February 13, 2004

City Attorney Race Raises Questions of Change

By Raymond R. Beltrán

In attempting to stray from the common political rhetoric that we’ve seen in the recent campaigns leading to the March 2 Primary Elections, how far will candidates go with their visions of ideological change in local government before they ultimately scare away the votes that they’re chasing?

For instance, let’s take into account the San Diego County City Attorney’s race approaching March 2, and one of its candidates, Michael J. Aguirre. Aguirre ran for DA (District Attorney) back in 2002 and lost to Bonnie Dumanis, the first openly homosexual person to become DA, which could possibly be seen as a sign in voters’ expanding mentality. But is sexual preference easier to accept than alternative ideologies? What about when a candidate, like Aguirre, says, “[The 3 Strikes Law] is not applied to white collar crimes, which I think it should be?” Or how about when he says, “I think that obviously we shouldn’t be spending more public funds on the Chargers?” What about, “I think the ballpark will be good, … but there has to be the sharing of economics, [the] sharing of the burden, and it all can’t be dumped on the neighborhoods?”

With Aguirre having lost the DA race in 2002, it seems that political and ideological change is what worries San Diego voters. But even now, in his City Attorney campaign, he has not yet changed his voice or perspective on social issues, nor the way he says he detests the obscure boundaries between corporations and the City Council.

Within his professional repertoire as a lawyer, Aguirre had co-counseled and represented more than 2,000 investors in an investment fraud lawsuit against American Principals Holdings, Inc., where four defendant companies agreed to settle by paying the investors over $10 million each, a very small sum of money compared to what they had allegedly misused. Aguirre has pursued other related lawsuits, which to this day have recovered an approximate $250 million for pension and security-fraud victims from such companies as First Pension Corporation and J. David & Company. Having tried such fraudulent cases, he’s attempting to head into the local government in San Diego, where checks are being written as fast as lawsuits are surfacing.

“[M]y primary goal is to get the city’s finances under control, … and also to make sure that our public funds are protected so we don’t waste them,” says Aguirre about his plans for City Attorney. The topic of ‘wasting’ funds is specifically what he refers to as something that will need to change.

For the common San Diego resident, drastic, radical change doesn’t occur unless one is living in communities affected by the ballpark, or those that are being gentrified as seen in places such as Golden Hills. For those who live in an area protected from the past decade’s influx of development, ideological change in San Diego’s local government seems to be a looming cloud, but that’s not taking into consideration some of the issues that Aguirre says he would like to tackle if he becomes City Attorney.

“We’re living in a time where radical change is not possible, because no matter if you’re the City Attorney or the Mayor, you can only bring about the change that the city is ready for,” he says. “It seems to me what’s radical is to pay a ticket guarantee, that’s radical. To allow a $1.157 billion deficit, that’s very radical, and to lose a $100 million judgment [Roque de la Fuente vs. City of San Diego, 2001], that’s about as radical as you can get.”

To mention, the role of City Attorney is to advise the Mayor and City Council about the legal issues pertaining to their plans for the city, in this case San Diego, and to do it in a manner that exhibits the best intentions intended for the voters.


Mike Aguirre and his daughter Emilie and son Arthur. Photo courtesy of Aguirre campaign.

In setting himself aside from his obvious opponents, Leslie Devaney and Deborah Berger, both of who are already on the City Attorney office’s payroll, he faces challenges in terms of financial discrepancies not always recognized by apolitical San Diegans. With the fruition of Petco Park and the issue of the Charger ticket guarantee being obviously questionable, another issue would be a lawsuit against the city, which the court has awarded developer Roque de la Fuente $94.5 million in 2001. Last year, 81 acres was given to developer Corky McMillin, whose land dispute leaded to the city handing over another $8.5 million. Even the Boy Scouts’ lease lawsuit was able to chase away the City of San Diego, but not before settling for $950,000. San Diego Reader journalist Don Bauder just recently investigated a San Diego pension plan that was misused and miscalculated that, along with healthcare, will cost the city a deficit of over $1 billion, which may be rectified through tax dollars.

“What we’re going to have to do is the City Attorney and the council are going to have to come up with a plan [where] everybody gives up something for the common good, so that we can get our books balanced again,” says Aguirre. “The ballpark was supposed to benefit everyone. Now, it’s more than a ballpark, and yet, the way it’s been implemented has been pretty much focused on enriching a few people at the expense of everyone else, and I think one of the things that the City Council has to do now is to go back to the original promises.”

Anyone who approaches the voting polls, who doesn’t profit from political special interest decisions, of course doesn’t want political or ideological change, especially when a candidate’s slogan reads “A City For Us, Not Special Interests.” But in hopes of making San Diego the next tour attraction for outsiders, with sports stadiums for low quality teams, nightclubs growing like weeds, lawsuit money for disgruntle developers, and a voting community afraid of drastic change in the local government, voters rarely stray too far from candidates who represent the standard run-of-the-mill.

So, how far can candidates like Aguirre go with visions of change before they scare away the average voter? As long as the San Diego City Council continues to charge their miscalculations and legal misguidance to city funds, fed up residents would probably say that candidates should go as far as they please, but Aguirre says that his ideas for infrastructure change aren’t so much a campaign tactic as they are a sense of security, in which many politicians will have to sacrifice in order to create a city government free of corruption.

“People will vote change to avoid a certain loss,” says the 55-year-old Aguirre. “So, I think that people, in order to avoid a certain loss, are willing to take a moderate risk in someone who represents a much higher chance for success.”

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