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In math, a function is a rule that explains how one thing depends on another. For example, temperature is a function of the hour of the day (2 a.m. is cooler than 3 p.m.).
In San Diego politics, the mayor has been a function of San Diego’s misguided establishment. This agenda has been a function of what economist Jane Jacobs called “force, fraud and unconscionable greed.”
Jerry Sanders was and is a function of the San Diego establishment. His soft positive image was the political face the San Diego establishment used to front its agenda when Dick Murphy resigned after Time Magazine named him one of America’s worst mayors.
Despite major question marks the San Diego establishment found Sanders’ record compelling. Sanders’ was presented as a “turn-around” specialist for troubled organizations. He claimed to have the financial acumen needed to right San Diego’s financial ship sinking in a tide of pension debt. He had turned the Red Cross and United Way around so he could do the same for San Diego, the establishment cronies argued.
No heed was paid to whether he bungled the police response to the San Ysidro McDonald’s restaurant massacre in which 40 people were killed or injured. Sanders’ early departure from the San Diego Police Department and his long-time benefit from a city pension were ignored. The dissimilarity between mayoral duties and his public relations jobs at United Way and Red Cross were treated as unimportant.
Predictably Sanders’ performance fell short of his promise. As mayor, Sanders did not turn around the pension debt problem; far from it. He appointed a pension board that did not even try to restore sound actuarial principles. Instead, Sanders gambled a billion dollars of public funds on the pension board’s high-risk investment strategy and lost. Then he tried to scare voters to increase taxes; again he lost.
Sanders saddled taxpayers with more than a billion dollars in retiree health insurance debt, claiming to have saved millions. He then induced voters to support a pension reform based on the faulty claim the multi-billion pension debt can be paid by future city workers.
Sanders’ inexperience showed through when he claimed in 2007 he had a five-year plan and budget “for fixing most of the major financial issues.” But in 2010 Sanders flip-flopped and complained to voters that unless they approved a tax increase he would make cuts in public safety. Then in 2012, after voters rejected the tax increase Sanders proclaimed a budget surplus. Never mind the failure to maintain the parks, libraries, streets, sidewalks, alleys, bridges and other San Diego infrastructure. Never mind his use of 40 years of debt to pay for street improvement that will last a fraction of that time.
Sanders’ unsteady hand in the face of crisis was exposed in 2007 when he failed to order safeguards to avoid anticipated wildfires. He gambled with the lives of the people of Rancho Bernardo when he gave late notice of the imminent threat of fire spreading towards their community.
Sanders failed to provide San Diego with plans to achieve reliable supplies of water or renewable energy. He did not intervene to stop San Diego Gas & Electric from imposing the nation’s highest electricity rates on the people of San Diego.
After Sanders was alerted to the risk of a major slide at Mount Soledad he left San Diego on a junket to Washington D.C. While he was gone the slide hit and destroyed homes on Mount Soledad. Instead of helping the victims Sanders concentrated on making sure he was not blamed.
Sanders also failed to get the city audits reports out on time. This failure came after the city paid more than $20 million on auditors and consultants, and consented to the entry of a SEC judgment finding city officials committed securities fraud in connection with the sale of city bonds.
Of such a record great mayors are not made.
An awakened electorate is the function of Jerry Sanders’ failed service. San Diego voters soundly rejected Sanders’ candidate for mayor. San Diego’s next mayor will be he who makes the office of mayor a function of its common people and their common needs.
Michael Aguirre is a former city attorney for the city of San Diego.
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