‘Hanging On……and Letting Go’ – Musings on San Diego Politics

by on June 13, 2013 · 21 comments

in Culture, History, Media, Politics, San Diego

Illustration by AP for a business centerpeiceBy Norma Damashek / San Diego Free Press

I took a mindful walk through downtown La Jolla this morning. It was my version of a meditative exercise that’s supposed to smooth your soul and clear your mind.

Here’s how it’s done: you put one foot in front of the other in the usual way of walking while you notice what’s around you.

First you notice. And then you let it go.

Notice…and let it go.

These are some of the things I noticed on my mindful walk:

  • Marred and scarred sidewalks; cracked and fissured streets (the touted La Jolla Village Patina?)
  • Cheerful tourists snapping photos of one another and guessing the name of those lavender-blooming trees (jacaranda).
  • Scores of cormorants, pelicans, and raucous sea lions lolling, diving, swimming, and engaged in uninhibited large-bowel activity on the La Jolla Cove bluffs, in flip-off contempt of microbial scrubdown experiments.
  • June gloom
  • Signage announcing a new-to-the-neighborhood Goodwill resale shop just a few store fronts down from Roche Bobois
  • A surge of remodels and dense multi-family construction
  • Dozens of homeless men and women, some on benches, some hauling loaded carts in the direction of the Vons recycling depot.

I also noticed that the noticing part of a mindful walk is easy. The letting go part is another story. And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me who has trouble letting go.

Take the U-T San Diego, for example. I’ve noticed that since Bob Filner became mayor the people at the U-T started acting act like crazed dogs, compulsively gnawing at old bones and obsessing about the mayor’s personality quirks. They publish half-stories that omit core information a reader needs to get a full picture. Their editor tears his hair out when balanced articles about the mayor appear in other newspapers. It’s true the U-T knows how to let go — but perversely they’re letting go of experienced, credible news staff.

Equally discouraging is the self-inflicted decline of a once-exciting experiment in online local coverage, the Voice of San Diego. They seem to be in direct competition with the U-T for the journalism silliness prize. Reporting excellence has given way to petulance, splitting-hairs, and skewed facts. Integrity has shrunk to make room for fluff. VOSD was once a cause for optimism. No longer. They, too, have been letting go of the wrong things.

And sadly — instead of just letting go and going away, they’re baaaack. The 2014 political season has been launched with a familiar set of candidates whose battle cry is: WE’LL NEVER-LET-GO-OF-THE-STATUS-QUO!

Carl DeMaio, for example, has once again donned his freedom-fighter suit in a grab for the U.S. Congress seat recently won by Scott Peters. Mr. DeMaio has no intention of letting go of his freedom crusade: freedom from taxes… freedom from government… freedom from conscience… freedom from truth. Watch out for this guy — he’s got direct access to extravagant resources from mega-wealthy conservative contributors like the Koch brothers and Doug Manchester.

Nathan Fletcher, another political robot, has his own style of betraying the public trust — he actively practices letting go! Did you notice his effortless glide from Republican to Independent to Democrat within short three years? And how completely he whited-out his history as a pampered staffer for the blatantly-corrupt Duke Cunningham? And how you can’t figure out what (if any) his core principles are? Mr. Fletcher is a facile multi-party triathlete, highly gifted at carrying water for San Diego’s old-guard (on both sides of the political aisle). He’s their anointed tool for knocking the mayor’s chair out from under Bob Filner.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, I’ve noticed, is doing his darndest to stay in the limelight. He’s kinda out of his mind to believe anyone else thinks he’s mayoral material but no matter — his peculiar compulsion to publicly chastise, belittle, and subvert Mayor Filner in newspaper op-eds, city council chambers, news conferences, and television chats (I haven’t checked Twitter) looks a lot like grounds for his removal from office. Now I’m not a lawyer, but even I have noticed a lack of professional ethics and expertise from this city attorney. If he’s listening — and if it’s not already too late – my suggestion to him would be: cease, desist, let it go, and exit quickly.

