By Daniel Muñoz
It was late last month, in March, and Steve Francis was making the rounds through the barrios of San Diego. Francis is running for Mayor of San Diego and with the Hispanic population representing 25% of the voting population, demonstrating an understanding of Hispanic issues and reaching out to this swing vote is necessary to become the next mayor.
With no strong Democratic candidate in the race, the independent, Democratic, and minority/Hispanic vote is up for grabs. If Francis is to force a runoff this June he needs these votes, and he will also need them to become mayor in November.
There are five men running for the office of Mayor, City of San Diego, but for all intents and purposes this is a two man race between Francis and incumbent Mayor Jerry Sanders.
This is not Steve Francis’ first run for Mayor. In 2005 Francis ran in the special election to replace Dick Murphy who had quit the office. The focus of the mayor’s race in ’05 was on the pension scandal and in turning around the financial mess the city then and now finds itself in.
In ’05 Francis was an unknown to the general public. At the age of 28 Francis was elected as State Assemblyman in Nevada, served one term and then in 1987 moved to San Diego where he and his wife, Gayle, devoted themselves to growing their business, AMN Healthcare a nurse staffing business.
AMN started out as a two person business, Steve and Gayle. After moving to San Diego the business grew from a private company to a publicly traded company with over 2,000 corporate employees, making Francis a multi-millionaire. Francis serves as Chairman of the Board of AMN Healthcare and he bases his whole campaign strategy and qualifications on his impressive track record with AMN.
In 2005 during the special election to replace Dick Murphy the focus of the campaign was narrowly focused on turning around the dismal financial future of the city. Francis used his personal wealth, spending over $2 million dollars, to promote his name and business success. This propelled him from an unknown to a contender in that race. Francis finished a close third, behind Jerry Sanders. Sanders would go on to defeat Donna Frye.
In this election Francis, a Republican, is taking on Republican Jerry Sanders. Sanders, as in 2005, has the backing of the Republican Party and the majority of the Republican stalwarts within the city. Francis still emphasizes his business solutions for the city, but this time around he has expanded his vision and is taking a more holistic approach to his campaign. Unlike ’05 when Francis virtually ignored the Hispanic community, Francis is reaching out.
For most non-Hispanic candidates the understanding of Hispanic issues begins and ends with their tour of Barrio Logan, which includes a ‘meet and greet’ with the local social service agencies in the area. This interview with Steve Francis was held at Chueys Restaurant/Nightclub in Barrio Logan.
Q & A with Steve Francis:
After a brief introduction and after we get to know each other a bit Francis starts to explain his campaign for mayor.
Francis: I am running against Jerry Sanders, but I can’t run just complaining about Sanders, of which I have a lot to complain about, so I have to put forth my ideas. We have put together a 54 page plan for San Diego that outlines my ideas “Steve Francis’ Vision for San Diego.” As you can see through the literature, I am running very much as an Independent.
Q: How is your plan for San Diego different from the first time you ran for mayor?
Francis: The plan is much more substantial. When I ran the first time it was about eight pages and it mostly focused on fiscal matters.
The ’08 Vision for San Diego has a little bit about getting out of the mess we are in, but this Vision also talks about the things I think we need to be doing on a going forward basis, and goals we need to work for and reach.
Q: As a Hispanic newspaper we have done these interviews with politicians and have talked about Hispanics issues and they say these wonderful things….
Francis: Sure they do, that is what Jerry Sanders did two years ago.
Q: But when they get into office we don’t hear from them nor do they talk about our issues. So the question is what makes you different?
Francis: I think that I am all together a different candidate. I am not your typical person running for city office. This is my history: When I lived in Las Vegas I went there to go to college, and when I graduated in 1978 I went to work in one of their hotels, Cesar’s Palace in their sports department. I was interested in public service and politics so I ran for the State Assembly and I won. I was 29 and I was in the State Assembly of Nevada, in fact I had a leadership role there as majority leader.
So I had an interest in this kind of public service, in politics. But I got out of it because I couldn’t feed myself. You can’t make money as a politician. So what I did was to go into business for myself with my wife. I was in business for 23 years, enormously successful in business, and I was involved with the community. But I am not your typical politician. My running for office isn’t about anything except wanting to turn this place around. This is why I am not taking campaign contributions and I am not thinking beyond four years. What I am saying is that we have to get a mayor in here whose only agenda is to turn this place around and fix it.
