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Wednesday, July 20, 2005 | Mayoral candidate Myke Shelby uprooted and moved several times while he was in the Air Force, taking on stints in Mississippi, South Carolina and eventually Vietnam.
But Shelby, who resides in Carmel Valley, has been spreading a different message to San Diegans this campaign season: Stay here and help make this city the greatest city in the world to live, work and visit.
“I moved to San Diego so my kids could grow up in a place with real values, and they have,” said Shelby, the owner of San Diego Harley-Davidson who is easily recognizable by his trademark ponytail and bulky belt buckle.
But there’s another trademark item he’s not often without: a copy of the U.S. Constitution that he keeps stowed in his back pocket. The proud Republican often draws upon it when illustrating a point about the Mount Soledad Cross – a symbol of expression, in Shelby’s eyes, that should be protected so as to better honor veterans.
Shelby, 61, has been an ardent supporter of keeping the cross atop the local mountain, and has been successful in being identified as such.
Another topic he’s forced his opponents to take a stance on is the U.S.-Mexico border, a vital security issue he feels has been vastly overlooked by the politicians of a city backing up to the world’s busiest port-of-entry.
“It’s a huge focus for me and I believe that if you’re going to be a candidate in this race, a position on the border has got to be a pre-requisite,” he said. “You can’t accept what we have now, so you’ve got to have a position.”
The border is a very important security issue to Shelby, but it also has reverberations that affect the quality of life in San Diego. He moved here, and stayed, because he believes it’s just what the tagline says: “America’s Finest City.”
“Our next mayor needs to set our expectations of excellence,” he said. “That’s what creates dignity.”
Voice: When you think about the job of mayor, what do you think is the most critical thing the new mayor needs to accomplish, and in what time frame?
Shelby: Putting confidence back into the people of San Diego immediately. There is no time that can be wasted in making the people feel this, they need to feel what’s good about the city, what works about the city. They’ve been hearing too much about what doesn’t work about the city, they’ve been hearing too much about financial problems and not about all the wonderful things about San Diego. We’ve let a problem overwhelm everything else about San Diego, and this is not a city that is corrupt. It’s not a city that has major financial problems. Everything stems from some bad decisions on the pension problems. I mean, really it sounds crazy. How will you allow one major issue, that’s major, no question about it, but how do you allow that to weigh a city down the way we’ve allowed this brick to weigh us down? It’s been an anchor. It’s really been an albatross, and I think the first thing we have to do is reestablish confidence in the city and in the government and in themselves.
How do you do that?
The first place, a leader rallies his troops or her troops. A leader stands up and shows and demonstrates confidence to instill confidence in people. Throughout my campaign, I’ve been talking about the things that work in San Diego. I’ve been talking about the positive things about San Diego and the things I want to lead. There are things you want to get rid of and, you know, just blow away and there’s things that you want to continue with, and that’s the things you lead with. This is “America’s Finest City,” people forget that it’s not just a little slogan. You know, it really is. I don’t care where you live in this country, there is never a time that San Diego isn’t a better place. It’s just the way it is. I mean, we have nature’s playground from the Pacific Ocean to the mountains to the deserts in Borrego, and you know it’s all here and in between we have an awesome city with a great population of wonderful people. Some are entrepreneurs and some are just athletes and some of them just want to take advantage of all the earthy things about San Diego, the connection with nature’s gift to this little part of the world, and some people come here to invest, to retire, some to establish businesses. It’s an entrepreneurial paradise. At least it was until the Legislature up in Sacramento got a hold of it and made it so difficult to run, but we can get past all those things.
So tell us something in your past that you’ve done that’s comparable to being the Mayor of San Diego.
I don’t think you can say that there’s anything comparable to being a mayor, if you want to know the truth. I look around at the other people campaigning for this job, and I look at them and wonder, do they think the same thing that I think? Do they wonder how overwhelming this whole thing is? And I think about that a lot. I think about it every day. I’m trying to get my arms around it and get a sense of a feeling of understanding of the enormity of this job. We’re talking about not just the 11,000 workers of the city of San Diego, you know, cops and firefighters and city workers, we’re talking about over a million people, and they’re dependent on whoever’s leading this city to make those right decisions so that their lifestyles, their homes, their families and everything, is sustainable.
