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Let’s be clear: The U-T had something today: City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s top deputies gave him campaign donations and they all got significant salary increases. That’s something you can legitimately complain about.
Aguirre’s own problematic campaign financing is a story that has been rolling out for weeks. Not long ago, reporter Evan McLaughlin wrote a great story about Aguirre taking campaign donations from people who were suing the city and from a lawyer who was contracted by the city attorney. And Aguirre is able to put that money directly into his pocket.
Inspired, I searched my memory, and the U-T archives, and reminded everyone that Aguirre himself, as a candidate, had blasted a rival for soliciting campaign funds from someone suing the city.
Just recently, McLaughlin had another piece about the city attorney raising the salaries of his deputies at a time when the city is supposed to become fit and lean.
The U-T editorial board had the perfect caboose for this train of thought: It discovered that some healthy salary increases went to people who financially supported their boss’ campaign. This, as people say when they talk about these kinds of things, has at least a questionable appearance if not upsetting reality.
The editorial board should have left it at that and then blasted Aguirre for it. You can argue with that line of reasoning but it’s a legitimate debate.
But the U-T went for the jugular. They pulled out a passage from the charter that many seem to have overlooked. It appears to bar a public official from accepting anything of value from his or her subordinates and requires that if found guilty, that official should be ousted from City Hall.
The paper declared that Aguirre had violated the city charter — that he had broken the law and could be removed from office for it. It was the sort of unrepentant accusation for which Aguirre himself has earned notoriety.
Those kinds of assertions are fine, I suppose, if they hold up. Aguirre has seen what happens when they don’t and he has lost credibility each time his accusations fail to come accompanied with substance. It has largely defined his term.
The U-T didn’t simply postulate that the law might have been violated. It claimed with certainty it had and laid out a path to justice.
And just like Aguirre has done countless times, the paper took a valid issue, a valid complaint and cheapened it, made it political theater, and potentially only hurt itself.