The great Alfred E. Neuman once said, “Political speeches are like steer horns. A point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.”
Well, on Monday, dear ol' Mayor Dick “10Goals” Murphy put on his best “What, Me Worry?” grin and proceeded to extol the good, and zip through the bad, that faces San Diego and its citizens in 2003 during his third-and some say least inspiring-State of the City address.
Our mayor, for all the fun we poke at him, seems like a perfectly decent guy, a real '50s-Cardigan-sweater-and-ranch-house kinda chap. We say “seems” because, well, he doesn't make himself readily available to talk one on one with the Fourth Estate. Other than the occasional remarks during council meetings-quite often, from what we've seen, about time-management issues-rarely do we get a chance to hear him speak from the heart. Or at length.
Typically, the mayor's words are encapsulated in short statements released by his press secretary, the very able and pleasant Colleen Rudy, a former local TV newshound. Efficient, sure, but rather distant as well. And it was that disconnect that kept rearing its undesirable head during the mayor's speech.
We're not sure what would happen to this town if it ever decided to pick an inspiring, charismatic individual as mayor. The last few have been real stinkers at public speaking, which is clearly a talent not afforded to everyone. At any rate, jokes are something our current mayor should avoid like a bad hangover or a Nehru jacket.
At the outset, the former judge tried the help-me-out humor angle. “As many of you know, during council meetings, I encourage the audience to give only one clap in order to save time,” he deadpanned. “During my speech tonight, however, please feel free to give more than one clap.”
But the audience of about 1,000 wasn't quite ready to “give” any claps, not until a few moments later when he explained that his legacy, those 10 Goals, “were meant to be more than a David Letterman top-10 list.” For that, he got a few chuckles, and away he went.
He proceeded to rattle off his perception of the top accomplishments reached under each goal, one by one, checked off just as expected from an efficient city government leader. (He even pointed out that San Diego is considered the most efficiently run big city in California, according to one study.) Well, as someone once said about efficiency, laziness breeds it.
As one long-time city observer remarked after the speech, “It sounded like too many of the lectures I heard in college-lots of information, not much enthusiasm. He gave that speech because he felt he had to, not because he wanted to create a vision or a spirit of ‘can do' within the community. Frankly, I thought it was by far his worst.”
Rightly so, Murphy pointed out the natural beauty of San Diego. “In Chicago, where I grew up, it was 33 degrees and snowing on New Year's Day,” he reported. “In San Diego, it was 70 and sunny.”
He fired off statistics like any good efficiency expert would-beach closures due to pollution down, he said, 45 percent from two years ago and sewage spills down 40 percent during the same period. A suggestion that, thanks to the state Public Utilities Commission, “virtually every overhead wire in the city” will be placed underground by his benchmark year, 2020. A ballpark more than halfway complete and on schedule. And a violent-crime rate somehow now the lowest among the 10 largest cities in the country.
But his solutions to the raft of problems facing San Diego-skyrocketing housing prices, bursting water mains, the Chargers dilemma, a recent jump in gang violence and the coming state budget crunch-were given only cursory attention in a speech that lasted nearly an hour.
The two new ideas presented by Murphy were, at best, efficient but lacked the gee-whiz factor that can capture the imagination of a city. The first, a crackdown on graffiti, will involve a partnership with Councilmember Charles Lewis and police to pursue doggedly those who tag. “We need to do more than just remove graffiti. We need to move aggressively to hold taggers and gang bangers accountable,” the mayor proclaimed to mild applause.
The second would involve creation of a San Diego Regional Energy Authority to help San Diego “take charge of its energy future to protect our citizens against energy shortages and volatile prices. Patterned after the newly formed San Diego Regional Airport Authority, the new agency-possibly including Port District and County Water Authority officials-will undoubtedly raise the eyebrows of the folks at San Diego Gas & Electric, but the mayor has enlisted the help of another new councilmember, Michael Zucchet, to make this a reality.
“The specter of future energy shortages in the region is scary,” Murphy stated while on 10-foot TV screens nearby an image of two animated characters from the film Monsters Inc. were displayed. Again, the attempted humor streamed right past the audience.
The funny part, if you like dark humor, may be the city's predicament if it can't close its estimated $20 million budget shortfall this year while Gov. Gray Davis moves to slash tens of billions from the state's debt-laden budget. While we don't believe film clips from Titanic would drive home the point any better, the mayor and his 10 Goals might find the coming icebergs daunting.
What, me worry? Absolutely.