Councilman Scott Sherman speaks at a mayoral debate. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego County Republican Party Chair Tony Krvaric introduced Councilman Scott Sherman as something of a hero, the one man who saw only Democrats vying for mayor and decided to do something about it. But the Republican mayoral candidate was just an opening act for Monday’s headliner.

Nearly 2,000 Republicans were packed into the Town and Country Resort ballroom for the evening’s main attraction, Candace Owens, the firebrand, Trump-loving YouTube celebrity. After Sherman gave his stump speech, she took the stage to roaring applause and told the crowd it reminds her California, “the only socialist country” she’s ever visited, is worth saving as she recovered from a revolting trip through “filthy” and “disgusting” Los Angeles. The crowd ate up every word.

Sherman’s opening speech was tame by comparison. He repeated his call to increase law enforcement’s role combating homelessness (“it is not a crime to be homeless, but crimes you commit while being homeless, they are still crimes and need to be enforced,”) and championed his primary issue on the Council: making it cheaper and easier for developers to build homes. But his speech was generally short on red meat for a crowd whose loudest cheers were reserved for the times Krvaric asked whether there were any Trump Republicans in the house.

But even if Sherman’s speech wasn’t as far right as the party’s base, many of his campaign promises would still require a sudden change of course for city politics. In an interview, he said he can make that happen with a combination of aggressively using the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office, and bypassing the Council by going directly to voters with ballot measures.

Democrats hold a super-majority on the City Council. If Sherman’s late bid to keep a Republican in the mayor’s office succeeds, he’ll still face a Council that can override his veto, and there’s a chance Democrats could extend their majority in November.

Yet Sherman promises to beat back labor’s influence at City Hall. If elected, he says, he will undo wage requirements for city contracts and re-negotiate collective bargaining agreements with public unions.

“We’ve got to deal with the special interests at City Hall. The unions have amazing control of what happens at this city,” he said. “I’ve seen Council members vote against resolutions they sponsored because the unions told them not to.”

The city’s requirement to pay so-called prevailing wage on city contracts adds 20 percent of the cost to public projects, he argued, and needs to go.

“If you were to leave here today and get in a fender bender on the way home, and you went and got an estimate that said $2,000 to fix it, how many of you here would say $2,500 is what I’m going to pay, because it makes me feel good?”

Rather than repealing the prevailing wage, Sherman said he’ll seek to suspend it on publicly subsidized housing projects reserved low-income residents. “If we really want to show we’re in a crisis, then let’s remove some of the barriers, like we did for granny flats,” he said, arguing the city should also waive all development fees associated with those projects.

And Sherman promised to take a new position on collective bargaining agreements with city unions.

“We have drivers, driving for the city right now, who cost you millions of dollars, but because of collective bargaining agreements, we cannot discipline or fire those drivers. That’s got to change,” he said.

Those ideas aren’t likely to go over well with Council Democrats. So how does Sherman envision getting them adopted?

That’s where ballot measures come in, which, for instance, he says he’ll use to revive managed competition – the city’s process for inviting private companies to bid against public workers to take over city services, approved by voters in 2006 but dormant ever since it was suspended by then-Mayor Bob Filner.

Likewise, Sherman said he would go to the voters with a proposed fix for Proposition B, which transitioned new non-police hires to 401k-style retirement plans, after the state Supreme Court ruled the city violated state labor laws because then-Mayor Jerry Sanders didn’t negotiate with unions before taking it to voters.

“It’s not going to be done in the courts, it’s not going to be done through negotiation, it’s going to have to be done through the ballot,” Sherman said of the city’s complicated attempts to remedy the 2012 pension reform measure.

On other union issues, like negotiating their collective bargaining agreements, Sherman said the mayor’s office simply has more sway than it has used in recent years.

“We get our labor unions all the time coming up and saying, ‘we need to negotiate the size of our raise,’” he said. “It’s like, well, what are we going to get in exchange for the raise? Those are the negotiations the mayor’s office can actually have some deal with. I’ve been pretty fair with those union groups, but you’ve got to be fair and firm at the same time.”

It’s the mayor’s job to make unrealistic proposals possible by harnessing the power of the office, he said.

That reflects a recent criticism Sherman made of Mayor Kevin Faulconer. Sherman told the Union-Tribune’s editorial board that he’d give Faulconer a C-plus for not being sufficiently aggressive.

In an interview this week, he said he was specifically referring to squaring off with unions.

“He should be using more of the bully pulpit to talk about union control, some of the decisions getting made because of special interests and not what’s in the best interests of the city, he needs to get more out on that, and be more out front because as mayor, you have to take on controversial items,” Sherman said.

He concedes that publicly campaigning against unions from the mayor’s office might not be enough to overcome the dynamics on the City Council. If that’s the case, so be it, he said.

“You do the best you can and then you count votes and if you’re on the losing end, so be it, at least you spoke up for what you thought was the right thing in the first place,” he said. “Where we can work, let’s work. And where we have disagreements, we have disagreements, and when we’re done we should be able to go have a beer.”

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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