This election year is about Change! Change from failed policies. Change from incompetent leadership. Change in the way the political system has been working for you - the voter! In 2008, the call for change has been magnified by the failed economy and the Iraq war. For the City of San Diego, the call for change began before the 2004 election and resulted in the election of Mike Aguirre as City Attorney.
Back in 2004, the City of San Diego was awash in the Pension Fund fiasco that delivered the city to the brink of bankruptcy. The City of San Diego was mocked by the nation as the “Enron by the sea.” Millions of taxpayers’ dollars were spent on high priced auditors. Their findings were sobering: an exposure of manipulation of the Pension Fund by special interests, the complicity of the city council, and the total lack of oversight by the City Attorney’s office over the past administrations at city hall.
Under those circumstances San Diego voters simply demanded change.
Mike Aguirre has delivered on his campaign promises and has brought about change. In 2004, Aguirre stated that he wanted to be “an attorney for all of San Diego and not merely appointed to carry out the wishes of the manager and city council.” Mike Aguirre has rocked the boat at City Hall and has challenged assumptions made by the mayor and city council. He has become the populist representative. San Diego political leadership has found that their actions are under constant scrutiny by the City Attorney for legal missteps. Mike Aguirre publicly demands that official actions are in compliance with ordinances, rules, and regulations.
For the residents of San Diego this is the good news. Their concerns and interests are being addressed and they have regained confidence in the checks and balances that should have been in place at City Hall. The bad news is that because the previous City Attorneys had failed to act in the interest of the residents, the Pension Fund debacle continues to play out and hamper progress for San Diego.
We applaud the fact that Mike Aguirre has a reputation for holding many press conferences to openly discuss the issues with all the residents of the City. This is what open government is all about: transparency. Aguirre has been ridiculed for his transparency and press conferences. We find this puzzling. In fact, we would hope that the mayor of San Diego becomes more open and transparent with his office.
We applaud the fact that Mike Aguirre has taken a position on the San Diego Chargers and the stadium situation. In 2004 Aguirre stated: “How can we guarantee tickets to the Chargers and do nothing about the challenges that our inner city businesses face?” Mayor Sanders has taken a hands-off approach with the Chargers. Sanders has, in fact, endorsed Aguirre’s position on the stadium issue, yet it is Aguirre who takes all the flack, while Sanders is given a pass.
We applaud the fact that City Attorney Mike Aguirre has stood up to the mayor on such issues as the height limit on the Sunroad building. The Sunroad building was in violation of FAA regulations and presented a danger to pilots. Yet Mayor Sanders tried to have the flight patterns changed in order to support his developer friend.
We applaud Aguirre’s bombastic style. We realize but accept the fact that he seems rough around the edges and that he has gone over the top on more than one occasion. At the same time, we know that Mike Aguirre is fighting for the residents’ interests and concerns and tackles even the most complicated and unglamorous issues with the best of intentions. This is why the City Attorney’s office is an elected position - to represent the people - and we acknowledge that public representation has been the focus of Mike Aguirre’s term in office.
But this election is about more than Mike Aguirre. This election is about the role and direction of the elected City Attorney. Up until the time Aguirre was elected, the City Attorney played a subservient role to the city council. The city attorney never spoke out or held press conferences, did not advocate for the voter in a public fashion, and according to the auditors reporters, followed the lead of the mayor and the city council. Prior city attorneys did not dare to question or challenge the leadership. In the auditor’s report, the previous city attorney’s office received the harshest of criticism for failing to carry out the fiduciary responsibility of the office (before Mike Aguirre took the helm).
After he was elected in 2004, Mike Aguirre took on the challenge of transforming the office into one that functioned on behalf of the citizens of San Diego. He understood that this would be a daunting task and that he would have to bear the barbs from those who preferred the status quo.
Last Spring, two sitting San Diego city council members chose to run for City Attorney, challenging Mike Aguirre in the primary election, with the expressed desire to move the City Attorney’s office back the subservient role it once filled. Mike Aguirre prevailed over those two council members, primarily because the voting public trusts him and not them to be the check and balance that our city needs.
Candidate Jan Goldsmith, Aguirre’s challenger, also represents a step back to the way things used to be run at the City Attorney’s office. Goldsmith represents those that are interested in bringing back the old style City Attorney, the one that sits back and offers his legal opinion. One that feels more comfortable advising in closed door sessions, one that doesn’t not stand up and fight for the rights and interests of the law and the public.
So would voters prefer to take the Office of the City Attorney backwards or do we want to see it evolve? Should the Office reflect a new direction, a new attitude, a new purpose that will be the guiding light that will serve the office well into the future? Should the San Diego City Attorney’s Office represent the people or the special interests of a few?
For the reasons outlined, we support Mike Aguirre as he continues to transform the City Attorney’s Office into a public-serving office. Mike Aguirre acts as another check and balance on a city council that has demonstrated a need for checks and balances and adherence to the rules. We wish to never again hear San Diego referred to as the “Enron by the Sea.”