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Aguirre versus Goldsmith : What are the Odds?

Though most voters are focused on the Presidential election, one San Diego election that has attracted attention is the city attorney’s race.

Incumbent Mike Aguirre has become a lightening rod for controversy.  He is facing a strong challenge from Jan Goldsmith, a former judge and state assemblyman, who says he wants to purge the city attorney’s office of political agendas.

KPBS reporter Alison St John has more. 

At a recent forum between Mike Aguirre and Jan Goldmsith, Aguirre defended his position as a self- styled champion of the people of San Diego, rather than of the power structure at city hall.


Aguirre: I don’t believe San Diego is any more corrupt than any other city but we definitely do have a corruption problem but what I did try to do is to definitely go out there and shake things up, cos we don’t want that!


Aguirre has gone after developers, consultants and city contractors who overbilled. He has also been unrelenting in his criticism of a city council that voted for a pension deal in 2002, that resulted in a billion dollar deficit. Aguirre still hasn’t given up on his legal battle to roll back the resulting pension benefits.


But this election will see the last of those city council people termed out.

Phil Blair, Chair of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, is one who believes the pension scandal was never such a big deal, and he says it’s time to move on.


Blair: Our city is at a place where we need to all come back together, we need to circle the wagons and not waste energy fighting each other. We need a city attorney that will support the city in what it wants to do, keep it legal, and move the city forward.


That’s what Jan Goldsmith says he’ll do.


He accuses Aguirre of grandstanding and politicizing issues.


Goldsmith, a republican, appeals to business interest in the city. And he’s won over democrats by saying he’s going to calm things down by keeping controversy and partisan politics out of the city attorney’s office. 


Goldsmith : It is all about the law. The city attorney’s office will focus on the law, not politics, not partisanship, there is no republican or democratic way to run the city attorneys office, it’s to be run based upon the law.


Some, like city councilwoman Donna Frye, say it’s disingenuous to claim it’s possible to keep politics out of the city attorney’s office


FRYE: No you can’t. If someone likes your legal opinion, then it’s a legal opinion, if they don’t like your legal opinion, all of a sudden it’s politics.


Steve Erie, Professor of Political Science at UCSD, says he’s surprised how little attention has been paid to Goldsmith’s political record as a state Assemblyman


ERIE : If you look at Goldmsith’s record, he is really a deeply conservative republican. The attorneys that I talk to in town call him a light weight.


As an Assemblyman, Goldsmith voted faithfully with his party, taking an anti-abortion position, in spite of having declared himself pro-choice on early questionnaires. He spearheaded the campaign to get undocumented migrants out of Mountain Empire High school during a period of strong anti immigrant sentiment in the 1990s.


At San Diego city hall, the political issues are more likely to focus on things like the living wage, managed competition, and whether private contractors who take over city services are kept on a tight leash. 


Aguirre has defined himself as an aggressive watch dog. But some, like Glen Sparrow, Professor Emeritus at SDSU’s School of Public Affairs, question if that’s the city attorney’s job. 


Sparrow : If it needs to be done and I think there needs to be a watchdog, the city attorneys’ office isn’t that position.


Sparrow says under the strong mayor form of government, the city council - the legislative branch of government - is now set up as a check and balance to the mayor’s power. He thinks that adversarial relationship should expose problems at city hall.


Goldmsith’s campaign has raised four times as much as Aguirre’s. The Republican Party has thrown resources behind Goldsmith,  and McMillin, the developer, paid for a Goldsmith banner to be flown over Qualcomm during a recent Chargers game.


But though powerful interest groups are at work in the race, it’s still unclear how much the voters who put Aguirre in office still support him.

Perry Fitzpatrick works in a downtown restaurant .


FITZPATRICK : I’ve watched some commercials on him, I think he’s a trouble maker, personally myself . I think he gets up into every little thing that he doesn’t like..” 

ASJ: “OK so you’d vote for the other guy…

Fitzpatrick ” Uh .. I don’t know .. He’s a trouble maker, but then again, you kind of need a trouble maker in office so that things don’t get past him that shouldn’t get past him.


Fitzpatrick says he’s going to vote for the troublemaker. That kind of opinion is what makes the outcome of this race hard to predict. Alison St John, KPBS news.

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