If you’ve followed my countdown over the past little while, you had to know this was coming. Clearly, the most important upcoming political story — at least foreseeable one — in the coming 12 months will be Mike Aguirre’s effort to stay in the City Attorney’s Office and his many enemies’ attempt to oust him.

1. The Race for City Attorney

The San Diego political sphere is abuzz with chatter about City Councilman Brian Maienschein’s rather meek announcement that he was running for city attorney. Only Maienschein, it seems, could do something that bold in such a passive way.

Maienschein has a campaign war chest. It was supposed to be available for the once rising star in a bid for mayor or county supervisor. Now, he’s apparently ready to spend it on this. Most of the theories I’ve heard seem to suggest that this is only good news for the incumbent, City Attorney Mike Aguirre. And most of those theories focus on Maienschein’s potential impact on Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith.

Brian Maienschein’s typical steely gaze.

Goldsmith is complaining that Maienschein would have the gall to jump in the race because of its impact on the former Poway mayor’s ride to victory. He told columnist Logan Jenkins that all this democracy is mucking up his plans for total domination of the race.

It’ll do that.

Everyone has an opinion on this, but I think it’s pretty naive to think — though convenient to argue — that someone, anyone, was going to get 50 percent of the vote in June and avoid the hassle of campaigning through the summer to a November runoff election.

I think this race will be about who gets to challenge Aguirre in November.

I think Aguirre is beatable. But I think you have to have a united opposition. And that only happens, I believe, when there’s only one other candidate in the race against Aguirre. Goldsmith and his conservative allies might be that guy. But it’s rather insulting for them to insist that he should be the only candidate in the race and that the others should all obediently bow out because he was the mayor of Poway long ago. Oooh…

Again, Aguirre is beatable. I remember 2004. He had everyone with him. He convinced the U-T, the Realtors, the firefighters, the police, the deputy sheriffs to not only support him but to stand up and shake his hand in front of the cameras. The list of insiders wooed by his charm toward an endorsement was lengthy. Yet Aguirre ended up winning by a shockingly thin margin.

He had everyone on board and yet it was so close he hid away for days sweating out the results.

Since then, Aguirre has lost nearly every single one of those interest groups and insiders. The only traditional group that still proudly wears his pins is the environmental community. I’m really not sure how much that means in terms of electoral support.

Aside from those reliable friends of the incumbent city attorney, come the throngs of citizens who fall into two categories: 1) Those who think he’s a loose cannon, if not completely nuts, but he’s aiming at all the right targets. These are proud members of the “Screw ’em Club,” or S’eC. 2) The second group is comprised of members of the “Aguirre does no wrong and if you criticize him you either work for the U-T or don’t have a soul.”

I have no clue how big these two groups are. Most local observers I’ve talked to add the combined strength of these two constituencies to the power of Aguirre’s name recognition with the more instinctual voter and come up with about 30 to 35 percent guaranteed vote for him.

It’s clear that both Council President Scott Peters and former schools superintendent Alan Bersin are waiting for enough people to plead with them to run as well. Peters might be able to get union support. Bersin has a big enough name to make everything interesting. Both have major negatives and it feels like they’re playing the same kind of game Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein played when trying to decide whether to run for governor during the recall in 2003.

Lee Burdick, a lawyer and Democrat, faces a mountainous challenge of getting people to know her but she’s going after it. Being a woman in this race would be an advantage, but her name is Lee and she’s facing a man named Jan. Dan Coffey, though the first one to declare, was unable to solidify major support like he hoped as other candidates faced trouble deciding what to do.

Anyway, that’s the horse race. But this is a much bigger deal than an intriguing chess matches of Jan Goldsmith and Brian Maienschein on the one hand and Peters and Bersin on the other.

Love him or hate him, Mike Aguirre has completely redefined the role of the city attorney. He has an army of lawyers at his disposal that will follow up his every suspicion and theory. His determination that the city attorney represents the people of San Diego and not their government — which was once a charming campaign statement — has morphed into a radical philosophy that is as confusing in practice as it is controversial.

He has tried to set the scene for his coming re-election bid. He says that the forces that criticize him or oppose him emanate from a good ‘ol boys network looking to profit from city government and speaking through The San Diego Union-Tribune. You are either with him or with them.

Some believe that San Diego will face a paralyzing sort of chaos for the several more years if Aguirre is elected for another term. Others shudder at the thought of handing the City Attorney’s Office over to a weak insider who sees his or her job as one meant to facilitate the desires of the mayor and City Council not look out for the best legal interests of the city.

How this plays out will quite clearly be the most interesting if not the most historically impactful political story not just of 2008, but of the last decade of local politics. At least, as far as I can tell.

SCOTT LEWIS

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.