As city attorney, Mike Aguirre railed against past pension deals that ravaged the city’s budget.

In general, the mayoral conversation has shifted from pensions to neighborhoods this time around, but Aguirre is still fighting the pension battle in his mayoral campaign. Aguirre has constantly brought up city spending on employee pensions at debates and even held a press conference complete with graphs breaking down the city’s annual pension payments.

Other mayoral candidates are far less interested. They dub the city’s biggest pension nightmares over and say it’s now time to look forward.

Aguirre ferociously disagrees. Here’s why.

It’s what he knows – and what helped him get elected city attorney.

In Aguirre’s early days as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, he led a year-long pension racketeering investigation. He later opened his own firm and specialized in securities and investment fraud cases.

Aguirre ran for city attorney in 2004 when the city’s pension crisis emerged as a national news story. Aguirre even made the New York Times.

Once elected, Aguirre spent four years investigating the lead-up to the crisis and made a series of attempts to unload the city’s pension burden. Nearly four years after he left office, voters approved a pension reform measure but Aguirre wants them to know it didn’t solve the city’s pension problem.

He now contends former Mayor Jerry Sanders made draconian cuts to pay the city’s pension bills and that the city must renege past agreements with employee unions so it can properly fund public safety needs and road repairs.

He’s convinced this message will help his mayoral bid, if only San Diegans hear his elevator pitch.

“If I can get a public awareness of that in a well-watched debate and people start to recognize that, I can win the election,” Aguirre said. “The person who’s taking the position I’m taking should be the mayor.”

We got pension reform – and higher bills along with it.

Every year, the city pays millions to cover its portion of city workers’ pensions. Proposition B effectively spiked the city’s pension bill for about 15 years, meaning the city will pay more than $200 million annually in an attempt to pay off its deficit more quickly.

This significantly affects the city’s ability to provide services, and Aguirre doesn’t want anyone to forget it.

“We have a finite amount of money in the city budget. Every dollar saved on pensions can be spent to restore our roads, library and recreation center hours, fire or police protection,” Aguirre said.

The fact that other candidates want to move on just fuels Aguirre.

A couple weeks ago, Aguirre suggested a debate with his mayoral rivals that would focus solely on pension issues. Such an affair is highly unlikely.

Fellow Democrats David Alvarez and Nathan Fletcher have repeatedly said city workers have already taken significant cuts and that it’s time to look ahead. Republican Kevin Faulconer regularly touts his work on the pension reform initiative.

Aguirre is certain Alvarez and Fletcher’s union endorsers would prefer they avoid revisiting pensions and that Faulconer is conveniently trying to pretend the pension crisis is over.

He said he wants voters to realize the next mayor can’t offer ponies to everyone, unless, of course, they pursue further reforms.

“(The pension crisis) didn’t go away,” Aguirre said. “Everybody pretended it went away.”

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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