Can you give us an example of a difficult situation where you’ve rallied the troops?
Let me get to that because I want to set the stage first. I’m not going to say to you that I have an understanding, it’s the thing until you walk a mile in those shoes, it’s hard to imagine what the ground is like up at City Hall at that level, but I do have an understanding, a sense of the enormity and all I can say is that, you know, in the late ’60s I went to Kennedy (Airport). My dad died suddenly at 68, he was killed and my brother and sister – my sister was four and my brother was 13 – so I had to go to New York to take care of the family. My mother was in the hospital for years, and then she was institutionalized until she died.
So I get to Kennedy Airport and started the business called Jet Port Brokerage and rented out space to truckers and freight forwarders. Kennedy Airport is a world of itself, you know. Back in the ’60s and the ’70s we had a series of problems. Now I don’t think it’s fair to equate the situation at Kennedy, but I can tell you that arriving at Kennedy Airport, starting up a business, in1969, ’70, ’71, you’re involved in, you know, this is the point, in 1969 the whole antiwar is going on, it’s chaos. Chaos in New York City …
So what was your role in all of this?
I started this real estate company a year later. It was the preeminent commercial real estate leasing company at Kennedy Airport. Nobody came to Kennedy Airport without going through Jet Port Brokerage and me. That was it. If you wanted truck business at Kennedy Airport, it was call me, “Hey Myke, we got a guy coming in.”
I became the founding president of the Rotary Club at Kennedy Airport. I was on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce, became President of the Chamber of Commerce at Kennedy Airport. And we’d sit around, we had huge headaches dealing with how do you get business at Kennedy Airport. How do you deal with the noise issues? How do you deal with all the people demonstrating? I mean, we used to have, Al Sharpton or another guy, that would come up on busloads of people demonstrating against everything we were doing at Kennedy Airport because of the noise. Then you had Jamaica right there, so you had this huge neighborhood protesting, you won’t bring the planes over the rich people over in the five towns, you can bring it over the people living in the ghettos in the other direction. You’re talking about over 100,000 people that work and live at Kennedy Airport. I set up the first day care center at Kennedy Airport.
I’m a Vietnam vet. I have been active since the Vietnam Veterans’ war memorial was put up on Nov. 13, 1982. I was the keynote speaker there on Memorial Day of ’98, which I look back on as a huge thing in my life, even though it was a short speech. I’m part of the Sturgis Motorcycle Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame. They’re a pretty big thing to me. It may not mean a lot to you guys, but to me, you know, as a motorcyclist, I’m executive director and have been for 10 years of an organization called ABATE (American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education). We try to promote motorcycling nationwide. You’re talking about 10,000 to 15,000 members per state, 50 states, you know, probably close to a half a million members nationwide, and I’m executive director of the California organization.
Going back to the city of San Diego, politicians often talk about the first 100 days. What would you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days?
First off, I want to sit down with the unions and find out what exactly they’re willing to do to handle this pension problem. See how far they’re willing to go without real entrenched battles. I want to sit down and find out, in private, not in the public fishbowl, you know, where egos are challenged all the time, and really get a sense of how entrenched they are in their positions and how far they’re willing to go, how far they can go, they possibly think they can go and just discuss with them in as common atmosphere as possible the consequences of not finding common ground where we can all exist where we don’t, ’cause I don’t really believe that number one you’re going to wave a magic wand as some of the other candidates have talked about and a judge is going to say “well because these pension benefits were given illegally.”
And I also think that we have to recognize that we have 1,600 cops on the street out of a 2,000 police force. Sixteen hundred on the street and 5,000 known gang members. So, you know, you got people down here below this downtown area, south and east, that have a life, too. And, you know, I’m the mayor of them as well. And I think we have to go down to the Fourth District and we have to go to other places and talk to these people. I think we want to establish in the first 100 days some town hall meetings. I want one every month, especially in the first six months to a year, in a different part of San Diego each month to reach out to these people. I want to get on the radio and have people be able to call and talk to the mayor, not just so they can talk to the mayor and get something off their chest, but so everybody in the city can hear the answers and hear the dialogue. I want people to understand there’s a mayor that really cares about everybody in this city, and it’s not just a few elite people, it’s not just a few business people, but I have an understanding of business is the engine that drives the economy. And people have to understand that. It’s not because you’re ignoring people who work. The people who clean the buildings are just as important as the people who own the buildings as people. But those people that own the buildings have a lot of control and a lot of power and a lot of authority, so we want to work with all these groups in every capacity we can. I think instilling confidence in the people of the city of San Diego is the number one job.
