All The King’s Men in San Diego

by on October 4, 2021 · 14 comments

in Election, History, San Diego

Screen capture from Gloria’s video.

By Mat Wahlstrom

By now most of you know about “the video”(If you don’t, see the link to a capture of it that includes the subtitles so you can watch it without sound. Trust me, you’ll want to hit mute.)

Created for the amusement of those attending the $445-a-head “ToddTalk” fundraiser for the Downtown Partnership on September 22 but only made public by accident last week, it is a perfect distillation of the collegial corruption and smug entitlement exercised by the Establishment.

Which is why those who aren’t members of the Establishment were never intended to be allowed to see it in the first place and why the original was quickly removed — and won’t be restored. And it’s why one can see those already connected or wanting to be connected to power falling over themselves to dismiss its importance by either not commenting or calling it simply ‘having fun.’

Because whether one pronounces it harmless or nauseating is to identify one’s allegiance to The Way Things Work in San Diego.

That this video was made with elected city officials who used public resources (such as the mayor’s office and city council chambers) in a possible violation of state law to solicit “behested payments” from those doing business with the city on behalf of a city agency that administers the city’s wealthiest assessment district and which spent over $120,000 last year on PACs to elect these same officials — should be a big deal.

And that’s even before considering that the video itself begs off accountability for governance failures by these same current city officials and repeats the same allegations made by parties of interest in current city lawsuits.

And if that’s not enough, it was a tour de force in cluelessness, cultural appropriation, and cruel metaphors (‘cleaning up’ choreography with brooms while police conduct homeless ‘sweeps’ before public events by the video participants) — proof positive that “San Diego is California’s second largest city, but doesn’t act like it.”

But like a Russian nesting doll, this video contains even more layers of meaning.

There is simply no way that Kevin Faulconer, the Establishment’s heretofore golden boy, could ever have been singled out for this absolute trashing unless it had been approved at the highest level.

Sure, he’d been a terrible mayor for the people; but he always stumped for the developer and other donor class interests on everything that mattered to them. The scandals revealed under his watch were entirely in keeping with business as usual.

Yet his recent performance in the gubernatorial recall election proved he had no chance of ever expanding their influence beyond San Diego, and he was sloppy in covering up his dirty work, so it was necessary to signal to the audience that the Establishment will not tolerate failure.

It was a message from the de facto mayor of San Diego delivered by ventriloquism.

For those of you who don’t know: “Gerald Robert ‘Jerry’ Sanders is a former American politician and law enforcement officer from San Diego, California. He is the former [Republican] Mayor of San Diego and former Chief of Police. As of December 2012, he [became] the president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce” — the very next day after leaving office due to term limits and where he is still today.

‘Former’ is doing a lot of work there. Originally elected as mayor in 2005 in the runoff after Dick Murphy’s resignation in a heartbreaking win over progressive Donna Frye, Jerry Sanders was the first to serve under — and learn the ins and outs of — our current ‘strong mayor system’ of city government.

While in office, he torpedoed fellow elected then-City Attorney Mike Aguirre for the latter’s reformist activism (and role in exposing Sander’s Sunroad fiasco with the FAA), and worked to replace him in 2008 with Jan Goldsmith, who toed his line until terming out in 2016.

But it was before and after the mayoral election in 2012 that Sanders revealed his role as kingmaker.

The two lead Republican candidates were Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer. One can find numerous news articles about it, but what is clear is that Sanders blackballed DeMaio and DeMaio refused to accept it. The fact that DeMaio had enough personal wealth to not be beholden to Sanders or others in the Establishment was likely the deciding factor for both of them.

[Note: I have no connection with or interest in either Faulconer or DeMaio beyond these facts. As far as I’m concerned they’re both pond scum.]

And as we know, this split the registered Republican voter majority at that time to elect as mayor the Democratic candidate, Bob Filner, who explicitly ran as a challenger to the Establishment.

[Note: I have no connection with or interest in Filner beyond these facts. As far as I’m concerned he’s pond scum.]

Although deeply compromised, Filner quickly set about making changes that threatened the Establishment. From fast-tracking voter-approved cannabis legalization measures to cutting off the hotelier cabal’s Tourism Marketing District slush fund, he made enemies without making friends. So when he was forced to resign in disgrace nine months later, it was at the hands of a Sanders-brokered agreement between City Attorney Goldsmith, Councilmember Faulconer, and Council President Todd Gloria.

Hey, there’s even a video about that!

And what did we get for it? The spectacular failure of our Panama-California Exposition centennial in 2015, the Plaza de Panama debacle, and Civic San Diego — all crony insider enrichment schemes. In other words, business as usual.

Immediately after the election last November, Voice of San Diego wrote soothingly of Gloria’s hiring a Sander’s VP at the Chamber of Commerce as his chief of staff and Sander’s former chief financial officer while mayor as his chief operating officer.

(Needless to say, Faulconer also had a former Chamber of Commerce VP as his chief of staff and a former chair of the Downtown Partnership as his chief operating officer.)

For all the protestations, lip-synced and otherwise, by Gloria that Faulconer was a liar who left him a mess to clean up, it’s striking the number of his senior staffers and department heads that were kept on from his administration — and more would still be there, if it weren’t for the 101 Ash Street scandal.

And can anyone name a single Republican Faulconer policy that Democrat Gloria has reversed?

The consequences are not trivial. Most significant is the continued tenure of Faulconer appointee Chief Nisleit as head of the San Diego Police Department, despite all the abuses documented during #BlackLivesMatter protests, including plain-clothed officers abducting people off the street, to SDPD’s continued blocking reforms passed by voters and of course homeless sweeps. (Not a coincidence that Sanders got his start at SDPD in 1973 and was chief from 1993 to 1999.)

