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Mike Aguirre Holds Court At The Westgate

— It was a press conference that few reporters attended and that was no surprise. It featured a one-time San Diego City Attorney speaking in dreary detail about the dim future of San Diego’s municipal pension fund.

Mike Aguirre in the brighter spotlight of days past.
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Above: Mike Aguirre in the brighter spotlight of days past.

But Mike Aguirre is still in his element talking to reporters, even if only a couple show up to listen. As an activist city attorney, he seemed to hold press conferences twice a week. This Tuesday, he reserved a table at the restaurant of the Westgate Hotel. His descriptions of actuarial tables and debt burdens were presented against a backdrop of white tablecloths, wall carvings and needlepoint chair cushions.

Here was the gist of Aguirre’s message:

1) San Diego is going broke as its pension deficit has risen above $2 billion

2) Prop D, a proposed sales tax increase, is an ill-advised regressive half-measure that will fail at the polls

3) The lawsuit he filed to reverse past pension benefit increases won’t succeed because it doesn’t have support in city hall

4) Bankruptcy is the only practical solution to San Diego’s dire financial problems

Bankruptcy is harsh word, but Aguirre spoke of it in fairly glowing terms.

“This is a tried and true method of reorganization that corporations use when they get into this kind of problem,” he said.

He added that bankruptcy has been around for many years. In fact, it has a long and storied history in San Diego.

“Ironically, when San Diego was first incorporated it very soon went bankrupt. And it was in a trusteeship for several decades,” Aguirre said.

As I listened to Aguirre speak of the history that San Diego was doomed to repeat I thought of the good old days when he was the city attorney. This week he teased us with the prospect of a debate between himself and Mayor Jerry Sanders on the issue of pension reform, saying it would provide great entertainment for local reporters.

So far, there’s no indication the Mayor will accept the challenge. All Sanders’ press aid, Darren Pudgil, could say in Craig Gustafson’s U-T article was that Mike “doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If he did, he might still be city attorney.”

Mike Aguirre probably would still be city attorney if he hadn’t alienated virtually every powerful group that might have supported him. By the end of his time in office the municipal unions hated him. The GOP hated him. Even the media had had enough. He got on the wrong side of KPBS by launching an investigation into what he considered our biased production of the Editors’ Roundtable.

Today, Aguirre is a private citizen who apparently hasn’t lost his love of the spotlight. He may not be debating the mayor anytime soon, but he will debate Councilwoman Donna Frye on the merits of Prop D on September 23rd.

In my several years of watching him and interviewing him I found Mike Aguirre an odd mix of traits. He was highly intelligent and ambitious but also self destructive. His tendency to file lawsuits gave the impression he considered every stupid idea to be, somehow, illegal. And I never thought he wanted to be the city attorney. He wanted to be the mayor. So as I was leaving the Westgate I asked him if he planned to run for mayor when Jerry Sanders’ time was up.

He said no. He wanted to make some money in his law practice and move to Spain.

Okay Mike. Whatever.

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