“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch.”—Orson WellesOK, quick quiz. San Diego is:a) inkin' deals and gettin' 'er doneb) winning the war against “decay and neglect”c) more than ever in need of a Caped Crusader type—preferably stout and bespectacled—to save us from “government by organized money”If you answered, “All of the above, dummy,” then you, too, must have spent a ridiculous amount of time last week dropping in on The Three Oratory Tsunamis That Shook the Region—otherwise known as the “State of the” (SOT) speeches.
Generally, SOT speeches are highly anticipated beasts, particularly among those who will a) greatly profit from or b) feel financial pain as a result of the words placed into these speeches. I say “placed into” because, frequently, people other than the speech giver spend countless hours honing the message into a well-oiled heart grabber. At least that's the intent.
You're probably asking, “So, what do I get for answering the quiz correctly?” Sorry, nothing—save for the satisfaction of knowing that, if you did witness these three speeches, you're never going to get that time back. Ever.But, yes, the answers above pretty much sum up the themes put forth last week by, in order, the newly anointed chairman of the Port of San Diego, the really-wants-to-be-re-elected mayor of San Diego and the boot-looking-for-a-corrupt-butt-to-kick city attorney of San Diego.
Let's review the highlights of each:
Overlords of the Bayfront
In a windowless San Diego Convention Center banquet room facing the nearly completed Hilton Hotel and the not-so-bustling cargo terminal next door, about 130 officials, corporate partners and an array of port groupies gathered for the annual Port Commission swearing-in luncheon for a big ol' group hug.
“This year, I intend for this board to ink deals, build projects and cement partnerships,” intoned Michael Bixler, a Merrill Lynch executive and former mayor of Imperial Beach who's been tapped as the five-city port board's helmsman for the coming year.
It's a year he's going to go ahead and call “A Year of Celebrations and Challenges,” one of the more schizophrenic civic mottos to come along in some time but somewhat in tune with the general tenor of the 20-minute speech.“Look at it out there,” Bixler said at one point, referring to the new 1,200-room Hilton and apparently addressing only those with wall-piercing X-ray vision, of which there were apparently a few, judging by the ooohs and aaahs.But the port is much more than a union-backed hotel, Bixler continued. And, indeed, if you navigate through the port's so-called Compass Plan, the table is certainly piling up with prospective port toys, from the uncertain $1 billion Gaylord project on the shores of Chula Vista to a new, more pedestrian-friendly “front porch” for San Diego's Embarcadero, including a spruced-up cruise-ship terminal at B Street.
The road to this watery Promised Land won't be for the faint of heart, Bixler said as heads nodded—nor apparently for anyone who might disagree with the commission's vision of the bayfront's future, which some worry is being given away to private interests one acre at a time.
“I'm troubled about a trend in civic discourse wherein special interests assert that they are the decision-makers and they alone are the stewards of various aspects of public property,” Bixler snarled.
At the board meeting immediately following the ceremony, Bixler demonstrated what he meant during discussions before the commission unanimously snuggled up to a non-union, twin-luxury-hotel proposal for the Lane Field bayfront site. Comments from opponents, including many hotel workers, were limited to two minutes. Supporters, which included San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and a host of moneyed interests, faced no such restraint.
When Julie Meier Wright, head of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, gushed that the project would create “the dinner table for private enterprise to feast upon,” well, it certainly left some port observers with queasy stomachs about public involvement in future port decisions.
Overall impression: A well-financed schmooze-fest for port disciples. Props for serving alcohol.
The “Happy Talk” Speech
Much has been made of Mayor Sanders' third State of the City address, delivered this year from the stage of the newly renovated Balboa Theatre downtown. Unimpressed, City Councilmember Donna Frye called it “happy talk,” while council colleague Jim Madaffer clapped after every period. Sometimes early.
Here's what this speech said to me: Tom Shepard is one shrewd campaign architect!
Here was a mayor—facing fiscal uncertainties galore and mounting questions about his leadership skills while bleeding confidantes faster than a subpoenaed Washington lobbyist—who was all smiles and gratitude, declaring “the era of decay and neglect is at an end.” Insert your pothole joke here.
Some chins even hit the newly polished theater floor when Sanders invited Supervisor Ron Roberts, a thrice-rejected mayoral candidate, to join him on stage to talk wildfire prevention. (One ironic note: Sanders' 47-minute speech might have been half as long if not for the recent county fires.)
Although Roberts delivered the best line of the night—a wistful nod to his long-held ambition to be the one giving a State of the City speech—how many campaign consultants do you know who can brag that they got a two-fer at one of these things? As the strategist for Sanders and Roberts, Shepard can now slap that up on his Mantle of Political Dominance.
Overall impression: A speech geared toward a year in which challenges will come from outside City Hall (gazillionaire Steve Francis) and from within (future powers of the City Council and City Attorney). A vision statement in need of corrective lenses.
For those who hate Mike Aguirre, it seemed presumptuous for the city attorney to deliver his own SOT speech, which he did from City Council chambers just a day after Sanders' speech.
But when your purpose in life is to uproot corruption wherever you find it, no matter the cost, it's understandable why Aguirre found little to applaud during the mayor's speech and required his own soapbox. While Sanders invoked the familiar “Let's look forward” mantra that suggests a city back on firm soil, Aguirre continues to burrow into San Diego's murky past, trying to understand how a city of such unsurpassed beauty got into the fiscal mess it's in, a tab he now puts at $6.5 billion.
Aguirre sounded equal parts contrite (“From the fire and landslide I learned sometimes the city attorney can help by silence”), defiant (“For the first time in decades, the city attorney is fearlessly protecting the people's interests”), even apologetic (“… better the occasional faults of a city attorney trying to serve the people than the consistent misuse of the office by those serving private, selfish interests”). Well, apologetic Aguirre-style.
But as Aguirre pointed out, “We all know more about the facts and figures of our city government than ever before.” Hard to argue that point, even if it makes our head hurt.
Overall impression: At 12 minutes, hands-down winner in the “brevity” category. Equal to Sanders' speech in political expediency, setting a clear distinction for upcoming election-year debates that could set San Diego's course for years to come. Got a tip or comment for Spin Cycle? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org .