Tag Archives: Steve Francis

Ben Hueso Happened

Disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign which has worked on the Blackwater issue, but these opinions are my own.

Earlier this week, I asked What the Hell happened in San Diego in the June 3 election. I explored a particularly underwhelming electoral performance and noted that there was a massive failure of leadership from the city’s elected Democrats (active and retired). Councilmember Donna Frye supported GOP mayoral challenger Steve Francis and Council President Scott Peters ran against the Democratic incumbent City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Incidentally, both Francis and Peters failed to make it to the November runoff.

Then yesterday it happened again. Councilmember Ben Hueso, who in May was rallying to Block Blackwater in his council district, announced his endorsement of Republican city attorney candidate Jan Goldsmith. This is particularly notable because Goldsmith’s opponent is incumbent Mike Aguirre. Aguirre has been a champion for the city in the fight to force Blackwater’s permits into public hearing at a time when a number of other city leaders have…attended a rally and then thrown up their hands.

If Jan Goldsmith as City Attorney would go to bat over Blackwater or any other number of issues that might be uncomfortable for the Mayor or inconvenient for the City Council, I would be absolutely flabbergasted. The campaign, like every other challenge to Aguirre this year, has been centered around a promise to sit down and shut up. The last thing this city needs is another elected official who doesn’t have the necessary combination of power and motivation to force important issues.

As the UT newsblog notes, Hueso and Aguirre have never exactly been close. And Aguirre has taken a lot of flack throughout his term as City Attorney for his rabid pursuit of Mayor Jerry Sanders for all manner of scandal- real or imagined. But as Councilmember Hueso well knows because he’s at the meetings, the City Council hasn’t exactly put on a clinic when it comes to keeping mayoral power checked by the legislative branch. Fighting the good fight has consistently taken a back seat over the past two and a half years to misguided “pragmatism” that largely allowed Mayor Sanders to get anything he wanted.

So what we’re left with is Ben Hueso surveying this scene- Mayor Sanders re-elected to a second term with what CW will term a convincing mandate (it’s not, the turnout was too low to carry a mandate) and a City Council that will likely go from a narrow Democratic advantage to an even split, further neutering a body that had given itself over to the inevitability of the Strong Mayor government- and deciding that the best thing for the city is that the single dissonant voice of any weight in the city government should be replaced by, as the UT put it,

Hueso said the city attorney’s political persuasion is less important to him than getting “the best legal advice.”

If the Democratic Party in San Diego is ever going to be able to capitalize on the tremendous infrastructure building being done at the precinct and street-corner level, leading Democrats need to stop undercutting both their party and basic points of fundamental governance at every opportunity.

What happened in San Diego? Ben Hueso and destructive politics like this happened.

What the Hell Happened in San Diego?

At Voice of San Diego today, David Washburn asks Where are the Democrats?

It’s a question that I’ve been contemplating and broaching in conversations since June 3 which was, to put it mildly, a disaster for Democrats of San Diego. In a Democratic majority city, the official mayoral nominee of the Democratic Party received 6.3% of the vote. The contested Democratic primary in the 50th Congressional District received in total just 70% of the votes that incumbent Rep. Brian Bilbray received running unopposed. In the 52rd district, Democratic candidates combined for 81% of the total received by Duncan Hunter Jr. himself in a four-way primary.

Not a single Democratic challenger to the Board of Supervisors reached 30% of the vote. One fresh face was added to the Unified School Board- running unopposed. Democrats could not force a runoff in all four City Council races or reach 50% in any, leaving a very real possibility that Dems will lose control of the nominally non-partisan Council in November. Dems in the race for City Attorney split the vote three ways, allowing Republican Jan Goldsmith to slide into pole position for the November runoff against incumbent Mike Aguirre who clocked in at under 29%. Heck, the Chair of the San Diego Democratic Party came in 7th in a vote-for-six race for Central Committee (and then won a DNC spot over the weekend). I could go on.

Each of these races on their own might be justified. But when it represents the entire strength that the San Diego Democratic Party can muster in the midst of a pro-Democratic tide across the country larger than anyone has seen in decades, it’s cause for concern. So what happened? Washburn offers a few thoughts as do I:

One of the most glaring issues is money. As Washburn notes,

In the just-finished primary, the Democratic Party spent $35,000 on direct mail and other support of Stephen Whitburn. His chief competition for the District 3 seat came from two other Democrats — Todd Gloria and John Hartley. Gloria and Whitburn made the runoff.

“Why would you spend a penny on that race?” asked Andy Berg, the director of government relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association and a Democrat. “Gloria and Whitburn would likely vote the same (on council) 100 out of 100 times.”

Meanwhile, Berg noted, Democrats are in dogfights against well-funded Republicans in Districts 1 and 7. The party spent nearly $70,000 in the primary to support Marti Emerald and oppose Boling in District 7. The GOP spent more than $200,000 in that race.

In District 1, the funding disparity is starker. The Democratic Party spent just more than $5,000 supporting Sherri Lightner in a race against Thalheimer and Marshall Merrifield, Republicans who combined raised more than $700,000, most of it coming out of their own pockets.

In the mayoral race, the GOP spent $230,000 on Sanders while the Democrats spent $1,869 on [Democratic nominee Floyd] Morrow.

I should note that District 1 is current represented by Democrat and City Council President Scott Peters, so losing that seat could mean losing control of the Council.

Current state GOP Chair Ron Nehring came up in San Diego, where with unlimited national-level resources he rebuilt the SD GOP with a focus on infrastructure and electoral victory, leaving ideology as incidental. As designed, it has almost completely eliminated the ability of local Democrats to win or often contest elections- which makes the ideological debate moot since…well…there isn’t one.

One wonders what exactly the point is of even nominating someone for Mayor if there will be no support at all. The most prominent Democrats in San Diego looked past Morrow, with former state Sen. Dede Alpert, former Assemblywoman Lucy Killea and former Rep. Lynn Schenk endorsing Jerry Sanders and Councilmember Donna Frye doing everything but endorsing GOP challenger Steve Francis. There’s a time and a place for pragmatism, but completely giving up on even having a debate of the issues that ranges outside the far right-to-center right continuum should be embarrassing. If we can’t even talk about these issues in an election, when are we gonna do it?

Washburn goes on to touch on another issue that I’ve discussed many times with local Democrats: Where the hell are the candidates and the infrastructure? Lorena Gonzalez lost an exceptionally tight race for City Council in 2006 in a district that covers beach communities and downtown urbanites that should be favorable for a Democrat:

“Here we have a Stanford-educated woman with brilliant ideas and Democratic ideals — she epitomized what the party is about,” Berg said. “And [the party] couldn’t muster the support to win a City Council race.”

Gonzalez, who is now the secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, said she felt, to a degree, like she was on her own during the race.

“Speaking as a candidate, we don’t have the same infrastructure that the GOP has,” said Gonzalez, who estimates she was outspent 7-to-1 in the race. “And there have been no real attempts to create an infrastructure and professionalize the party.”

Gonzalez might be going a bit further than I would there, because the SD Dems and Chair Jess Durfee have in fact been making tremendous strides recently. Indeed, Washburn notes “Since taking over as chairman four years ago, Durfee said he has increased the organization’s budget from $60,000 to $300,000. Also, he said, and the party has gone from having no field operations at all, to more than 700 trained precinct leaders in the county.”

That’s a darn good start, and one that should be commended. But when the money is being misallocated, when candidates don’t feel like they’ll be supported by a vigorous infrastructure, and when leading figures in the party check out and throw their lot in with the GOP under the guise of some cop-out notion of pragmatism that simply justifies the opposing point of view, there’s been a fundamental and catastrophic breakdown.

