The 2020 Race for San Diego Mayor: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

by on September 9, 2020 · 0 comments

in Election, San Diego

ACT I :   A Cautionary Tale About What a Mayor’s Negligence, Lack of Independence, Inept Management, and Behind-the-Scenes Manipulation Can Do to a City

By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner / September 8, 2020

Scene One: Let’s talk politics

We can start by noticing that “politics” is simply the exercise of power that determines who gets what, when, and how.

It means that on election day, either Barbara Bry or Todd Gloria will be handed the power to determine which beneficiaries will prosper (for decades to come) from the policies, decisions, contracts, agreements, awards, favors, negotiations, and other goodies originating in City Hall.

So before we decide which candidate deserves the political power to determine who gets what, when, and how, we might want to know which one can be trusted to take the interests of the public seriously enough to place it ahead of all others.

And of course we need to be sure about which candidate has the ability and integrity to successfully oversee and manage our deteriorating, problem-plagued city.

These are not frivolous questions.  Ever since San Diego traded in its flawed “city manager” form of government for an equally problematic “strong mayor” system, we’ve seen a steady decline in government oversight, services, maintenance, management, accountability, and problem-solving.

Furthermore, our recent strong mayors have used their upgraded status to replace scores of knowledgeable, professional city employees with unqualified political appointees.

But let’s not jump to conclusions.  The devil doesn’t necessarily dwell in the system but in the capabilities, integrity, and trustworthiness of the people we elect.

Scene Two: Goodbye America’s Finest City.  Hello Enron-by-the-Sea

A bit of history: The city’s strong mayor system went into effect in 2004, the year Dick Murphy was reelected mayor.  San Diego was on the brink of bankruptcy as a result of a notorious scheme concocted a few years earlier to grossly underfund our municipal employee pension system (and simultaneously boost salaries and pension benefits).  To give the illusion of a balanced budget, city officials cooked the books.

Another historic note: this disastrous imbroglio was set in motion under the old city manager system.  It was designed and implemented with the blessings of San Diego’s wizard city manager Jack McGrory… and christened by then-city attorney John Witt, and after him, Casey Gwinn.

Mayor Murphy resigned within a year of his reelection and was replaced in a special election by Jerry Sanders.

Ex-police chief Sanders originally opposed the strong mayor option.  He characterized it as “a power grab by inside players who would drain public services…to subsidize powerful developers.”  He predicted it “would reduce accountability of your elected officials.”

But Jerry Sanders–a man of flexible principles–changed his tune once San Diego’s “inside players” and “powerful developers” joined forces to make him mayor.  Mayor Sanders became the mouthpiece for retaining the strong mayor system, declaring it was the best way to bring accountability and checks and balances to city government and prevent future financial debacles.

Scene Three: So long America’s Finest City. So long Enron-by-the-Sea.  Hello YIMBY Paradise

History lesson is over.  The story resumes with Kevin Faulconer, past councilmember (2006-2014) and our city’s fourth stong mayor.

Despite his sterling credentials as a public relations professional, this mayor created a new image for San Diego–a poster child for bad planning and incompetent (… corrupt?) city governance.

Kevin Faulconer leaves a load of nasty baggage for his successor mayor to clean up, no matter which one it will be.

Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

  • Over the past decade more than $220 million of public funds were paid out for claims and lawsuits (over 20,000 of them) against the city due to broken sidewalks, water main breaks, police misconduct,  poorly trained employees using city vehicles…
  • Unspeakable incompetence in managing the hepatitis epidemic that swept through the city’s homeless population, leaving over 400 hospitalized and 20 dead
  • A city budget on the hook for an annual payment to the municipal employee pension plan of $365.5 million–up from $280 million the year Faulconer took over the city
  • Untold millions squandered on failed attempts to offset budget deficits and deep cuts in city services by selling off city assets to for-profit developers
  • More untold millions squandered on botched attempts to acquire motel properties for drug rehab centers… a fire engine maintenance yard… a shuttered indoor skydiving facility for a homeless service center…
  • Greater untold millions paid out on a contract to outfit the city with  smart street lights , so plague-ridden by mismanagement, cost overruns, maintenance problems, and deceptive practices that it had to be rescinded and completely overhauled
  • Greatest untold millions wasted on shady dealing to purchase the now-notorious downtown Sempra Energy building at 101 Ash Street
  • Last ditch efforts by the mayor to cement his legacy via construction deals for Qualcomm Stadium, the Midway Sports Arena, non-standard city parks, Complete Communities zoning overhauls–despite a warning from the San Diego Union Tribune to “Keep Faulconer Away From City Real Estate”


As the curtain falls on Act I of this municipal tragicomedy, keep in mind that the outcome of a mayor’s negligence, lack of independence, inept management, and behind-the-scenes manipulation is bad… very bad… for all of us.

Will the next mayor we elect be smart and independent enough to break the mold?

The curtain goes up on Act II after a short intermission.


{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: