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Last week, at the Hillcrest Town Council panel that I was so excited about (and that turned out to be as cool as I hoped) mayoral hopeful Carl DeMaio took some remarkable stances for a person hoping to be the city’s top dog.

It was the latest in a series of combative pronouncements from someone who has a shot at becoming mayor. At the panel, he took a hard-line stance against any additional taxpayer subsidies for a new stadium and a new Convention Center. He’s attacked developers interested in keeping redevelopment around and he’s angered the arts community. Now, he’s decided to go after the pensions of future police officers and firefighters.

Nobody since former City Attorney Mike Aguirre has decided to tilt his sword at so many powerful interests in the city and still hoped to achieve a major citywide post.

Let’s review: Just yesterday, DeMaio called to follow up on my post about the discussion to move city employees to a 401(k)-type pension plan. The mayor and Councilman Kevin Faulconer are planning a ballot measure that would switch all non-public safety future employees to a 401(k)-type plan. DeMaio said that, while he has not accentuated it until now, his vision is to switch all employees, including police and fire, to a new so-called defined contribution pension. Even the most fiscally conservative politicians generally support at least police officer benefits if not those of all employees involved in public safety.

He said he’d have more details on his proposal within days. Would San Diego be the first municipality not to guarantee a retirement benefit for police officers?

“You’ve got to close the old system permanently and completely. Closing the system distributes the costs to where those costs should be: current employees,” DeMaio said.

It brought this reaction on Twitter from police union leader Brian Marvel:

No surprise. Make sure his name is on the ballot measure so in 10 yrs when SDPD becomes 3rd rate everyone will know who to blame.

It’s not like police and fire were going to support DeMaio, but they were only tangentially interested in him not succeeding. It was other unions who were most concerned with his work. Now, police and fire will have something very dear to fight for and they’ll fight.

If police were the untouchables in a mayoral aspirant’s portfolio, the Chargers were a close second. In the political discussion, it has been OK to bemoan past negotiations with the team, but you’re expected to at least say you’ll work hard to keep the team here and find a solution.

At the panel, he lambasted Chargers owner Dean Spanos and past city leaders. And he said the city couldn’t afford to subsidize the team any further.

I asked him on the phone to elaborate. Here’s his response (emphasis mine):

There is no money we can deliver from the taxpayers toward a new stadium. There’s nothing we have to offer beyond what we’re currently paying. Unless we have a significant public private partnership or a large contribution from the team, I just don’t see how it’s going to happen. If they think the parameters are a massive subsidy, it’s not doable.

Note the bolded line. This is the only out DeMaio’s left himself. The city does lose money every year maintaining Qualcomm Stadium and the stadium lease with the Chargers. How much depends on who’s crunching the numbers. DeMaio’s saying he’d still swallow that much investment per year in the team. If it were translated into a bond, the $12 million a year the city loses on Qualcomm could be a significant, though fractional, investment in a new stadium.

Still, hammering Spanos and the taxpayer subsidy of a new stadium is an interesting campaign tactic.

Then, there’s redevelopment. At the forum, DeMaio said his concern for taxpayers has left him no choice but to go after the corporate and developer beneficiaries of government subsidies, too, and he’s ready to take on the Convention Center expansion.

The mayor recently indicated that the governor’s idea to kill redevelopment would kill the prospects for a Convention Center expansion. That means there’s growing consensus that redevelopment will carry the load for the new project — an effort expected to cost as much as $750 million or more.

DeMaio says the beneficiaries of an expanded facility should pay.

“Find out who’s going to benefit from these projects and, if they’re going to be benefiting, they should be paying their fair share of the project. If they’re not willing to pay for it maybe it’s not such a great idea,” he told me.

Combined with his demeaning view of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and Regional Economic Development Corp. and his attack on the arts, I’m struggling to picture if there’s an interest group in the city DeMaio is courting. He’s said before he looks to the building industry, the restaurants and the Realtors.

It’s a populist campaign. It’s not unlike the ones Aguirre waged. He lost all of his campaigns but one, the 2004 city attorney race. Though he was well known as hostile to all the same type of establishment groups, Aguirre benefited from an atmosphere of scandal and another important trait: his charm. He managed to get support from Chargers supporters, port commissioners, Realtors, establishment types, even the Union-Tribune.

Then, in 2008, having alienated just about everyone who supported him in 2004 — from unions to liberals and Republicans — he was clobbered. The populist learned he was not all that popular.

Unlike Aguirre, DeMaio’s not even trying to charm his way into a major city post. Either he’s not concerned about winning and he just wants to keep framing the debate, or he thinks the organized opposition against him, which could be bipartisan and unprecedented, isn’t all that effective.

I guess we’ll find out if that’s true.

Update: I used “defined benefit” instead of “defined contribution” in the first version of this post when describing DeMaio’s vision for the future of pensions for police officers and fire fighters. It’s been updated.

You can contact me directly at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!): twitter.com/vosdscott.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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