Saturday, July 30, 2005 | Well, it certainly didn’t take long for Jerry Sanders to unleash the attack dogs, did it? The paint was barely dry on the results of the primary election, and suddenly Sanders blamed Donna Frye for all that has gone wrong at the City Council in the last five years. During the endless debates before the primary, Sanders played the nice guy who is a moderate as contrasted to Steve Francis’ simplistic style of politics that earned Francis the Republican Party endorsement without a fight. Oh, of course, Sanders cried foul when Francis leveled negative attacks against him. Indeed, Sanders complained bitterly that why can’t politicians run positive campaigns focused on their own public policy positions and their own record?

Why can’t he do that now with Francis safely out of the way? Probably because the paid consultants said: Follow the script … it’s time to tack right, get the Republican votes and endorsement along with your nice-guy votes, and the way to do that is to destroy her … or you’ll lose.

What does that say about the candidate?

The so-called professionals say that negative politics are here to stay because of one simple demonstrable fact: It works and who cares if it cheapens the democratic process. Well, it didn’t work for Steve Francis who spent somewhere between $35 and $50 per vote (after all the bills are in and counted, probably in excess of $2 million for about 57,000 votes). But, then again, it is most likely that Francis got only the hardcore Republican vote in a city that is decidedly blue. So, now Sanders and his consultants have decided to go negative on Frye from now until November in the hope that the voters will ignore the failure of his campaign to present real solutions for real problems.

Doesn’t San Diego deserve an honest debate about how do we get to there from here?

To listen to Francis, Rider and Shelby (and their talk-show enablers), the only solution the voters of San Diego care about is no new taxes. Their concern is not the quality of life in this city but how do we balance the books on the cheap. Fire the employees, cut out essential services, close the libraries, empty the community pools, patch up the local streets as cheaply as possible, contract out everything to that paragon of honesty – the private sector – and all will be well in “America’s Finest City.” At one point, I heard one of the candidates say during a debate, “Fire somebody, anybody.”

Sanders, to his credit, began the campaign agreeing with Donna Frye that every option had to be on the table as we work our way out of this mess – including new fees and taxes for services the public deems necessary to support the quality of life that a civilized society expects from quality local government. Then Steve Francis declared that new taxes were off the table completely – we must cut an already slashed budget 10 percent or even 20 percent to reach the Holy Grail of politics.

And Jerry Sanders responded admirably – “No Taxes,” he declared suddenly, scoring a perfect “10” in the flip-flop of all flip-flops.

One push from Francis and the tough cop caved. Bravo! Is that the leadership we want? Is the current level of taxes and fees enshrined in the City Charter or the State Constitution? Yes, we have massive pension payments problems, but there are other critical issues to consider as well.

How are we going to pay for library hours, 6-to-6 programs, neighborhood pothole repair, sewer repair, pollution control, clean beaches, bike trails, waterfront enhancement, crime control, transportation improvements, etc., if we don’t join together collectively in a system of civilized government supported by fair taxes, a system that preceded Caesar?

Of course, the citizens first have to be confident that the money will be used effectively and efficiently, but that is what we are allegedly doing when we vote for this new “strong” mayor. And, if there is any doubt about the use of the new money, separate it into different accountable funds set aside for each project with transparency as to the use of the money and its priority in the spending pecking order … in other words, true “zero-based” budgeting.

Former Councilmember Phil Blair said on NPR (after his house burned down in Scripps Ranch) that he would not support increased fiscal support for firefighting equipment in San Diego (such “expensive” items like shovels, helmets and individual safety tents for firefighters engulfed by an out of control fire) because there might not be such a great fire again for another 20 or 30 years and we have to set spending priorities within our existing tax revenue.

That mentality, embraced fervently by the paid political consultants and rife in Republican, the downtown business community, and talk radio circles, is the problem. Do you think it is rooted in stupidity, shortsightedness or individual greed that is premised on the age-old theory of the governors rather than the governed: “I’ve got mine; why should I pay one nickel more than I absolutely have to for the rest of them?” Would they run their businesses that way and reject any investments in the future?

Are our elite digging the rest of us a new hole from which we will not escape whole, or will they get away with it on their watch and damn the future? Will the debate be positive or will the consultants rule? Can San Diego demand a full but fair debate on the issues and put personal attacks, innuendo, and whispering negativity aside? Will we hold the candidates accountable if they don’t abide by these fairly simple rules?

Stay tuned.

Ira Lechner is a Democratic activist who formerly served in the Virginia State Legislature and has lived in San Diego for the last eight years.

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