It's the little things

By CityBeat Staff

Why we can't stop writing about Carl DeMaio

We've been chided for the amount of ink we spend on San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio. It's true—we talk about him a lot in the paper and online. He's the latest in a string of local elected officials who have absolutely fascinated us: Donna Frye, Bill horn, Mike Aguirre. Now it's Carl DeMaio.

And that would seem to be fine with DeMaio, whose whole aura pleads to the world: “Look at me!” The other politicians demanded our attention through the sheer force of their policy decisions and public actions. DeMaio takes it giant step further—he markets directly to the public and the media, and the product he's selling is Carl DeMaio.

So, you'd think he'd welcome our attention. Alas, he decided in February to stop answering CityBeat's questions. Perhaps it makes sense—large egos are often wrapped in a thin layer of skin. Other politicians we've repeatedly criticized—Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, for one—understand that's part of the business and continue to engage with us despite our differences. It's likely that DeMaio has calculated that he doesn't need to interact with a critical press. Other than sometimes getting called on his bullshit by, he pretty much gets a free ride in San Diego's media. The San Diego Union-Tribune quotes him without fact-check, and given the way KUSI promotes his every move and repeats his every utterance, it's almost as if he has his own TV news operation.

It's no secret that we disagree with DeMaio's foundational policy objectives—to shrink the size of government, wage war on public employees and cut taxes at all costs. Surely, our distaste for his raison d'etre heightens our interest in him. As we watch, we don't find obvious scandal or big-headline malfeasance. DeMaio has a large brain and uses it masterfully to tread right up to the line of what is legal or appropriate for a public official without crossing too far over it. What we do see is a growing cache of little things that, in our view, add up to a lot.

• DeMaio promised to run an efficient council office, but he's in the upper half in council-office spending, and he's way out in front of the pack on discretionary spending. Since he's taken office, he's far outspent his council colleagues on mailers. In January 2010, the U-T's Craig Gustafson noted that DeMaio spent $32,000 on mailers his first year in office, sending out 45 times as many event invites as all city elected officials combined. And, last week, CityBeat's Kelly Davis reported on how that trend's continued. Since July 1, 2009, he's spent almost $92,000 in taxpayer money on postage, mailers and other printed materials. Council President Tony Young comes in distant second at roughly $36,000. DeMaio's more frugal colleagues—like Donna Frye, Sherri Lightner and Todd Gloria—spent one-tenth of DeMaio's amount.

• He's also spent $50,000 in public money on his “Roadmap to Recovery” budget-fix proposal, most of which went to his own own personal actuary—the City Council already has its own budget analyst—putting him way out of line with other council members when it comes to spending on technical and professional services. He also spends money on booths at events in other council districts to tout his “Roadmap.”

• As CityBeat reported in March, DeMaio signed a $9,900, one-year contract for a private company to develop a smart-phone app that will allow residents to take geotagged photographs of potholes, graffiti and broken streetlights and send them to his office. The Mayor's office, meanwhile, was already planning to work with UCSD students to develop a low-cost or no-cost app that would integrate with the city's computer system and include additional features. If DeMaio's app looks anything like similar apps paid for by Republican politicians in L.A. and San Jose, it will have his name on it, making it another marketing tool.

• DeMaio went on KUSI last week to promote a pothole-filling event in his district, claiming that a local nonprofit and the city were on board. They weren't. He used the event as yet another marketing tool but failed to follow procedures to address labor and liability issues. And, in agreeing to accept donated materials (gravel to fill the potholes), he violated a City Council policy that lays out steps that must be followed before accepting donations. (The U-T reported it as a rousing success without mentioning these issues.)

When you zoom out, you see that he's spending lots of our money pushing legislative initiatives that double as campaign tools to promote his 2012 run for mayor while, for the most part, remaining technically legal. None of this will matter to those are ideologically aligned with DeMaio—and he seems to be developing a zealous congregation of followers. For the rest of you, we'll stay on it.

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