Debate Gets Heated in Rancho Bernardo

I just got back from the latest city attorney candidate forum, which was held at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in North County.

The debate got pretty intense.

For starters, Jan Goldsmith had to answer some heated questions from Lorena Gonzalez, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council — which is supporting Scott Peters — about media reports referencing accusations of domestic violence made against him by his wife more than 20 years ago.

Gonzalez was relentless in prodding Goldsmith about the incident, referring to it even in her questions to another candidate, Amy Lepine. Gonzalez asked Lepine her opinion about the incident and Lepine graciously came to Goldsmith’s defense.

“To the degree that he’s gotten counseling, and there have been no further incidents, I don’t think it’s an issue,” Lepine said.

Mike Aguirre was a big hit with the North County crowd, winning warm applause and the loudest laughs of the morning. Each candidate was given an opportunity to ask the other candidates questions. In what turned out to be a nifty move, Aguirre said he wouldn’t be asking any questions.

Up next, Goldsmith peppered Aguirre with three fierce questions about his ethical record, his spotty record in winning lawsuits and his advice to the council over new rules concerning payment of expenses.

Aguirre fired back, accusing Goldsmith of misusing his position as a judge and of engaging in “the lowest form of politics” by saying he is apolitical and then making political attacks.

Blinking, Goldsmith asked moderator Gene Cubbison of NBC 7/39 if he could rebut Aguirre’s attacks.

Cubbison said no and Aguirre turned to the crowd and grinned.

“That’s why I didn’t ask any questions,” he said, prompting loud laughs from the audience.

Council President Scott Peters was largely sidelined in the debate. He was asked few questions by the panelists of his fellow candidates and reserved much of his time at the microphone for making attacks on Aguirre.

Again, Aguirre unapologetically fired back at Peters, defending the accusations he has made against him and other members of what he called City Hall’s “old guard.”

Councilman Brian Maienschein played his normal tactic of saying he was going to avoid “playing political gotcha” and then making veiled attacks at Aguirre, Goldsmith and Lepine. He also repeated, practically verbatim, the same lines he has been saying since his first press conference.

But Maienschein’s tactics seemed to be working, perhaps unsurprisingly since he was nestled in the heart of his strong support base in Rancho Bernardo. He and Aguirre took the lion’s share of the applause and laughter from the crowd.

“I don’t grandstand,” Maienschein said. “I don’t hold press conferences.”

And Amy Lepine received some applause and looked confident discussing some of the only real solid ideas raised in the two-hour discussion. Lepine talked passionately about her plans for an independent auditor and raised a laugh when she compared her experience as a flight attendant to running the City Attorney’s Office.

“I’ve taken care of more than 400 people flying through space at 400 miles per hour, I can take care of a large number of people,” she said.

WILL CARLESS

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