A theme is emerging in the comments I’m receiving via email that I think is pretty interesting, although I don’t agree with it.

There’s a contingent who think Sanders is the well-intentioned and charming but not-all-that-sharp uncle who’s trying to run the struggling family farm but who’s being manipulated by a bunch of conniving kids who are trying to maneuver their way into prime position in his will. When pressed to elaborate, one e-mailer said he thinks Sanders is little more than the puppet of self-interested and ambitious staffers. Another says he’s under the thumb of the “business elite.”

Still another writer person likened him to the uncle who always promises the cool gift but spends the money on impressing his rich friends instead.

Salvatore D’Anna said:

Sanders is the rich uncle who gives you a job, promises you everything, works you like a dog, and gives you nothing.

And here’s another:

Mr. Sanders is your So. Cal. uncle who seems to hang-out at the Country Club without ever actually being a member. He seems to be everybody’s buddy, but isn’t really anybody’s friend. He’s affable, congenial, and specializes in pleasing anyone who can improve his station in life. He only listens to those he believes are his equal, or to those above his current station. He loves being in front of camera, or people in general; but, only when he is in control of the event.

I’m really surprised at this whole line, although I guess I shouldn’t be. People are pretty unhappy with the state of the city, which seems to be a perpetual feeling in San Diego — even when the awful truth is hidden from us, as in previous administrations. Sanders is the guy in charge, so he’s the target these days.

Still, I see Sanders’ image totally differently. Maybe because I’ve been privy to so many of the Gloom & Doom Seminars where Sanders or Froman or Goldstone laid out the depths of despair and warned that the belt was going to be tightened till it hurts, I have a quite different view of him in the “promise-keeping” department.

In December, the chamber held an event in which Sanders sat on stage in a chair for an hour — without notes — and enumerated the city’s woes and what they planned to do about them. The plans were very straightforward and mundane, not grandiose promises.

Jay Goldstone was similarly bleak in a presentation to our committees and board that I know he also made to reporters, so it’s not as if the chamber board were offered some insight that was unavailable to the rest of the world.

And Ronne Froman’s report to our board in the fall about what they found in the citywide audit painted the city as a dysfunctional mess far beyond anyone’s imagination. She stopped short of saying, “Red Cross, Schmed Cross — you gotta get a load of this city!” but it was implied.

To me, all I hear from these folks is “Don’t expect miracles,” and “Expect job and service cuts.”

So my view of Sanders is the father whose gaggle of lazy teens are getting jolted out of the cushy existence they got accustomed to under the profligate stepmom who’s now flown the coop and is living in the Bahamas, as far as anyone knows.

People keep telling dad just to file bankruptcy and get this all behind him, but he’s convinced that, if we all pull together, we can cut expenses and get things back on track without making everyone drop out of school and work to help out with the bills.

He takes a good look at the finances and starts finding places to cut: Suzy needs to give up her dance lessons, the cable’s being shut off and cell phones are out the window. No one gets an allowance anymore. If you have an expense, you’ll have to come ask him — and justify it. Everyone has to get an after-school job and hand over the paychecks so the mortgage can get paid.

“But this is so unfair!” the kids cry. “It’s not our fault stepmom spent all the money!”

And they’re right. The kids didn’t make the rules. But they did get to enjoy the parties and the toys and all the trappings of a very well-off family.

There were some signs that maybe all wasn’t right, but everyone was having a blast and chose to ignore it. Aunt Dianne warned that the trust fund was gone and the trustees were a bunch of yes-men. She and tried and tried to get everyone to listen, but Aunt Dianne was, like, kind of a drag.

Anytime the adults mentioned maybe cutting back, the kids would whine and cajole until they got what they wanted. How could they resist? The whole family dreamed that their kids would never want for anything. And the kids would get so sulky — no hugs and kisses when they didn’t get what they wanted.

Well, now the party’s over. The swimming pool is filled with algae. The big-screen TV has been re-possessed, along with the cars. We can’t sell the house because it’s been leveraged. All we can hope for is to keep the house and get through this without going hungry.

But as dad keeps reminding us, we’re all in this together. It’s time to grow up.

RACHEL LAING

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