San Diego’s ‘Strong Mayor’ System Worse Than You Might Think

by on May 22, 2012 · 3 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Politics, San Diego

By Norma Damashek  / NumbersRunner / May 18, 2012

Two things I need to clarify.

First thing: Some regular readers of NumbersRunner questioned last week’s harsh assessment of how San Diego is faring under our ‘strong mayor’ system. Actually, I understated the problems — they’re much worse than you think.

While it’s not unheard of for city leaders to sweep messy problems under the rug, the lack of professional management inside City Hall and the disintegration of public accountability and honest disclosure under our current mayor are — without a doubt — San Diego’s most closely guarded secrets since Diann Shipione (former board trustee of the San Diego City Employees Retirement System) spilled the beans about gross mismanagement, lack of disclosure, and deceptive practices shrouding our pension system.

Honestly, I went much easier on our mayor than he deserves. After seven years of inverse leadership, his legacy to the people of San Diego consists of a dismantled, hollowed-out city…ripe for the picking by wily political and corporate opportunists.

So woe to the public — UNLESS our next mayor surrounds himself with experienced people, skilled at managing a big city. And woe to the public — UNLESS he surrounds himself with people of integrity who value our neighborhoods and communities and can be counted on to reestablish more public right-of-ways into his office at City Hall.

Second thing to clarify: A few other readers said they didn’t get last week’s Sigma Chi allusion — especially the sweetheart part. What, they asked, does a golden-oldie college fraternity song have to do with the San Diego mayor’s race?

Look at it this way. We already know what a tight-knit town San Diego is, manipulated by a shadow government of bankers, developers, lobbyists, and tourism folk. A kind of home-grown fraternity.

Turns out that an influential contingent of San Diego’s men-about-town really are bonded and united…by a fraternity pledge. “Once initiated, Sigma Chi is for life.”

Here’s a sampling of local movers and shakers bonded in the brotherhood of Sigma Chi (with apologies to the brothers I left out):

  •  Doug Manchester, hotel developer and owner of the Union-Tribune
  • Bob White, senior advisor to Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Jim Schmidt, executive VP of San Diego Federal Savings Bank
  • Ben Clay, founder of San Diego’s preeminent lobbying firm Carpi and Clay
  • Bob Page, CEO of San Diego Ranch & Coast newspaper group
  • Mike Morton, owner of the Brigantine restaurants
  • Harry Summers, residential, commercial & industrial real estate developer…you get the picture…

As for the sweetheart ritual — in much the same way they anointed their fraternity sweetheart in the days of old, the now-grown-up, big-men-on-campus get to handpick their very own political candidate for mayor (and anything else that runs).

This year something went awry. The designated winner on Doug Manchester’s dance card is Carl DeMaio. But on Bob White’s it’s Nathan Fletcher. (What about Bonnie Dumanis, you ask? It looks like whoever brought her to the dance has unchivalrously retreated.)

Obviously, the voters will have the final word on this beauty pageant. But despite differing styles as they strut their stuff on stage and TV, it’s not so easy to distinguish candidate Fletcher from DeMaio from Dumanis.

Take a look at their voting records, campaign promises, stump speeches. What picture emerges? A threesome, joined at the hip by identical political agendas, goals, objectives, plans, proposals, philosophies, and political persuasion. And each of the three wants you to know he/she’d be one TOUGH sweetheart:

— the one who hammers city workers the hardest

— the one who interrogates foreign enemies the fiercest

— the one who targets child molesters and sexually-violent predators the severest

— the one who says what he means, even when you don’t like what he says

— the one who tells you whatever you want to hear, even when it isn’t true

— the one who packs the meanest pistol

Psst… I know a mayoral candidate who doesn’t choose to terrorize, strut, swagger, bully, double-talk, or self-aggrandize. He’s getting my vote. Final hint: he’s not one of the above.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

La Playa Heritage May 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

Please join Mayoral candidate Congressman Bob Filner and Democrats at Rally to Take Back San Diego City Hall.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012. 4:30 pm to 6 pm, at
Rich’s San Diego in Hillcrest, 1051 University Avenue, SD 92103.
Join Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Donna Frye at the Bob Filner for Mayor rally you won’t want to miss! With special guest: City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez.

Mayoral Forum this Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 6:30pm
University Christian Church – 3900 Cleveland @ Richmond
To help commemorate National Historic Preservation Month, the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition invited all four major Mayoral candidates to participate in this year’s Primary election forum. Only Congressman Bob Filner agreed, citing his strong interest and commitment to San Diego’s older neighborhoods and their active community groups.

The public policies and activities of City government have a significant impact on our community and this Preservation Forum provides an opportunity for dialog, through questions and answers, spotlighting the important issues facing San Diego’s older and historic neighborhoods.

The general public is encouraged to attend this free forum.


Les Birdsall May 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I must disagree with my dear friend Norma on an issue. We have not yet had a fair assessment of the “strong Mayor” system. Remember Jerry Sanders was our police chief. He could just as easy been our city manager, after which we’d conclude that it’s the worst system ever (which it is not).

Sanders has been a nothing mayor. He’s a weak leader and an inept manager. He believes words and subterfuge substitute for openness and truthfulness. This city was, obviously, in very bad shape when he took over (a consequence of a long term greedy power structure and Conservative Republican governance) and, now, it’s in much worst shape. He’s using bonds to finance year to year street repairs. That means your kids will be paying twice, once for repairs to the streets of the past and a second time to maintain the streets they are driving on in the future.

The existing power structure, and U-T, is bringing you nothing but more of the same.


Norma Damashek May 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm

My dear friend Les and I are happily in agreement after all. Sanders HAS been a weak leader and inept manager (and worse!) — which is why San Diego’s initial experience with a “strong Mayor” system has been so negative. I’m betting we’ll have a much more positive assessment under a Filner administration.


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