So what’s your vision of the city at the end of your term and how would we know if you’ve been successful?
That’s a damn good question. If I don’t go bankrupt, so I don’t bring the city to Chapter 9, if you don’t go into receivership, if I haven’t raised taxes or fees, and the people in San Diego feel safe and secure, they feel good about themselves and the city, I’ve had a very successful ride. If the people who work for the city feel good about working here and feel like they’re cared about. If they can feel like they’re working for a place they want to work for, they feel good about the city they work for, and the people that they work for, the citizens of San Diego, and there’s a connection here, that’s what I’d like. I’d like to get that sense that people walk down the street and they see a cop or firefighter, they’re not somebody that’s being overpaid or taking a pension they didn’t deserve. The military community is really important in this town. And I don’t know that we have enough of a connection with the military. I think there’s a lot about San Diego that’s absolutely wonderful and I want that to be very evident and very obvious to people who live here.
When you started to talk a few minutes ago, you talked about San Diego as “America’s Finest City.” Some people have said this is an outdated paradigm. Do you think it’s still right to think of ourselves as “America’s Finest City”?
Absolutely. I think that it’s a great statement. I’ve heard other people say “Myke, that’s back in the ’80s. Let’s get past that. Let’s get to something else.” I think it describes the city very well … I think we’ve been ignored in, you know, the fact that how many of those 9/11 hijackers lived and trained here. From 1999 to 2002, 6,500 non-Mexican illegals were apprehended coming over the border. From 2002 to 2005, that went to 85,000 non-Mexican illegals apprehended at the border. The infrastructure that supported the hijackings from 9/11 is still here. I think it’s critical that we address that.
Imagine the headlines two years from now. What would you like them to say?
I want to be realistic. I think it’d be silly to give you a fairytale headline. I’d like to not to be talking a lot about the pension. I would hope that it’s behind us.
“Proposition MM – Have we completed the upgrading of the schools?” We need to make sure that our kids are getting the kind of education that they deserve to go into the world … I’d like to see the headlines talking about some progressive things about San Diego. Some biotech industries located here and high-tech industries and this kid that won the spelling bee, I want to see more of that stuff. I want to see whatever it is that inspires the kids in San Diego to have science, I mean my God, Sally Ride, who’s right here in San Diego. That’s huge. You know, I mean, we’ve got so much in this town that should be inspiring to kids and that should be driving business and I’d just like to see those kind of things be in the headlines and less things about crime and pension problems.
But you’ve got to work hard to make those problems go away … You know, maybe we could be the model for fixing the gang problem. You know there’s a lot of gang members down there in southeast San Diego. I’d like to see that problem go away. Some of these guys who have gone through, guys and gals, who have gone through the system, they’ve come out, they’ve got families. I’ve been going down there for years trying to help the people there. They’ve got some talented people.
Number one is security because of the times we live in and the way we live. I think infrastructure’s very important. And I think infrastructure’s going to suffer for the next three to five years, whether it’s under my leadership or someone else’s … So I think that weighing and dealing with those things, I think the citizens are looking for leadership to say okay, what are we prioritizing? And right now, going into this, prioritizing the pension problem, but I want to prioritize the infrastructure and that’s last on the list. Industry, I want to make sure that, you know one of the benefits that we’ve seen in the nation, the state and in San Diego is that we got a very good economy for the last three to four years. People don’t want to recognize that.
