Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007 | Political rhetoric reigns supreme in San Diego, there is a complete absence of common sense applied to municipal decision making, and, Mike Aguirre claims the high ground using millions of our tax dollars to make it appear he knows what he is doing, while court after court rejects his arguments.

In the last few years he has accused more people of being corrupt in San Diego, it seems, than the entire judicial system has in the last decade. Proof and facts are not in his repertoire however, so actual legal results of any consequence are hard to come by. Aguirre has taken our small hometown circus and helped redefine it into the circus act of the century. We have the top legal officer in the city making wild and spurious accusations, without much in the way of provable facts (Mike Nifong), convicting people in the court of public opinion because he can’t get a conviction in a court of law.

Now, for purposes of full disclosure: I supported Mike Aguirre for city attorney in 2004. I actually believed, during that time of an extraordinary vacuum of leadership, that Mike’s bizarre antics were better than the status quo. I saw the charming side of Mike. I, and others, had discussions about how to get the city out of the morass it was in, about using facts and reasoned decision making in doing so, and, doing it in a methodical way that would not completely disrupt city government. He was in complete agreement; he was on his best behavior. He needed support from unexpected places at that time. And then he actually got elected. And I watched, over time, in complete horror, as his head turned in 360 degree circles on his body (figuratively), with little snorts and chuckles, and, steam trickling out of his ears, start spewing some of the ugliest venom I have ever heard.

Since then, therapeutically, I have been on radio and television in San Diego, apologizing to the city and the region, for ever having backed such a manic person. And, I apologize again today. If I knew then what I know now from personal experience, I would never have done so. But, enough about my mistakes.

Last week we witnessed what may be one of the most classless and egregious acts committed to date by Aguirre. Instead of fulfilling his role of protecting the city of San Diego from a legal perspective, he used the La Jolla landslide as his new media event, and, as only Aguirre can do, asserted himself as an expert in landslides, determined the city is at fault, and that the mayor knew it would happen. He then promised to launch an investigation (none of his previous probes have been useful to date) into how the city is responsible for this disaster.

The problem then became not one of getting traffic down from Soledad Mountain Road safely, it became one of getting traffic up Soledad Mountain Road safely as every attorney in San Diego headed to the scene to hand out business cards to potential plaintiffs. Aguirre essentially said the city was guilty — now there is one sharp legal maneuver. No facts, no circumspection about what the families affected were going through, no thought of “the right time and place” to pose for the cameras, no thought about anyone but himself.

Aguirre, after all, believes he doesn’t represent the city, he represents the people. And he was there for “his people,” the ones who elected him, and he needed to give them hope (for a fat check from the city treasury) because no one else represents them properly and no one else is capable of doing the right thing, in his view. He looked no smarter than a charlatan minister preying on the fears of victims of a disaster.

The following day he had to rush off to a water main break in Pacific Beach, but, without the police escort that was requested. It is rumored that the police department refused to use their resources to transport Aguirre when he could have just as easily put on his tights and cape and flown there.

Statistically speaking (as well as practically speaking), it just isn’t possible that Mike Aguirre is the only person in San Diego who has the correct answers for everything. No matter the issue, he claims to know what to do. Disagree with him and it is not an honest discussion or an exchange of information, you are “corrupt,” “dishonest,” “criminal.” There is no middle ground with Mike — it is his way or jail (if he had the authority).

When I ask others why more people don’t stand up to this disingenuous bully, I am told startling things, such as, “he’ll come after you,” “I might lose my job,” “I might lose my home,” “he might come after my company,” etc.

In San Diego, we now have to worry about politicians who are going to “get you?” And I’m talking about decent people from every walk of life, business people, lawyers, municipal workers, and even labor.

Alex Roth’s article in the Union-Tribune on Sunday details some of these fears; 20 lawyers who were interviewed for the article did so only on the condition of anonymity. “They expressed concern that speaking publicly would jeopardize their careers.”

In another example Roth provides, Aguirre calls Christopher Wadell, the pension board’s lawyer, and, threatened to sue him personally if Waddell didn’t change his opinion on an issue. Aguirre warned Waddell that his “personal assets were in jeopardy.” Stories abound in the community of people who have been threatened by Aguirre and scared into changing their behavior. The fear is that he will file a spurious lawsuit, make you spend a lot of money getting ready to defend yourself in court, then drop it before it goes to trial. He may not have a case at all, but, that is not the point.

This threatening behavior by a public official is wrong and needs to end. Being elected by the people is one thing, and I concede he is duly elected. However, turning a public office into a tool to instill fear into people and ruin reputations by spurious allegations, not backed up by any legal or provable evidence, should be criminal. At minimum it is wrong, ugly, mean spirited, and dishonest.

We teach our children to speak up when someone is doing something wrong. We teach them that there are consequences to actions (and inaction). We live in a society where we teach children that they should not turn a blind eye to inappropriate behavior, yet, we as adults ignore our own advice as it relates to Mike Aguirre. Aguirre has created, through his bully tactics, a sense of fear and we as a city are strangely silent on the subject.

Our inaction has consequences for us, it not only emboldens Aguirre by affirming his strategy, it emboldens others with political ambitions of a nefarious nature as well.

Now is the time to draw a line in the sand. Now is the time to say enough is enough. Now is the time to take a position and to quit hoping someone else is going to solve the problem.

Dan Shea is the owner of Donovan’s Steakhouse and co-founder of the Fans, Taxpayers and Business Alliance. voiceofsandiego.org considers all op-eds concerning local issues for publication. If you’d like to submit one, send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or send a letter.

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