Todd Gloria, another practiced, unprincipled striver, hides his overweening proclivities beneath a thick mask of boyish charm. Instead of creating a constructive working alliance with our city’s first strong, independent, forward-looking mayor, councilman Gloria has chosen to suckle at the bosom of downtown establishment heavyweights and deep-pocketed power brokers. Disarming smile notwithstanding, he’s been known to distort and manipulate neighborhood planning documents and bully city workers and appointees. Mr. Gloria’s reputation and dream of riding his star nonstop to Congress might be enhanced if he took a mindful walk and figured out how to let go — of betrayal and duplicity (kittenish talk about sexy streets, too).

Unfortunately, there are other poltergeists stashed away in well-paying holding pens, awaiting their turn to reenter the fray. There’s Tony Young, who took the we’ll never let go of the status quo oath long before he deserted his city council district for a cushy timeout with the Red Cross. There’s former mayor Jerry Sanders, currently nestled in the boardroom of the Chamber of Commerce and constitutionally unable to stand on his own feet should he ever let go of the status quo. And it won’t be long before the aforementioned Todd Gloria is given temporary cozy shelter by one of San Diego’s other magnanimous, do-good, lucrative non-profits. The homeless can only dare weep with envy… )


The moral of this story? A mindful walk every now and then can sometimes work wonders. But even if you don’t want to budge from your chair, making wise decisions about what to hang on to and what to let go of can also work wonders.

Here’s my recommendation: do everything in your power to hang on to Mayor Filner. While I’ve noticed that Mr. Filner is not perfect, I’ve also noticed that he brings us a rare opportunity to work wonders in our city.

Notice our first, first-class mayor…and don’t let him go.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott Lewis June 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

“… Gloria has chosen to suckle at the bosom of downtown establishment heavyweights and deep-pocketed power brokers.” Quite an image, Norma.


Norma Damashek June 13, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Thank you.


Randy Dotinga June 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm

So basically, local reporters should listen to progressives from La Jolla who believe the media should rid itself of any journalistic skepticism and praise the mayor for being so darned awesome. Got it!


Desde la Logan June 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm

The local non-UT media shouldn’t be assholes who attack the mayor at every opportunity or perceived slight. It’s expected from the UT but from certain SD voices? Better should be expected.


Norma Damashek June 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm

NumbersRunner is a blog — my personal commentary on the SD political scene. The readers of NumbersRunner fully understand that it’s an opinion page.

VOSD is an online news organization. Skepticism, praise, and other personal responses to newsworthy events belong on a clearly labeled opinion page, not embedded in a news story.

VOSD once knew the distinction.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm

This VOSD tag team talks now about reportorial skepticism, but for a solid year during the San Diego mayoral campaign this same journal absolutely savaged Bob Filner with hatchet jobs by VOSD reporter Liam Dillon, aided by scurrilous headlines and myriad unflattering photographs. There was not one iota of respect for Filner’s longtime public service as a Congressman for 20 years, as a member of San Diego City Council, as a trustee on the San Diego Unified Board of Education. It wasn’t skeptical: it was a scandal.

Your problem with Ms. Damashek’s juicy imagery is that you still can’t believe your golden boy Nathan Fletcher flamed out. Fletcher not only 1) didn’t get the nod from the County Republican Party, he also 2) lost the Primary election even though he’d morphed into an Independent and, after the dust settled, 3) he took a lucrative Qualcomm job from one of VOSD’s principal donors Irwin Jacobs, and then , presto chango, 4) he became a card-carrying Democrat! It was dizzying, I admit.

Just don’t posture as if you didn’t go for broke trying to prevent Bob Filner from becoming Mayor of San Diego. Filner is a person the electorate embraced by a big margin, a liberal who works nonstop to do the people’s business, a person who is decisive and clear in his goals, a mayor who is having success on many fronts in spite of U-T San Diego, VOSD, ambitious Todd Gloria and obstructionist City Attorney Whatshisname.
goals and who is having


Randy Dotinga June 13, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Here’s the dilemma:

Readers want less dictation and he said/she said. They want more analysis.