You want to encourage a lot of people to come here and invest. And when we talk about development, you know maybe we could work the infrastructure through by having people develop, also do some development of the streets and the sidewalks and all the infrastructure that they are responsible for or that helps their particular project. I think that what the Chargers are proposing in Mission Valley, it’s controversial to some people, but I’ve got to be honest with you, it sounds to me like they’re ready to meet the city halfway. And I like development. You know I talked to Tony Young, ’cause I care about that. I’m a ghetto kid. You know I grew up in city projects. I was the only white kid in my school for a little while, not the whole school but in my classes, and you know, I know what that kind of thing is like. I was a Civil Rights activist in the ’60s. I was in jail in the ’60s, in Mississippi in ’64 when Goodwin and Cheney were killed. I was there just before that by a few months …
I don’t want anybody in the city to be accused of being a racist because we’re concerned about illegal aliens coming from a country like Mexico. You have to separate those things. So I talked to Tony Young, I said, “Hey I want to know what’s important to you. You’re the council member for the Fourth District. He said, “Myke, there’s three things I’m looking for. I want someone to care about gangs. Nobody’s talking about it.” I said “Tony, I’m talking about it.” He said, “I want somebody to care about development in the Fourth District.” He said, “I want to be able to develop places for people to shop, people to buy food and clothes. There’s no place in the Fourth District now …”
When you announced that you were going to run for mayor, you referred to Jerry Butkiewicz (labor leader) as the real mayor of San Diego.
De facto mayor.
I’ve heard you call a living wage a welfare program.
It is a welfare program.
There’s two different visions I’m kind of getting from you. I’m hearing that, as far as kind of a little bit tough on unions, but you’ve also been very sensitive as far as making sure the workers feel they’re appreciated and that knowing that they’re not the problem, so I’m getting two different visions as far as what your stances are on unions. I’m hoping you could clarify that for me a little bit more, it seems like a shift in your position.
There’s no shift, number one. And I’ll clarify for you … That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard choices that have to be made, and it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to pay a price, and it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to pay a price either because it can hurt … I’m not trying to belittle the plight of people who have a job who are getting paid who have every expectation, every reason to have expectations of getting everything they were promised and then one day the city has a problem, and it’s you guys who’re going to pay the price. I think that’s scary. People, you know people live from day to day, the end of the month is usually, I don’t care, when you’re in a certain level of life, if you’re not Steve Francis, at the end of the month, man, you just have enough to pay your bills. I don’t care who you are … At the end of the month, if you can’t pay, if you can’t buy the food, if you can’t do it, the household, the tension, the stress is enormous, OK? Just as much stress in that little household because they couldn’t pay the rent or find the money to make the next car payment and they’re going to lose whatever they’re going to lose, just as much stress as there is in City Hall with all the millions of dollars that we’re talking about, and maybe that’s even more important because it’s replicated in household after household after household throughout this whole town. And I understand that. Let me tell you something. I grew up in that kind of household. I know what it’s like not to be able to pay rent, not to be able to make car payments, not to be able to have the car, to have to cash in life insurance policies after the second month that you’ve owned it because two months ago you thought things were going to go good and don’t have it anymore.
Isn’t that the thing that living wage is supposed to help?
No. Living wage is a fraud. People who put that thing in should be lined up and fired. That’s perpetrating a fraud on the taxpayers, on the people of this city and the people who are getting that so-called living wage. It’s a welfare fund and it’s even worse than that.
How do you foster a positive city if your focus is going to be divisive issues like illegal aliens, like the Mount Soledad Cross, like drugs, like terrorism?
See, here you go again calling it divisive issues. Nothing brought this city together like that cross. We needed 33,000 signatures. In 27 days we got over 100,000. Eighty-nine thousand qualified from inside the city. That was huge. That brought people together like nothing this city’s seen since the Superbowl. So it’s not divisive. Why is it divisive? Because one atheist and a handful of people from the ACLU decide to make it divisive? No, sir. That is not divisive. Illegal aliens are not a divisive issue. They’re dividing the city because they’re degrading our medical system, deluding our educational system and diverting our cops from doing the other jobs. That’s the only thing they’re divisive about. It’s a serious issue, because when you have a porous border like we have and drugs are coming across that border, you don’t think they are? Is that divisive to define the fact that there are drugs coming across that border in a manner that is just restricted? That criminals are coming across that border? I mean what are these coyotes? What are they bringing across this border if they’re not criminals? This is just wrong. There’s plenty of hard working people that just want to make a buck and work the fields and work the restaurants and work all the other things out here. Sure, that’s sad that they don’t have a country down there that gives them the same benefits that they could find over here, but with that comes a huge price in crime, drugs and the potential for terrorism, and people are coming across that border and it is a scary time. And I think that we need to be much more responsible about making sure that that does not come across the border. That’s not being divisive, that’s being caring about my country, this city and our people.