In the week before the Nov. 19 special election to replace disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner, we’re telling you all you need to know about the four major candidates to replace him. Next up is former City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

Seen and Heard

Here’s a video introduction to Aguirre:

And Aguirre’s appearance on VOSD Radio:

The Pitch to Voters

The city has prioritized pension payments over neighborhood concerns and Aguirre is the candidate with the background to guarantee residents’ needs take priority.

The Obsession That Affects Everything Else

Aguirre has maintained a laser focus on the city’s large annual pension bill and its effect on the city’s ability to invest in road repairs, public safety and other obligations.

He’s convinced the city must reduce its pension burden to city employees but hasn’t presented a clear path to do so. If elected, Aguirre simply says he’d try to sit down with union leaders and hash out new pension agreements. They won’t be eager to come to the bargaining table.

He cites reforms in Rhode Island as evidence an overhaul is possible though other mayoral candidates, namely fellow Democrats David Alvarez and Nathan Fletcher, have said San Diego has done all it can to thwart its pension woes.

Aguirre isn’t satisfied with those answers and says the city must fight to free up cash for other needs.

He’d like to prioritize infrastructure repairs, library and recreation center hours, public-safety resources and eke out more funding for neighborhood planning efforts.

Aguirre has come up with one major campaign platform that doesn’t directly relate to the city’s pension payment: high energy and utility costs.

He wants the city to consider buying its own power, which he says might allow residents to circumvent San Diego Gas & Electric. (Aguirre has battled the utility company for years.)

He’d also like to focus on reforms that incentivize water conservation and wants to invite experts from Israel and Australia to explain how they’ve approached water security.

His Background

Aguirre is a San Diego native who once worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and directed a year-long pension racketeering investigation. Later, as a private attorney, he won millions for the United Farm Workers in a major lawsuit against a lettuce grower.

But he’s best known for a single turbulent term as city attorney.

He was elected in 2004 in the midst of the city’s pension crisis and tried to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in pension benefits for city workers. (The case was later dismissed by current City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.) Over the next four years, Aguirre opened countless investigations and engaged in numerous public battles with other city officials, union leaders and many others. He also faced criticism for his responses to the 2007 wildfires and La Jolla landslide.

Aguirre did secure some wins for the city, including against former consultants and law firms that advised the city in the lead-up to its pension crisis.

Still, the damage was done come Election Day 2008. Aguirre received only about 40 percent of the vote, a remarkably low number for an incumbent.

Aguirre is now a partner at a private law firm he co-founded with two former deputy city attorneys and mostly focuses on fraud cases.

Where He’s Weak

Many San Diegans simply recall Aguirre as a combative former city attorney.

In his mayoral campaign, Aguirre has tried to reintroduce himself to voters but he hasn’t raised significant cash or invested in the resources necessary to attract the same attention as the other top candidates. Lacking those elements, Aguirre has consistently received support from less than 10 percent of potential voters in polls.

Top Endorsements

Fellow mayoral contenders have touted high-profile backers but Aguirre has only announced one. La Prensa San Diego, a weekly newspaper that covers Latino issues, endorsed him earlier this month.

How He Wins

Aguirre isn’t expected to survive the Nov. 19 primary but perhaps he’s already scored another sort of victory.

The mayor’s race has given Aguirre a chance to re-introduce himself to politically savvy residents through debates, news coverage and other appearances.  He’s had a chance to display the policy chops and ideas that inspired voters to elect him city attorney and he’s done so with a healthy dose of self-deprecation. The less divisive image Aguirre cultivated during the mayor’s race could ease his path if he seeks another elected office in the future.

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...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.