The infrastructure that is beginning to take root here is encouraging, but remain small steps in the right direction. These few encouraging steps are more than outweighed by the colossal “DNP” on the coaches’ scorecard for prominent Democrats throughout the County. If they weren’t busy with in-fighting, they flat did not show up. And with that kind of leadership, building from the ground up- even in times as conducive as these- becomes a herculean task. If June 3rd’s results are any indication, local Democrats won’t be done wandering in the wilderness any time soon.

Some Things I’m Voting For

Brian did one for San Francisco, so now it’s my turn. I’ll defer to the Calitics endorsements for contested state and federal races and focus on a few collected locals. I’m skipping the unopposed races, I’ve done varying amounts of research on these ranging from “exhaustive” to “I trust this one guy’s opinion” and as usual, I speak only for myself, not Calitics or the Editorial Board.

Superior Court 19: Garry Haehnle

Superior Court 45: Evan Patrick Kirvin

San Diego Prop A: Yes

San Diego Prop B: Yes

San Diego Prop C: No (The Mayor should not appoint his/her own auditor)

San Diego Mayor: Floyd Morrow. While this is almost certainly a Sanders/Francis race, this is more than a protest vote. It’s important to force this race into a runoff, otherwise most (maybe all) leverage is lost with the Mayor’s office from here until the end of the upcoming term. Squeezing at least a few more months out of it would be great.

San Diego City Attorney: Mike Aguirre. I have serious reservations about all of these candidates and Aguirre is certainly no exception. His personal squabbling with the Mayor has often been counter-productive and reckless and I don’t overlook that lightly. But flawed as he may be, I haven’t seen any other candidate distinguish themselves as interested in being quite the rabid counterweight to a “strong mayor” that’s already proven itself a failed model. That role doesn’t have to be filled by the City Attorney, but I’m not yet convinced it’ll be handled anywhere else.

There are also a number of people who I would like to vote for if I were in other parts of San Diego, but this is who I’m voting for.

Anyone inside San Diego or with a fleeting interest in San Diego issues, feel free to share your own voting plans or simply beat me into submission for the insanity of my picks.

SD Mayor – Steve Francis Runs Against George Bush

So today, I received the latest volley of Steve Francis mailers (it’s been an average of two a day for the last two weeks).  Today, there was the regular Francis stuff, but also another one that would seem to be clearly targeted at people who think (for a change).  This one only mentions Steve Francis in the return address.

It has a big picture of Mayor Jerry Sanders standing next to George H.W. Bush, with the caption “Why has the Republican Party endorsed Jerry Sanders for Mayor?”  It goe on to answer with statements such as “Because Sanders has no plan to protect the environment . . . Because Sanders gives favors to fat cat developers . . .” and so on.

This is really funny to me, because as I understand it, Francis is a Republican too (we do have a rather pathetic set of options this time – but I can’t blame anyone for not wanting the job anyway).  You really would think the Democratic Party, or a labor union made up this mailer.

At this point, I am inclined to think that Steve Francis really does not have any ambition beyond Mayor, because I can’t think that clowns like Ron Nehring will ever forgive him for something like this.

In any case, it is the first time I’ve actually seen proof of a Republican (and yes, I know that it’s a nonpartisan office – LOL) actively running against GWB in this way.  I frankly have been skeptical that any Republican would actually violate St. Ronnie’s commandment about speaking ill of another GOPer, but there it is.

Is it really a trend?  Has anyone else seen something like this?  This really is a remarkable election year.

Blackwater Explodes into San Diego Mayoral Race

Full disclosure: I work for the Courage Campaign

Blackwater made its way into the big time here in San Diego today, with mayoral hopeful Steve Francis picking up on the issue and savagely beating Jerry Sanders over the head with it.  There’s no love lost between these two (as you may remember or enjoy viewing), and they know that whether it’s on June 3 or in the November runoff, they’re in direct competition with each other for roughly the same political real estate in this mayoral race.  So when Francis is kind enough to adopt the Courage Campaign frame in his press release entitled Blackwater Permit Issue Raises Serious Questions. Which makes Blackwater a defining issue as both Republicans try to stake a claim to the center-left.

