with the details this early, but just be aware that the campaign dartboard season has begun. Names like state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Council President Todd Gloria, both of whom are terming out of their respective roles, float on the political ether as potential challengers to Faulconer.
But Gloria could just as easily seek his mentor Susan Davis' congressional seat should she decide against seeking reelection in 2016. Meanwhile, some even hint that Faulconer—on the record as opposed to a local minimum-wage hike at a time when voters seem headed in the opposite direction— could take a shot at higher office earlier rather than later. For a Republican in Democrat-dominated California, however, that would be an incredible risk.
Which leads us back to DeMaio. Now that he's lost two consecutive major elections, is his political career over? Again, Spin's hunch is that he'll revert back to Ballot Measure Carl,perhaps leading the charge for a pension-reform initiative at the state level. Spin talked to several campaign masterminds, and none could envision a scenario in which DeMaio runs for elected office in the foreseeable future.
Then again, when a KUSI reporter on election night floated to Mayor Faulconer the idea of knocking off another Democratic City Council member in 2016 to return control back to Republicans, the mayor grinned. "One, maybe two," he said.
Clearly, the Republican machine will be gunning for District 1, where Councilmember Sherri Lightner will be termed out. Look for two-time contest loser Ray Ellis to experiment with the concept of three's-the-charm.
Perhaps the best lesson in this election: If Republicans want a bare-knuckled fight, perhaps Democrats have now learned that it's time to defend themselves. San Diego's GOP brain trust can't whine about one muddy race at the same time portraying council candidate Carol Kim as some Manhattan shopaholic and not expect to get punched in the nose.
Dukes up for 2016!
Clarification: In CityBeat's Nov. 12 "Spin Cycle" column, John R. Lamb wrote that "[former City Attorney Mike] Aguirre frequently considered one's academic underpinnings as an accurate measuring stick of culpability—among council members, he considered [Rep. Scott] Peters most liable in the city's pension-underfunding debacle because he attended Duke University."
We want to clarify that Lamb was not implying that Aguirre believes that Peters was culpable in the scandal merely because he went to Duke. Aguire asked CityBeat to clarify that in 2005 he issued a San Diego City Attorney report finding "Mayor (Murphy) and Council Member Scott Peters have the most relevant training for understanding the underlying complex facts and circumstances. Both are Phi Beta Kappa graduates with economic degrees. Mayor Murphy holds a Masters of Business Administration Degree from the Harvard Business School. Council Member Peters is a graduate of Duke University. Mayor Murphy has a law degree from Stanford University; Council Member Peters has a law degree from New York University."
Aguirre believes that under federal law, a person's experience, education and expertise are properly used to assess a person's guilty knowledge, or "scienter," in certain matters. Aguirre pointed out that the report also found that Murphy had more experience than Peters. Aguirre issued the 112-page report detailing the basis of his findings regarding Peters and other council members' role in the pension debacle, at http://sdcityattorney.com/Interim_Reports/IR-02_Fraud_By_City_Officials_20050209.pdf