"Sometimes in politics one must duel with skunks, but no one should be fool enough to allow the skunks to choose the weapons."-Lester R. Bittel
Prior to Election Day, the handicappers of the race for the Mayor's office were generally placing the big money on a November runoff between incumbent Jerry "I'm Smilin' As Much As I Can" Sanders and his ankle-nipping, plasticine, self-funded challenger, bazillionaire rental-nurse tycoon Steve Francis.
Here at pre-election-deadline-abiding Spin Cycle, there seems to be no evidence to suggest otherwise, barring Sanders aide Fred Sainz personally sticking an appendage into a vote-tallying machine and gumming up the process for posterity's sake. Even in San Diego, this seems highly unlikely. (Although if votes are still being counted as you read this, you've been warned!)
But Spin Cycle has a dream pertaining to this particularly nasty race. And I say "nasty" based on the economics.
Come on, has there been a more expensive battle of the airwaves and mail slots that basically comes down to a choice between "Jerry Back-on-Track/Do-Nothing Potty-Mouth Developer Sellout" and "Steve I'll-Fix-Everything/Android Flip-Flopping Chameleon"? Yick.
Now, back to the dream. In Spin Cycle's utopian-yet-twisted world, "revolutionary" mayoral candidate Eric Bidwell-yes, 26-year-young, dreadlock-brandishing, T-shirt-preferring Master Bidwell-finishes a solid third. Why? Because the electorate owes him a solid result. Why? Imagine this race without him. 'Nuff said.
Last Saturday, Bidwell held court from an overstuffed couch, a sticker-laden laptop before him, in the sunlit corner of Rebecca's Coffee House in South Park. A few friends and his proud mom Shirley sat around a dinged-up coffee table that also held a boxed stack of Bidwell for Mayor flyers, each adorned with a posterized likeness of Bidwell facing off-camera, flowing dreads and below-jaw sideburns prominently displayed, white birds circling almost dreamlike.
When he isn't planted in one of several favorite coffee shacks, Bidwell is back living in his RV, parked this day along a brick wall behind a chain pharmacy a few miles away. He gets around in a van that, frankly, has seen better days-except for the license plate, which is brand-sparkling-new.
His mom, clearly Eric's biggest fan, explained that the van's previous plate was stolen immediately after the infamous KUSI debate last week, where Bidwell pulled an e-mail from his backpack and blew the lid off the Sanders campaign's efforts to coax him into blasting the better-financed Francis. The thief also left a sophomoric message in black felt pen (now mostly cleaned off the van's faded paint): "Vote Sanders-Get a Haircut."
Coincidentally, Spin Cycle planned on getting a haircut Election Day-right after voting for Bidwell. (Thanks for the encouragement, Van Defacer!) Meanwhile, Bidwell smirks at suggestions he ditch the waist-length dreadlocks, despite the knuckle-dragging suggestion left on the back end of his transportation and his mom's boast that he has "beautiful hair" when it's traditionally shorn.
Yes, Virginia, there is nothing traditional about Eric Bidwell. Except if by "traditional" you mean exceptionally bright, worldly, engaged, an emerging bridge between haves and have-nots and-get this, establishment types-only beginning his journey into politics. And if my dream is realized, there will be at least two well-financed candidates for mayor who would do well to curry the favor of this street-savvy, out-of-the-usual-box thinker.
"I think that the biggest moral of the story is that it's even worse than it seems," Bidwell said, reflecting on local politics by moneyed media proxy. "But it doesn't make me want to not do it. If anything, it makes me want to join in and change it even more."
While the previous unorthodox mayoral campaigns of Councilmember Donna Frye may have signaled a willingness of San Diego's traditionally conservative voters to give consideration to a non-traditional candidate, Bidwell has managed to gain equal success in pulling back that curtain on this city's dark-room lever pullers while even more bravely bringing up the most feared of political topics, the dreaded T-word: taxes.
At a recent debate at the dress-code-enforced Downtown University Club ("I made it past in my T-shirt. That was pretty wild!" Bidwell laughs), the youthful candidate was only happy to talk about "how people in San Diego are doing pretty well, including most of the people in that room, and that they could probably afford to give a little bit back to the community."
Afterward, one suited attendee approached Bidwell and whispered to him, "You know, you're right. We probably could afford to pay more taxes."
"Whoa, that's cool!" Bidwell said in joyous response.
Others-even this city's low-hanging fruit, the media talking heads-seem to find Bidwell's perspective refreshing. "He was the most comfortable candidate in the room," ex-mayor radio blabber Roger Hedgecock pronounced after hosting a debate last week. Even the usually stoic KNSD 7/39 anchor Marty Levine snapped during a weekend debate that when it came to tapping new revenue sources in this taxophobic town, every candidate, with the exception of Mr. Bidwell, "is blowin' smoke."
And last Sunday, Union-Tribune business columnist Dean Calbreath wrote that Bidwell "has a much better understanding of economics," although prefacing his praise somewhat dismissively with the phrase "dreadlocked surfer dude." ("I tried surfing once," Bidwell corrects.) Still, quoth Calbreath: "He says the people and companies that thrive here should pay more to ensure that the city's infrastructure-both physical and economic-remains in good working order."
Bidwell smells vindication, if not victory. "You'd be surprised how many people come up to me now and admit that San Diego could do a better job spreading the wealth," he beamed. "Maybe I'm more mainstream than the supposed mainstream candidates."
As for the May 22 KUSI debate episode, Bidwell is most surprised that the word "gnarly" escaped his lips when he produced a copy of an e-mail, authorized by Sanders campaign manager Mike McSweeney just two months into the job, that Bidwell was encouraged to read during an open-mic moment bashing Francis as a "hypocrite." McSweeney resigned lightning-quick, leading to speculation that the drama had only snared a scapegoat. (Just how many Teflon suits does Sanders guru Tom Shepard own?)
What didn't get much attention, however, were the communiqués between Bidwell and McSweeney leading up to delivery of the pre-packaged, Francis-bashing proxy statement from an as-yet unidentified source. (Spin Cycle still awaits word from you, email@example.com.)
During one instant-messaging session between the two, McSweeney-who over several weeks clearly attempted to ingratiate himself with Bidwell-texts: "I'm trying to forward you some of our opposition research on francis just gotta find a way to do it, and get an ok so I don't get fired."
McSweeney, in full political blowhardiness, concludes: "With the information, you could have a field day unmasking francis as the full of shit rich boy that he is."
McSweeney did not respond to a request for comment on his involvement in yet another slimy moment in local politics nor on whose approval he sought prior to showing Bidwell the goods on Francis-which did occur one late night at Sanders campaign HQ, Bidwell confirmed.
Shepard, Sanders' campaign architect, issued a statement pleading cluelessness in the matter and throwing McSweeney under the bus as some sort of rogue operative in Gnarlygate. Francis campaign manager Charles Gallagher, meanwhile, refused to respond to Bidwell inquiries, apparently invoking the "Only Talk About Jerry" dictum.
So, if the handicappers were correct and two candidates are plotting their next obscenely pricey steps toward "victory," here's a thought, boys: Think about a young man living in some alley who just raised the bar in the debate about a more harmonious future in San Diego. And did it for less than $1,000.
Tired of politics as usual? Share the despair at firstname.lastname@example.org.