Full text and further analysis on the flip.

“Once again, it appears that the too-cozy relationship between Mayor Sanders’ administration and his lobbyist supporters may have led to an outcome that is not in the best interests of the people of San Diego. And once again, we see the corrosive effects of too much secrecy and not enough transparency in the dealings of our government.  Right now, the Blackwater permit issue raises more questions than it answers. In light of the Blackwater West controversy last year, the fact that permits were sought using the names of Blackwater affiliates and not the Blackwater name itself raises serious questions. Was this a deliberate deception? How was a permit for a “vocational training school” given to a paramilitary training facility? Why was this matter not handled in an open and transparent way with public hearings and public comment period? Did Sanders’ supporter and lobbyist firm Carpi and Clay receive preferential treatment for their client, Blackwater? How many times did Mayor Sanders and/or his top lieutenants meet with Carpi and Clay in 2007 and 2008 and what were the topics discussed at those meetings? What did Mayor Sanders know about the current permit issue and when did he know it? Due to the long track record of this Mayor in regards to special access for his lobbyist supporters, it is simply not credible for his Administration to investigate itself. I call on Mayor Sanders to invite an external investigation into this matter so that the citizens can be assured of the integrity of the process.”

Francis reinforces some issues and broaches a few more in this release.  First of all, the Carpi and Clay connection.  The local lobbyists are playing about 18 different sides in this mess. Among their many local clients are the County and Port of San Diego. Nikki Clay was a registered Blackwater lobbyist during 2006 and 2007 while they were pursuing their Potrero facility. Her husband Ben Clay was recently nominated by Mayor Sanders to the local Stadium Board. Both are campaign contributors to Sanders’ campaign and PAC in the past.  One of the major criticisms of Sanders is that he’s far too beholden to contributors and far too cozy with lobbyists. So that’s the new.

The reinforced is that this is not a partisan issue, but rather an issue of fundamental government functionality and decency.  We have a GOP mayor and his GOP challenger now battling over who can be tougher on Blackwater. Because Blackwater is simply bad no matter how you cut it. The only way for them to open a new facility is to obscure their identity and true motives, which breaks local governments.  And that’s without even getting into the community impact on local schools and security having lying mercenaries running around.  The underlying issue that Steve Francis lays bare here and which goes beyond local issues is this: What they say they’re doing is not what they’re permitted to do.  If this is allowed to slide, they aren’t bound by what they say they’re doing. The floodgates are open and they can do anything.

The door needs to be slammed now, and hard.  Francis and Sanders are racing towards the center-left in this election; Francis on transparent government, Sanders on marriage equality and no-nonsense finance. And now, they’re both racing on Blackwater. Cause nobody wants to be the one opposed to functional government.

Draft Ducheny For San Diego Mayor Gains Steam

“There’s a certain kind of equation that Democrats are doing,” Ducheny said. “Their concerns are that it’s Sanders and Francis and, gosh, is there anybody else?”

I first heard rumblings about this at San Diego Politico last week, and now VoiceOfSanDiego has dug into it with greater depth.  With Donna Frye demurring on another run for mayor of San Diego, Dems are looking at State Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny as a candidate for mayor next year.  She’s exciting a lot of Dems for being business-friendly in a cycle that may see Republicans split between current Mayor Jerry Sanders and 2004 candidate Steve Francis, who has become a consistent critic of Sanders.  Ducheny would have the added benefit of not being tainted by recent city-level scandals and has drawn the support of at least one high profile Democrat: City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

San Diego Democrats are facing a potentially golden electoral opportunity in 2008.  Dissatisfaction with Jerry Sanders from business Republicans has given Steve Francis a wedge with which to gain some traction on the right.  A divided Republican electorate combined with an increasingly unpopular Republican Party at the national level and the forgotten Democratic registration advantage presents a great chance for Democrats to take the mayor’s office.  The only problem so far has been figuring out who should run.  San Diego doesn’t have the deepest of benches after a generation of rising progressives was virtually wiped out by corruption and Target San Diego (pdf).  Much of the remaining Democrats in office are reliably liberal but also inextricably linked to dissatisfaction with local government over the past five years.