Q: We know about Jerry Sanders, he is the Mayor who went on the radio and supported the minutemen in their attacks on the migrant camps. He was captain of the San Diego Police Department’s SWAT team during the McDonalds massacre during which he was criticized by the Hispanic community for his delayed response to this tragedy. So Hispanic voters are looking for a candidate that they can feel good about and who best represents their interest, someone that will motivate them to come out and vote.
Francis: Can we talk about that?Let’s do it. First off it doesn’t matter if you are Hispanic, Asian, or Anglo, whatever; some of the issues are going to be the same for everybody. People don’t want special interest and developers holding the roost at city hall and they just do, they just do. He is the developer’s mayor and it is as clear as can be, everybody can see it, and I am going to put a stop to it. It doesn’t mean that I am against development. But what it means is that I want to be fair handed.
I also think that the underserved areas of town don’t get the attention that they should. It is a sense I get, don’t know if it is 100% true, that sometimes there is unfair treatment to certain areas of town.
The other thing is that we are going to have to fix these financial problems. Some of the things I am talking about are not very popular with the downtown political elite.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The downtown ballpark, should be paid for by the CCDC (Centre City Development Corp.). Why should those bonds be paid for out of the same checking account that pays for police, fire, library, street maintenance, and everything else? It shouldn’t. Most of what that is about is redeveloping the East Village so the CCDC should be paying for those bonds, just like they are going to pay for the library that they are talking about building.
Q: The City of San Diego has a horrible record in regards to contracting with minorities. When the city did away with their affirmative action program contracts between the city and the Hispanic business community, contracting dropped to less than 1%. How will you address this issue?
Francis: I find it amazing when I talk with people within the Black community, the Asian community, and now the Hispanic community - how much the city ignores these very important groups of people.
We need to find out what you can do legally and once you do that you need to pass ordinances to encourage contracting opportunities with the minority communities. Minority contractors can employ people in some underserved areas of town that need to have the jobs and the revenue to take care of their families.
Q: Here, across the street from Chueys, is a two block area that has been promised a development project and which has been delayed for the past twenty years. Barrio Logan community is one of the few communities that doesn’t have a community planning group and Mayor Sanders isn’t allowing one until after the General Plan for this area is developed. Many of the community members want to have a say in the development of the Barrio but they are being shut out by a select few. What will be your perspective on this issue?
Francis: This is why you need me as mayor, because I am not going to play these games. What I am all about, is somebody who is going to be very even handed and is going to do the right thing and I am not going to be beholden to anybody.
Q: How will you know what the right thing is?
Francis: Part of it is intuitive. Part of it is having a moral base. Being a smart businessman, and talking to more than just one person. You want to talk with a lot of people. You might form kitchen cabinets to advise you. We will break the mold and bring in new people. If you look at my web site I talk about that saying that says ‘we are going to sweep out the old, and in with the new.’
Q: When Sanders became mayor, his top staff members, his kitchen cabinet, was created and there wasn’t one Hispanic in his top staff.
Francis: His administration needs to be reflective of the community, I would certainly do that.
Our allotted time came to an end and we had not yet talked about the issue of immigration. In reviewing Francis’ “Vision for San Diego” he addresses the issue of immigration which we found contradicted the man we interviewed.
Francis presented himself as taking a holistic approach towards the issues of San Diego, yet with immigration he presents a very narrow minded opinion, seeing immigration as a police enforcement issue.
The rhetoric used in the vision regarding immigration is inflammatory and fosters an atmosphere of hate against Hispanics, equating immigration with terrorism and relying on unsubstantiated information that is reflective of Rightwing/minuteman hysteria. In fact he holds up Orange County, home of Jim Gilchrist and the minutemen, home to some of the most racist political attitudes towards Hispanics, as a an example that the city of San Diego should follow.
Lastly, Francis’ view of immigration is a stark contradiction from the businessman perspective view of the issues.
We emailed Francis with our concerns in regards to his position on immigration over a week ago. He failed to respond to our concerns.