Kevin Brendan Forbes—"K.B." to everyone—is standing in line at the SENTRI office in San Ysidro, trying to get his cross-border pass updated while simultaneously talking on his phone to Spin Cycle about his decision to join Team Carl DeMaio.
"What was exciting to me was the message of bringing change. I've worked all my life to bring justice and change," Forbes says. "And also, this has national implications. That's where my strength is."
The press release that announced his hiring three weeks ago as communications director for DeMaio's mayoral campaign opened with the words "Latino Advocate," which many armchair politicos took as a sign that the pension-reform-obsessed candidate was acknowledging his poor traction with Latino voters and found a perfect match in the conservative Forbes.
Forbes wasn't biting. "I am diverse. You cannot pigeonhole K.B. Forbes," he says with a seemingly ever-present laugh. "I really believe in a sense of justice and a sense of goodness—that's a word I like to use. Government can be good. Businesses can be good."
The 45-year-old son of a headstrong Irish union-organizer-turned-corporate-executive father and "devout Catholic" social-worker Chilean mother, Forbes seems at ease talking about any topic, although he admits he's still getting up to speed on the nuances of San Diego political discourse.
His first week on the job included a run-in with his boss' opponent, Bob Filner, at a debate that stirred a mini media frenzy when what Forbes called a simple "attention-getting" touch of the Congress member's elbow elicited a testy hands-off rebuff.
The encounter occurred in front of cameras while Filner was attempting to link DeMaio's partner, media publisher Johnathan Hale, with the idiotic midnight water-gun fight that drew hundreds to Balboa Park and left thousands of dollars in damages.
Forbes argues that Filner's claims "contained zero truth, zilch," adding, "The word you used was bulldog.' That's my role here. But I use a different word pit bull.' That means not letting people make unsubstantiated claims, or be vicious or mean. If people want to say disparaging things about Carl DeMaio or his family, I will be there to intercede."
That kind of self-confidence runs through the serpentine career of Forbes, whose only condition to take the job with DeMaio was to allow him to continue his work during his free time as head of the nonprofit Consejo de Latinos Unidos (translation: Council of United Latinos), which for more than a decade has waged fierce, nationally recognized battles on behalf of uninsured minorities.
His efforts fighting hospital overbilling for the uninsured drew the attention of 60 Minutes and the scorn of hospital executives, who claimed that he was simply a front for big insurance companies that sought to lower their billing payments. He did acknowledge he once worked for the late J. Patrick Rooney, a generous GOP donor and father of the "private health account," an idea embraced during the George W. Bush administration.
Forbes flicks away the criticism. "I have been to the barrios, to the ghettos on the south side of Philadelphia. I'm passionate because I know that corporations and government agencies can be negligent, abusive," he says. "That is why I believe government must change."
Forbes most recently served as communications director for Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard, who lost to Steve Danon in a fractious race for county supervisor. Forbes doled out press releases questioning Danon's professional transparency and work ethic, yet Forbes said it was Danon who called to ask if he wanted to work for DeMaio. Both are favorites of the local GOP political machine.
Hilliard had nothing but praise for his former press aide. "K.B. works 24/7. He always has a smile on his face, and he is pleasant to work with," the mayor told Spin in an email. "K.B. is passionate about his beliefs, has worked long and hard to support Hispanic causes, and he is a strong fiscal conservative. Above all else, he is dead honest."
Forbes laughs when he's reminded of another job that embodied this honesty. In between stints working for Patrick Buchanan's two presidential campaigns, Forbes was the media contact for the U.S. Taxpayers Party, to which, during the 1996 presidential season, some thought Buchanan might jump if Republicans meeting in San Diego picked a pro-choice running mate for Bob Dole. (They did, but Buchanan stayed anyway.)
Now known as the Constitution Party, the Taxpayers Party—founded by Conservative Caucus creator Howard Phillips—drew an interesting crowd to its convention over the bridge in Coronado that year. Famed author Michael Lewis was writing for New Republic at the time and referred to the 400 or so congregants as the "stinky brigades" for their aversion to bathing in fluoridated water, which party members considered a United Nations conspiracy.
In his piece, Lewis noted that the excitement on the face of Forbes about a third-party challenge had changed. "Now, he looks as if he has just spent a night at the Munsters'. He doesn't even bother trying to spin me," Lewis wrote. "I'm getting out of here,' he says ."
Indeed, the article ends with Forbes' faxed resignation, which noted that "this convention has attracted—what I believe to be— the rudest and most mentally unstable wannabe political activists and media' in America. I will not sacrifice my honor nor my reputation to assist these elements."
Forbes laughs—"You learn in politics that it attracts all kinds," he adds—but he does refer to these stories as the "golden oldies." Asked how a Latino could work for Buchanan twice, as well as his sister, Bay Buchanan—not exactly the poster children of immigration tolerance— Forbes has a quick answer.
"Pat is a good friend. He used to tease me about the immigration stuff. With my work with the uninsured, he's joked that I'm now doing penance for having worked for him," Forbes says. "But I enjoyed working for the last truly populist Republican who was appealing to the working class, the manufacturing base of our country."
Now, he says, voters want to hear about jobs, not "innuendo and smears." He says the Filner / DeMaio contrasts will be the focus. Or as the "pit bull" puts it, "21st century versus someone stuck in the last century."