As the VoSD article notes, before Donna Frye, Democrats hadn’t made a serious run at the mayor’s office since 1992, and now find themselves back to starting with the opportunity and searching for a candidate.  Ducheny’s experience in Sacramento on budget matters make her particularly attractive to local Democrats in light of the city’s fiscal struggles, though there are concerns about the level of support that she would inspire from local labor, but given the thin bench after years of lackluster success at the nonpartisan level, any solution is likely to be imperfect.

Sen. Ducheny has expressed no particular hurry to make a decision in either direction, though the sooner the better by most estimations.  Jerry Sanders’ reelection campaign is set to kick off tomorrow.

Is Jerry Sanders in for a Fight?

As reported earlier this month by voiceofsandiego.org, Mayor Jerry Sanders’ second quarter fundraising resulted in zero dollars (pdf).  This, presumably, was at least partly to do with a perceived lack of credible challengers for next year’s mayoral race.  But after two weeks of being picked apart over his role in the illegal Sunroad project and his apparently dishonest defense, things may be changing.  The Union Tribune is reporting that Mayor Sanders’ two major challengers from last time, City Councilwoman Donna Frye and businessman Steve Francis, “champing at the bit” over the prospect of a rematch.  So what’s going on?

Sunroad Enterprises was busted for exceeding federal height limits for its development near Montgomery Field airport, and questions have been flying around town as to just who it was who let it happen.  City Attorney Mike Aguirre was one of the first out of the gate, accusing Mayor Sanders of corruption over the situation, noting that Sunroad executives played notable fundraising roles in Sanders’ election.  Sanders has vehemently defended himself against allegations of corruption, but recent revelations has called his side of things into question.  Before citing multiple discrepancies between Sanders’ explanation and official records, The Union Tribune over the weekend explained:

Memos show that then-Development Services Department director Gary Halbert, assistant director Kelly Broughton, and James Waring, the chief of land use and economic development, all knew about the problem in June 2006 – before the building had reached its halfway point.

Yet Sanders has insisted that neither he nor Waring knew about the controversy until October, when the structure had reached its full height and City Attorney Michael Aguirre was preparing to issue a stop-work order on the project.

The Mayor’s investigation into the matter was initially run by retired Navy Rear Adm. Ronne Froman, serving as the mayor’s chief operating officer.  She quit in mid-investigation, explaining “her work at City Hall was completed.”  James Waring has recently left his position either via firing, forced resignation or regular resignation depending on who you talk to.  This after his visit last week to Donna Frye, supposedly without the mayor’s knowledge, to negotiate a height compromise.  Frye went public with the attempted negotiation and Francis (Sanders’ presumptive challenger from the right) has correctly pointed out that Sanders is either lying or running an out of control office.  And neither is good.

All of this simply continues a disturbing trend for Jerry Sanders.  He has systematically set out to restrict public access and input to the city charter revision, has embraced the “strong mayor” principle after cosigning the argument against it, and has completely forfeited any credibility he might have had surrounding his pledge of an “era of openness” in San Diego government.  He has, essentially, insisted that he should be trusted because only he really understands what has to be done (kinda like a certain president).

Presumably Jerry Sanders is not going to be raising zero dollars again anytime soon.  But as his credibility starts to fade, it gives opponents a clear line of attack in a city still weary of corrupt governance.  Timed with a report that the Board of Supervisors will likely not be competitive, it looks like we can mark down at least one legitimate race in San Diego next year.