But as journalists provide analysis, they move more into the area of opinion and nuance. And then they get rapped by those who disagree with them when their side is getting gored.

Liberals didn’t complain when VOSD accused Carl DeMaio of throwing big whoppers around during the campaign. Conservatives didn’t say “gosh, you’re being too hard on Bob Filner.”

I don’t agree with everything that VOSD does. (Disclosure: I’m a freelance contributor.) I’d run things differently if I was in charge.

But many of VOSD’s critics don’t really want an independent news outlet that treats everyone with skepticism as journalists should. They want an echo of themselves.


Randy Dotinga June 13, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Oh dang it. I didn’t vote for Fletcher. Must have missed the VOSD memo!

Your problem, Frances, is that you ignore things that don’t fit your narrative.

VOSD savaged Fletcher over the “late-night downtown porkfest.” That was the term it invented. And VOSD ran a zillion stories about Carl DeMaio’s dishonesty during the mayoral campaign.

Again, you don’t want balanced coverage or even slightly unbalanced coverage. You want a news publication to fawn over Filner, rave over his record and appoint him the Best Mayor in History. That’s something, but it ain’t journalism.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I do believe that Scott Lewis and Randy Dotinga want to engage as journalists. But sustained VOSD newsgathering has suffered for all its cutting-edge fooling around.

Since the slanted Mayor’s race, VOSD’s Liam Dillon has been relegated to sidewalk patrol; Will Carless has left for South America; a few good women have been hired as reporters and editors; and the journal has reformatted itself into some new chatty (hard-for-me-to-access) version of its most recent self.

People want reliable news and context — not echoes, not multiple platforms, not social events masquerading as informed public discussion, not empty “fact-checks.” News.


Scott Lewis June 14, 2013 at 9:21 am

I didn’t really want to engage. But OK. Couple of facts:

– Liam has been pursuing infrastructure issues for years and did a special quest on sidewalks that has had impact already. I can see that Norma and you don’t appreciate that much, and that’s fine. You’ll have to hold your nose while he looks at street lights and emergency response issues. The Stumblr has been one of our most popular little creations ever.

– Will Carless hasn’t yet left but yes, he’s going. We’ll replace him with a new investigator and hopefully he or she has impact. I wish I could have kept his wife from being recruited to a great opportunity in Uruguay, but alas, it happened.

– A few good women have been hired. Lisa Halverstadt has done some great work lately. Today she chronicled what we know and don’t know about a special new department Filner has created. She explained what each school board member does for work outside of the district in the midst of controversy about one of their new posts. My personal favorite was her big fact check of Charles Krauthammer’s inaccurate claim about our border.

Norma sees this sort of thing as fluff I suppose. But I’m proud of her work and yes, I know we can do better.

– On our new site: I know you don’t like it. I’m sorry about that. We’ve spent a lot of time helping readers like you learn about it. I guess that’s not worth it. We’re working every day to fix it up. We have put ourselves on a better path with it and it will be better for us in the long term.

– Finally, as to your snark about our “social events masquerading as informed public discussions.” This particularly hurts. I loved my discussion with Cindy Marten, which you can read in full here. This produced substance and reference material I’ll be referring to for months. We’ve featured members of the Free Press community and had wonderful gatherings on art, culture and politics. Hundreds attended and appreciated the Marten discussion. We’re committed to continuing that kind of thing.

I don’t mind the criticism. Really. That’s the point of an organization like ours, to be held accountable to the public. But what bothers me is the claims about fluff and fooling around. The staff works hard. We push them hard. And I’m very proud of their contributions every day.


Randy Dotinga June 14, 2013 at 12:12 am


You believe VOSD is controlled by its wealthy donors. But you haven’t offered any alternatives to raise VOSD’s profile so it can develop a bigger and more diverse pool of supporters and reduce the influence of the Richie Rich types.

Advertising isn’t a solution since VOSD’s audience is small. That means it has to rely on grants, membership fees and donations, like public radio does, until something better comes along.

