“It is dangerous to let the public behind the scenes. They are easily disillusioned and then they are angry with you, for it was the illusion they loved.” —William Somerset Maugham
A funny thing happened on the way to San Diego's new political future.
On May 19, a Sacramento-based, self-described “Democratic political consultant” named Paul Mitchell sat down before the San Diego Redistricting Commission and introduced himself and a slick PowerPoint presentation of a map he'd put together on behalf of the Republican-dominated San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA).
“I'm very happy to be here,” Mitchell told the commissioners.
And he may well have been. But that expressed joy undoubtedly ended shortly after he completed his 15 minutes of testimony, during which he happened to mention that he also had done work for San Francisco-based Equality California, a powerful LGBT civil-rights organization.
That little nugget of information did not sit well with local LGBT redistricting leaders, who felt Mitchell was trying to impress upon commissioners that Equality California and a conservative tax group were somehow in unison on the redistricting map he presented.
Clearly stunned by the reaction, Mitchell immediately called Jim Carroll, interim executive director of Equality California, to apologize.
Mitchell “left me this voicemail saying, ‘I have this other client; I was in San Diego testifying for them. I mentioned that I was also working for Equality California,'” Carroll paraphrased to Spin Cycle. “He said, ‘After the hearing, I got involved in a conversation with someone involved in LGBT redistricting here in San Diego, and she was very angry with me for mentioning Equality California.'
“He said, ‘She was right; I was out of line.'”
Mitchell called back a few days later after learning, Carroll said, that the Taxpayers Association “wasn't just a business concern with right leanings, but a very conservative, Tea Party-like client.”
And with that, Mitchell said he had terminated his contract with the tax group.
Indeed, a week after testifying for the group, Mitchell sent an email to the Redistricting Commission lamenting that “I should have investigated further who I was working for, and upon further review, I have severed my contract with San Diego Taxpayers. They still have their map and can defend it, but I will not be providing the Democratic perspective to their work.”
Spin Cycle was not alone in finding this development, in this odd season of redrawing San Diego's political lines, to be unusual and intriguing.
Was this guy capable of navigating complicated mapping software but unable to conduct a simple Google search to learn more about his conservative client? Was this simply an opportunity he couldn't pass up to make a name for himself in big-city redistricting circles? Or was he brought in to put liberal lipstick on a conservative pig?
It's hard to know since Mitchell declined to respond to several interview requests. Lani Lutar, the public face, president and CEO of SDCTA, also did not respond.
So, what happens when political players retreat into the darkness? Simple: The speculation blossoms.
The oddness didn't slip the attention of Lorena Gonzalez, feisty head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. On the day of Mitchell's testimony, Gonzalez hopped on Twitter and wrote, “Got to hand it to SD Reps. Distract us, then fly in a Dem Consultant from Sac to pimp a Lincoln Club/Corporate Taxpayer map….” She ended the tweet with “@mitche11,” Mitchell's Twitter name.
Mitchell responded by requesting her email address. Gonzalez said she had one message for him: “I told him the jig was up. We had been waiting for someone to surface with the devil's handiwork for months. We just didn't know it would be the Taxpayers Association that would be the wolf in sheep's clothing until Paul showed up that day.”
The “jig,” in this case, is a frequently mentioned but unconfirmed tale of collusion among San Diego's Republican elite that allegedly dates back to mid-February. The story goes that representatives of City Councilmember Carl DeMaio (possibly DeMaio himself), SDCTA, the arch-conservative Lincoln Club and local GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric met with Mitchell and a good cop / bad cop strategy to deal with city redistricting emerged.
The plan, the tale continues, involved the local Republican Party going forth with its bizarre rants of commission partisanship— “generally acting like assholes,” as another person familiar with the story put it bluntly— and later presenting its baldly partisan redistricting map. Then, SDCTA would come in at the 11th hour with a more modest proposal and save the day for Republicans.
During his testimony, Mitchell did mention that he was “asked to come in an environment that's ready for some middle ground.”
Is the tale fact or fiction? If it's fiction, one would think the alleged participants would loudly protest when given the chance. And yet, this hasn't happened. All alleged parties, save DeMaio, declined to comment.
The obvious question is why? It's well documented that San Diego's conservative war horses were late to the redistricting table, and there's a fair amount of speculation that local Republicans are simply in panic mode, throwing any and all brickbats and wrenches the redistricting commission's way in hopes of forcing a ballot referendum next June, challenging whatever new political landscape emerges from the commission.
And while the SDCTA's Lutar didn't call Spin Cycle back, she did spend some time attempting to reach out to LGBT and African- American proponents of the labor-backed “Community in Unity” redistricting proposal, seeking a meeting.
One major proponent, however, never got a call. Mateo Camarillo, chairman of the Latino Redistricting Committee who served on the city's 2001 redistricting commission, said he's not surprised, since the SDCTA map does nothing to promote what he believes the federal Voting Rights Act, state Constitution, and City Charter all require—a second Latino council district—based on significant population growth.
“No, no call, no email, nothing,” Camarillo laughed. “And I've had the same telephone number for 25 years, same email for 15 years.”
At a campaign coffee in the sparkling community kitchen of an East Village high-rise Monday, DeMaio seemed to distance himself from Krvaric's antics when he told a small gathering, “I'm hoping that we're going to have maps that are logical, and I believe that this commission has the capacity to do that.”
Later, when asked about the alleged February meeting, DeMaio said, “That's not anything I know about. I don't see it on my calendar.” He added that he hadn't even seen SDCTA's map and is staying out of the fray until the commission presents its own map.
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