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A few differences jump out between Mayor Jerry Sanders’ new chief of staff Julie Dubick and her predecessor, Kris Michell.

Michell has been a powerful, behind-the-scenes operator in city politics for years. Aside from a failed bid for school board in 2000, Dubick was largely an unknown on the political landscape until she joined Sanders as a policy director when he first took office five years ago.

Also, Michell was rarely, if ever, quoted in the press until she announced her departure. Dubick agreed to this sit-down interview within the first month of her taking over the reins.

But similarities are there, too. Like Michell, Dubick plans to stay in the background and serve a gatekeeper-like role for the mayor. Her goal is to help Sanders push through the same agenda she and Michell helped develop for the final two years of his term.

Dubick has no problem being bold. It’s the mayor’s job, she said, to fix the city’s budget problems and he’ll do it before he leaves office. For now, she said, Los Angeles’ moves to build a football stadium amount to “chest beating.” And she thinks the landscape for women gaining power within the legal community is bleak.

Also, she explained why people know not to cross her.

Generally speaking, the last two years of an administration can be some of the hardest time to get some things done. You already have the next race for mayor underway. How do you keep your boss the most relevant politically for the longest amount of time?

We have one easy thing on that, that is because he is such a likeable person, and genuine man, he is very popular and he remains very popular. We have a natural ingredient in there. Then the second one is that he’s a natural leader. If you keep leading, you keep him relevant as long as possible.

At the same time, he’s coming off his biggest political defeat, right? The Prop. D campaign.

That was probably his biggest political defeat.

It was the first time he came out on an issue, where it was not only “no” but …

Hell, no.

How does that affect things?

Other than we were very disappointed? He got the message and we’ll use that message to our advantage where we can by saying these reforms have to go through. There aren’t other alternatives. We won’t be seeking any other tax changes no matter who is suggesting them. We’re going to make the reforms without it.

What do you think you can accomplish in the next two years?

We will certainly end the structural budget deficit. In my view, that is his job. It’s not that we’re going to let out balloons that day. We’re really pleased that after 30 years — that’s the number that’s thrown around — the library is going up and it’s going up very quickly.

We really very much want to see a third phase of the Convention Center because of the economics it brings. He has been very forceful and very successful in doing innovation in the energy efficiency- CleanTech area, in growing clusters and in doing pension reform.

If we stay on message on all those things, we will have accomplished what he wants to do. I probably left out something.

Two things immediately would be the new City Hall and Chargers stadium.

Those are two things, you’re right. (Laugh.) New City Hall is probably not the top of our agenda. The Chargers stadium, we are working as hard as we can on seeing how we can keep the Chargers here.

You see every day now some brand new football stadium news coming out of Los Angeles. We did a story in December on the fact that the financing study was on hold here. I know you guys are still talking, but where is the motion?

Yes, I think there are things moving. It’s a slow dance because it’s a hard dance to do. We go forward and then they say, “Oh my god, we may be facing a lockout.” Then they go forward and we go, “Oh my god something else is happening here, we gotta balance the budget, we gotta do something.” I think both sides have said we have a good working relationship.

I know the target for a ballot measure for that is November 2012, right?

That’s exactly right.

But at some point, there’s going to have to be a proposal. You’re going to have to start talking about more than just a drawing on a piece of paper, which is really all that exists right now.

I agree.

Then talk about things like naming rights and all that other stuff that’s going on in Los Angeles. Environmental approval, city approval of the project moving forward. That’s all happening in Los Angeles.

I don’t think it’s really happening in Los Angeles. I think it’s being talked about in Los Angeles. I think there’s a lot of chest-beating going on in Los Angeles. But I have not seen one dollar come out of anybody’s wallet yet.

I hope Los Angeles does do that and I think one day they will. Just not on our backs.

They are very dramatic in L.A. because they are the city of Hollywood. We’re just less dramatic because we’re the city of beaches and surfing and laid-back people.

What are some things that were on the agenda that you don’t think you’re going to be able to accomplish?

Let’s see, that entire monument to the mayor. (Laughs.) What is on the agenda that we’re not going to accomplish? I don’t know.

You sort of mentioned the City Hall, yeah?

City Hall is a very good example of something that came off the agenda. That’s probably the largest, big item that came off.

You did a chapter in a book about women lawyers.

It’s Harder In Heels, is the name of it.

I believe that you talked about the fact that where you were there was a glass ceiling for women lawyers there. I’m hoping you can expand on that a bit.

In my view, women have not made enough progress in the legal profession. This is not what I wrote about in the book. I wrote about raising successful children while working full time.

On this subject, it’s possible that in 10 years there may be no women partners in large law firms and that all the gains and blood, sweat and tears that went through to changing that a drop may be reversed.

It’s true in corporate America, too, because there’s very little flexibility to accommodate what is descriptive about women’s lives, which is you’re going to have children, you’re going to need some time off to take care of what is our most important commodity.

More and more women are unwilling to put in the hours and the pain to make partner in lieu of being able to do some of the things they want to do including family.

Why is that going backwards?

Because the next generation looks around at what it cost us and they’re like, “I’m not willing to do that for what you got.”

I’m not going to say they’re wrong. I think the criticism is more to the legal community than it is to the women who no longer think it’s worth doing.

When I was writing about Kris, people told me, “I’m afraid of her.”

(Laughs.) Good.

Frankly, I’ve heard the same thing about you.

Good. (Laughs.)

Why are people afraid of you?

Because I am somebody who is willing to state my mind and back it up.

This is actually a better way to put it. People honestly haven’t said they’re afraid of you, so much as, “Don’t cross her.”

I think that’s fair. What I was going to add, but it sounded so damn self-serving is, because I think I’m fair about putting out the view. I’m willing to listen to another idea. If you’re fair about putting out your view so be it. But don’t be misleading with me. Because I’m skilled enough to close the loop on you.

Interview conducted and edited by Liam Dillon, who you can contact at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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