Back in 2008, the mayor got national attention for issuing a command to an opponent that included a piquant four-letter word. He then used a barnyard epithet to refer to what his opponent was slinging around.

And then last year, Jerry Sanders spouted the word “erection” during a speech about the city’s financial policies. It would have been perfectly appropriate if he was talking about big construction projects, of which San Diego has a few in the works. But he actually meant to say “election,” and the slipup spawned laughter and reddened faces.

He then joked about having seen too many Viagra commercials while watching football.

On Friday, Sanders went earthy once again. At a press conference, he had this to say about Councilwoman Donna Frye’s comments regarding a fiscal recovery plan for the city: “I think what Donna was saying is there’s a pony in this pile of poop.”

One of our staffers had never heard that expression before. So, as a public service, we looked it up. (At times like these — and perhaps only at times like these — it’s handy to have the co-host of public radio’s “A Way with Words” on staff.)

So what on earth — or on the farm — did Sanders mean? He’d tinkered with the punch line of an old joke, which has been around for several decades at least.

A Hoover Institution research fellow told a blogger that the joke was one of President Ronald Reagan’s favorites. It went like this:

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked.
“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

The joke re-teller said it represented Reagan’s optimism to a tee. In the case of Sanders, he was referring to a comment by Councilwoman Frye about how a planned ballot measure isn’t perfect but has its strengths.

For the time being, Sanders and his mouth seem unlikely to ever make as much news as they did back in 2008 when he responded to a handshake attempt by rival mayoral candidate Steve Francis with two words that have been used together for at least a century.

Not everybody heard the remark, but word slipped out that the mayor (who would win the, um, election) had used a naughty word. The media, not surprisingly, thought this was an interesting development, but there was some misinformation swirling around.

“You’re calling me to ask me if I said ‘Fuck you, Francis,’” he told us. “I did not say that.”

Well, that’s a relief … oh wait. “I said, ‘Fuck you, Steve,’” Sanders added, also pointing out that Francis had “pulled,” um, manure.

“I haven’t been tattled on since I was in third grade,” Sanders told the L.A. Times. “For some reason, this seems to have resonated with the public. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed. I wasn’t in a mood to exchange pleasantries.”

At least one observer thought the remark wouldn’t hurt Sanders. “It’s not like Howard Dean’s scream,” UCSD political science professor Thad Kousser told me at the time. “It’s not making people worry that our mayor is overly emotional and unbalanced. It shows he’s taking this seriously.”

Poop and all.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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