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Bonnie Dumanis Says She Deserves Pension, Supports Eliminating Pensions For Future Workers

May 14, 2012 1:24 p.m.


Bonnie Dumanis is currently serving as San Diego County's District Attorney and is a candidate to be San Diego's next mayor.

Related Story: Bonnie Dumanis Says She Deserves Pension, Supports Eliminating Pensions For Future Workers


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This morning, we're talking with each of the four major candidates for San Diego mayor. We started with FLETCHER and Fletcher, now in an order selected by random draw, we move on to the next two candidates. Bonnie Dumanis has been serving as San Diego County district attorney since 2003. And welcome to the show.

DUMANIS: Thank you, Maureen. Good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, back in 2010, you were referred to in a public series on the DA's office as San Diego's most powerful politician. Now you're trailing in the polls behind the three other candidates.

DUMANIS: Well, I don't think there's anything to explain. First of all, the campaign is just beginning, people are just beginning to focus, we're on the rise. Everything is going great. And I appreciate the support I'm getting on all areas. I've never considered myself the most powerful person here in San Diego County. That's somebody else's headline.

CAVANAUGH: The polls do keep kind of going down for you. And I'm wondering and you think that you're having a hard time getting your message out.

DUMANIS: No, I don't think so at all. The same polls showed me 20% behind a week before I won the DA's race. So polls are only good for a sliver of time, and they're not scientifically reliable most of the time anyway. So I'm in it to Quinn it, I'm going forward, and I'm excited.

CAVANAUGH: Are you finding any problem in differentiating yourself from the other let us say more conservative, non- Democrats? I used to be able to say all Republicans, but of course Nathan Fletcher is not a Republican equal.

DUMANIS: Well, that's debatable.

CAVANAUGH: The other candidates who are not Democrats, are you having a hard time finding your own place in that crowd?

DUMANIS: No, I think there's a clear choice here. I have experience,ive run a large organization, a troubled organization, and put it together. I have a thousand employees, a budget of $150 million, and three labor organizations that I deal with. And we're running it efficiently, effectively, and we have innovative programs. So I think I am clearly much different. I've been a leader in the San Diego County for twenty years as a judge, and as the elected district attorney.

CAVANAUGH: Now, your plans for San Diego cutting red tape for business, no new taxes, they have been criticized as rather general. If I may, let me ask you a specific question about a recent neighborhood issue in San Diego. What for instance would you do as mayor about the neighborhood turmoil Creted by Walmart knocking down parts of the farmer's market in Sherman heights?

DUMANIS: Well, are the first thing I would do is sit down with the community. My style of leadership is to get input, to get everybody to the table, to tell them what I think. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. But I find that what Uflights us is far more important and better than what divides us. So I'd bring them together, I'd also wring Walmart together, and we'd talk about solutions, and how we might be able to accommodate everybody. And if we can't, how to make everybody feel comfortable with the decision.

CAVANAUGH: Do you support the idea of these big box stores in San Diego? Do you like the idea of more Walmarts in San Diego?

DUMANIS: Well, it depends on the neighborhood, I think. And clearly some of the neighborhoods have Walmarts and Costco together. So it doesn't necessarily mean anything. I think that should be a neighborhood to neighborhood kind of decision. In some areas, it provides a lot of jobs. And we need jobs here in San Diego right now.

CAVANAUGH: On the topic of downtown development, you talk a lot on your website about the ambitious waterfront development plan that's promoted by the editors of UT San Diego. But on your website, it's not clear if you support that plan. Do you support it?

DUMANIS: There's no plan that I've seen that I support. What I think is that we need to talk about all the different areas. Right now, there's a plan for a stadium downtown, and that is going forward with the Chargers and NFL. The mayor is working on that, we have to see where that goes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would you as mayor champion that plan?

DUMANIS: Well, I'd have to see where it is at that point. I've been here I will not support anything that No. 1 doesn't have a vote of the people, and No. 2, doesn't fall on the backs of taxpayers. But I think creatively we can look at ways to do that, and I think we should look at different ways. I think we should look at what's the best for San Diego, and it's got to be a regional solution, whatever it is. So I knowledge the discussion is good. And we'll see where we are. This mayor is working until the last day of office, and he's doing lots of things, and he's done a great job, but there's a lot more to do, and I plan to get it done.

CAVANAUGH: Now, in the years of your working for San Diego County, DA Dumanis, you've accumulated a county pension of more than $200,000 a year. How can you support prop B?

DUMANIS: I started my career in 1974, worked my way up from a junior clerk typist to a prosecutor, deputy DA, an attorney, to superior court judge, and now to the elected district attorney. That's 38 years of public service. But in all of that time, I've never been in a position to make any change to a pension or to vote on my salary or anything else. So I think right now what we see is that there's are pension benefits that we live under, are unaffordable, and we have to do something about it. I've looked at the pension reform, talked to experts, I think it's reflecting what is happening in private sector now, and that is a 401K style with the option of an annuity. It's a contribution by the employee and the city, and it goes into a pooled fund where there is a solid income that will come of that, and it takes care of the abuses of the past, and it shifts the risk. It's a different time. And by the way, with respect to my pension, everybody knows I'm going to receive a generous pension, and it's just under $200,000.


DUMANIS: Yes. But I have also said I'm going to donate my mayor's salary for the next four years, $400,000 to education programs, because I'm so passionate about that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But your support of prop B would take the pension away from a little clerk typist the way you used to be!

DUMANIS: No, it wouldn't take it away from anybody. Of that's the miss understanding. Pension rights are vested. What it says is --

CAVANAUGH: Newly hired.

DUMANIS: Newly hired. When newly hired people come to look for a job, they know what their options are, just like in private practice, and they make a choice, and things are different. Younger people are more mobile now. They can take that contribution, that defined contribution, and it's portable. So we need to reflect the community at large and we need to be realistic. And why I think I can implement that pension reform is because I am tough, but I am also fair, and I'm very pro employee.

CAVANAUGH: Critics charge that you made a big mistake in choosing not to prosecute the estrangeded husband of Diana Gonzalez. And that man allegedly ended up killing her. Do you now think that that was a mistake?

DUMANIS: Well, first of all, here's how we make our decisions. Our decision comes in from a police department, we review it based on our legal obligations, the facts, the evidence, and the law. Our prosecutors, a team of them, looked at the this and made a determination that there was not sufficient evidence, which is our legal obligation. There were things that were identified as a result of that case that were red flags everywhere, and since that time, we've actually reviewed things and put into a ply a high-risk response team for domestic violence.

CAVANAUGH: I'm afraid I'm going to have to end that there. I have been speaking with Bonnie Dumanis, DA of San Diego County. Thank you very much.

DUMANIS: You're welcome, thank you.