So, back to the video. This weekend, Voice of San Diego was once again on hand to soothe those behind their paywall wanting to know the official Establishment response, and they did not disappoint: “The bipartisan participation also drove home a kind of shared sense of who was in charge, a club where, despite differences, they could all laugh.”

The king is dead, long live the king.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 4, 2021 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for focusing on this Mat, another well written piece. I came across the video in my news feed, watched about 10 seconds and turned it off disgusted. I can understand trashing Faulconer, he deserves it. But trashing a mayoral opponent? Barbara Bry ran an honest and decent campaign and graciously accepted defeat. Why trash er how> I think he’s afraid of her. That video made San Diego look ridiculous. I don’t think we elect mayors to make our city look stupid.


Mat Wahlstrom October 4, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Appreciate your encouragement as always.
There’s so much wrong with everything and everyone involved this video.


Peter from South O October 4, 2021 at 1:04 pm

San Diego voters may not elect mayors to make our city look stupid on purpose, but they sure have done so with alarming regularity in the past. This last one left office with blatant bad and illegal decisions made while in office haunting his successor (a la trump), Roger Hedgecock (but I wasn’t convicted!) was a real gem, as was Maureen O’Connor who as far as I know has yet to pay her court-ordered restitution. A real rogues gallery. At least none of them got caught smoking crack . . .


Lisa Mortensen October 4, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Bravo, Mat! Really a deep dive on the many angles of the video. I can only hope Todd is a one-term Mayor.


Arlene Hauser October 4, 2021 at 3:35 pm

Matt, what a well-written commentary which puts everything in proper perspective. How embarrassing for our adored city. You nailed it! Grounds for recall?


Paul Webb October 4, 2021 at 4:29 pm

A couple of thoughts. First, Aguirre made a regular habit generating new and maintaining old enemies. Sometimes having an abrasive personality gets things done, but Aguirre walked into most situations with a flamethrower. I’ll never forget that he showed up at the site of a landslide on Mt. Soledad that endangered homes and the first thing he said was that the city was responsible. I don’t much like the idea of my attorney announcing to the world that I’m guilty!

Second, while you are bashing former mayors, why leave out Golding? The stadium deals, the Republican convention debacle, the “infrastructure mayor” that left us with massive debts and severely compromised infrastructure, etc. She certainly deserves a place in the San Diego Pantheon.


Mat Wahlstrom October 4, 2021 at 6:32 pm

I wasn’t trying to write a history since the mists of time. What I was trying to do is show how this particular episode shines a light on the current dynasty. (Or is Golding still considered part of the Establishment, not banished as Faulconer apparently has?) Likewise for my mentioning Aguirre.


Geoff Page October 5, 2021 at 10:58 am

Right on, Paul. In my 44 years in San Diego, Golding was by far the worst mayor. In addition to all the things you mentioned, Paul, was the traveling she did while in office all over the world. She stayed at the best hotels, ate expensive meals, and took along friends for company. She was a disaster for this city, she should have been brought up on corruption charges.


Paul Webb October 5, 2021 at 4:23 pm

Yeah, but she was the much beloved Brage Golding’s little girl so all is forgiven.


OB man October 4, 2021 at 8:19 pm

“It was a message from the de facto mayor of San Diego delivered by ventriloquism.

great line


MICHAEL JACOBS October 5, 2021 at 7:59 am

There is a tremendous amount of intertia behind the corrupt establishment in San Diego. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and the amount of interia is proportional to the size of the object. In this case, Todd comes acrss as a pathetic stooge much larger, smarter, and wealthier interests. That doesn’t excuse him from his obvious ethical failures, in his campaigns and policy choices.


Celeste Williams October 5, 2021 at 9:15 am

Corruption rages in every corner of our government. The swamp is everywhere. Lots of indicators that we are losing the country we thought we had… thanks for your article that sheds more light on the grim reality…


Douglas Blackwood October 5, 2021 at 8:14 pm

Great job Mat! This is why I love the “OB Rag”.
Perhaps a poll to select the worst SD Mayor in 50 years, & their sidekicks? There’s a long list of slimeballs: My vote is:
Susan (Me, Me Me!) Golding, & Jack (Me, Me, Me!) Mc G


sealintheSelkirks October 7, 2021 at 2:08 am

Since I haven’t lived in my hometown since 1987 but did the first 33 years of life on this planet, I can honestly say that reading about little or no difference in the politics now that I saw then does not surprise me in the least.

And Mat, don’t worry about going farther back in time because you’ll only find the same kind of slimy bottomfeeder pond scum right back to the murdering Spanish invaders first settlements.

What’s the difference between then and now? The Spanish used swords. Swords may have gone out of fashion but it seems the behavior hasn’t changed much since the 1500s.
I’ll agree with Celeste Williams, every corner of the government is a dismal stinking swamp. It only gets worse because there is only one personality type that is allowed to be ‘elected,’ the corporate neoliberal. Why is it that over and over the worst possible people always seems to be elevated to the top of the pyramid? Rich, arrogant, full of hubris, vicious and greedy to a fault, always reaching for the golden ring of power. For the most part one can label them sociopaths because they seem to have zero empathy for anybody else (or any other living earthling for that matter).

And people want to be like them, put them up as the ‘nice people’ and strain to attain their exalted status on that pyramid for themselves because they grow up with the myths from childhood that teaches them to want to be like these awful people. They are the darling princes & princesses swirling around gala events splashed all over the media shows just how well off they are with their yachts and fancy cars and glittering jewelry and $5000 suits…

What the hell is wrong with our species?



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