The Morning Report
San Diego news and info
you need to take on the day.

Hello San Diego!

I am here for the day and ready to say a few things, answer questions and generally have a good time.

Some of the things I will be talking about are the upcoming races for mayor, city attorney and City Council; why politicians make deals; why Mayor Jerry Sanders and City Attorney Mike Aguirre will not stop fighting; and what I think the next great leaders of San Diego are going to say and do.

Let’s start with that:

The next great leaders of San Diego are going to be the persons who speak San Diegan.

Yes, that’s a language — San Diegan — and it’s a language that talks about the things that San Diegans value and feel strongly about.

It’s a language that recognizes that San Diego is not like other places. For one thing, we are still a small town with growing pains. For another thing we are an island — the ocean on the west, the Desert and mountains to the east, Mexico to the south and Camp Pendleton to the north. Being an island impacts how we grow and how we see the rest of the world. San Diegan is a language that recognizes that to live in San Diego is to be concerned about the environment.

The next great leaders are going to say: “We are going to have a San Diego solution to having more people. It is not either growth or a good environment — it’s both. And we are going to have both” That’s speaking San Diegan.

I think the people want leaders who once again speak to the best in us, not the worst. Leaders who want to fix our problems, not blame the other guy for them. Leaders who say “Let’s get to work and let’s go and talk – like we used to.” That’s speaking San Diegan.

The next great leaders are going to say “I am proud of this City!!”

Remember when you were proud of the City? Remember when people said “Wow, what a great City.”

People don’t say that anymore because all we talk about is how screwed up things are. And we say it and say it and say it.

The political leaders say it and the business people say it and the think tanks say it and the editorials say it. And it is always the other guy’s fault!

Know what? Winners act like winners and losers act like losers. And the city acts like a loser.

The next great leaders are going to say: “It’s a great city. People work hard. There are good people in City Hall. There is nothing wrong we can’t fix and I am going to make you proud to be a San Diegan again.” That’s speaking San Diegan.

You can’t walk into a City Hall, tell everyone who works in it that everything is screwed up, that employees are either incompetent or crooks and then expect them to do a good job. It’s a fact — people in City Hall are virtually paralyzed because they think they will be fired or accused of a crime if they make the wrong decision. Guess what: Lots of decisions are not being made, lots of city work does not get done, and lots of really good people are saying “I’m outta here.”

City government is not a business. Police and fire services are not profit-making enterprises. Neither are parks and libraries and community plans. City government does not make a profit, it’s not a business and you can’t run it like one.

It’s not the military. One of the big problems in Iraq is you have an army trying to act like a police force. Two different jobs. The same with the city. A city provides services, regulates, and deals with various — and competing — constituencies. A city makes deals and referees different opinions. You don’t make deals in the military, you give orders.

The next great leaders are going to recognize that running a city is different and treat it that way.

The next great leaders are going to tell city employees: “Folks, Let’s get to work. You are going to make mistakes and so am I. We fess up, correct them, and adjourn to Downtown Johnny Brown’s for a beer and talk it over. Let’s make these people proud.” That’s speaking San Diegan.

Are there problems facing the city? Yes. Some are real and some are sheer fiction.

The verdict is still out on whether this will be a city manager-council form of government or a strong mayor form of government. Each form of government has its good points and bad points. Each has a different culture. This is really important to keep in mind: Right now the culture in San Diego government is neither city manager nor strong mayor and that needs to be fixed.

City government and city employees need a lawyer. You can’t be the prosecutor who accuses people of crimes and, at the same time, be their lawyer. Every day in City Hall there are a hundred things people need a lawyer for: “Is this contract good?” “What does this document say?” “Does this conform to State law?” “Do I have to report this?” There are hundreds of questions and the business of the city depends on people having a lawyer they can turn to.

Think of your own life — you need a lawyer for a will, a divorce, a traffic ticket — all kinds of things. You need to be able to talk to that person in confidence. If that lawyer says “I don’t represent you, I represent ‘the people,’” what are you going to do? Who are you going to talk to?

That is a big problem in City Hall right now. Employees need a lawyer and they are scared to death of Mike Aguirre. Lots of work — your work, the citizen’s work — is not being done because of it. That needs to be fixed.

I came here 43 years ago, like a lot of people, with the Navy. I got out, went to State for a year, worked for Convair for two years and then went to work for the old Evening Tribune — the start of my association with government and politics in San Diego. I covered Pete Wilson’s first year as mayor in 1972.

I have run a lot of political campaigns and pulled off some of the biggest upsets in San Diego history. I worked for 14 years as chief of staff to three City Council members and a mayor. I know a lot about what happens inside City Hall — good and bad.

And through it all, I have always been proud to be a San Diegan. Yeah, there is good and bad. But the glass is half full, not half empty. I am proud to be associated with the men and women who have run for office and who work in government.

— JOHN KERN

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