TV and radio help more regular people become aware of VOSD. Events create a bond between VOSD and its members. These all can lead to less VOSD dependence on power players. That’s a good thing.


Tyler June 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

I appreciate VOSD because they aren’t scared to call out either side when necessary, unlike the U-T or The Rag for that matter. As someone said above, you clearly have an issue because it doesn’t fit the exact narrative of what you want.

I also dig the new layout that is akin to reddit. It should foster more insightful discussion


Frank Gormlie June 14, 2013 at 8:56 am

Tyler – thanks for coming in and making a comment but your bias is very evident. To declare that the Voice isn’t “scared to call out either side unlike the U-T and the Rag for that matter” places us on the same footing as the U-T. And it turns everything upside down. You’re obviously a supporter of VOSD which is fine; our writer above – Norma – had some criticisms of “your” publication and then you tell us that the Voice staff responses to that criticism “doesn’t fit the exact narrative of what” we want. You got it all backwards. Think this through again, will ya?


Tyler June 14, 2013 at 9:13 am


A. I’m not a supporter of VOSD (yet). I simply read it, just like I read the The Rag, the U-T, The SD Free Press, the Reader, etc.

B. I was only trying to compare you to the U-T in that their obvious conservative bias is somewhat equal to the obvious liberal bias around here, abeit on a different scale. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I feel. I’m not saying I’m some centrist who perfectly toes the line, I’m quite liberal, but it is obvious to anyone who isn’t pulling the wool over their eyes that this publication swings quite far to the left.

C. It wasn’t the VOSD staff responses I was referring to. I was referring to complaints of VOSD made by Norma and Frances above.


Tyler June 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

I should add that I in no way am comparing The Rag to the U-T outside of the liberal/conservative spectrum. I’m grateful for all the reporting done here and I in no way equate it to some of the absolute misinformation done over at the U-T by Manchester, Lynch and Co.


Frank Gormlie June 14, 2013 at 10:49 am

Tyler, appreciate your explanation. We have over the years definitely read, relied upon and have appreciated the Voice; for a while it and some articles in the City Beat and a couple of writers at the Reader were all that passed in this town as progressive journalism.

Now, things have changed. The OB Rag and the SD Free Press are the only media in town who have consistently supported the most liberal mayor in San Diego’s history – someone has to have his back. Why the Voice chose to combat him at almost every turn is beyond us. Hey, c’mon, there are some many uncovered scandals in this town, there’s plenty of work to be done. Why get in the mayor’s face all the time? Doesn’t the U-T do that?


Frank Gormlie June 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

We don’t hide the fact that we are progressive citizen journalists.


nostalgic June 14, 2013 at 8:50 am

Back to the article! I LOVED it. Mayor Filner is our first chance at change. What can we do to support him? I would like to see some concrete ideas.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I appreciate hearing from Scott Lewis over here and always feel more sympathetic to his efforts when he communicates in this open way. I too hope for smoother sidewalks and roads and functioning streetlights in this shambles of a city, and if Liam Dillon is making it happen while repenting his partisan slant in the mayoral race, fine.
Re events masquerading as info, when a panel of fun folks is convened to discuss controversial school-to-career curriculum changes at San Diego Unified School District and the emcee is a craft beer-maker, I get all critical about shallowness and false messages.
Finally, I have appreciated kind offers of help navigating the new VOSD system from web mistress Dagny Salas and I intend to master the labyrinth, though I still do not understand why you consider this “a better path.” It is another distraction from every paper’s core mission: to provide news and context to readers.


Scott Lewis June 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Fran, the event you’re referring to is the craft-beer education debate of which Voice of San Diego had no part at all.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 14, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Well, blow me down, Scott! Where the heck DID I read about that travesty? I wrote an objection to VOSD and impresario Omar Passons answered, both at VOSD and in a personal email to boot, mentioning civility if memory serves. If VOSD was not involved, I am confused, but glad for us all. I do know that Passons and craft-brewmeister Koch promoted their event on KPBS-Radio and cracked a cold one on-air with genial Mid-Day Edition hostess Maureen Kavanaugh.


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