City Attorney Candidates Face Off in Rotary Forum
San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and his opponent Jan Goldsmith faced off Thursday in a ballroom packed with San Diegos movers and shakers. The Rotary Club forum was one of only a few remaining
San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and his opponent Jan Goldsmith faced off Thursday in a ball room packed with San Diego’s movers and shakers. The Rotary Club forum was one of only a few remaining debates, before voters will have to chose between two very different candidates for city attorney. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.
Aguirre kept his aggressive debating style in check, and Goldsmith was no shrinking violet. The two men sparred vigorously, in a forum that was probably more entertaining than recent Presidential debates.
Aguirre started out by touting something most candidates might prefer not to mention : his so-far unsuccessful attempts to rollback city pensions.
AGUIRRE : And our case to set aside the $900 million pension debt t - he Wall St Journal said is setting off an alarm that voters across America need to hear.
Aguirre is still fighting that case, but Goldsmith says it’s too late to win it now. He would let it drop, were he elected.
The most important issue for Goldsmith is that the city attorney goes back to representing the city government.
GOLDSMITH : Currently the city attorney’s office does not view the client being the city of San Diego - that means we have a multi billion dollar municipal corporation that is not getting legal advice.
Goldsmith argues the city is struggling without good legal counsel, and is spending millions on outside attorneys for services it should be getting from its own city attorney.
But Aguirre sees the city attorney’s role as more like an internal whistleblower, keeping an eye on the politicians.
AGUIRRE: That is how our city got itself into the biggest securities fraud in American history is because the city attorney put on the blinders, as Mr Goldsmith intends to do and revert back to being the passive city attorney.
GOLDSMITH : I’m not going to be a potted plant, the city attorney is not a lap dog for the mayor or the city council or anyone else - the city attorney is a watch dog. But we are on the same team. The city council and the mayor get to decide the policy, I get to decide the law.
Goldsmith often refers to his love of the law and his distaste for politics. But Aguirre challenges the idea that you can be city attorney without getting involved in policy decisions and politics.
AGUIRRE: The city attorney does make certain decisions, what you chose to prosecute, what your priorities are in the city attorney’s office, those are all connected to policy
Even Goldsmith’s stance on the pension debacle is politics, Aguirre says.
AGUIRRE: If you want to talk about putting politics above law, how about he’s aligned himself with the people who are on the other side of this lawsuit.
Goldsmith has the support of some of the city’s labor unions, and some on the city council. He says it’s important to be firm in upholding the law, but you don’t have to do it Aguirre’s way.
GOLDSMITH : Let me ask you this… how many of you have been called corrupt by the city attorney? Quite a few hands are going up! When you call your colleagues names, look... you don’t gain confidence of people when you call them corrupt.
But that’s exactly what has resolved some of the city’s thorniest problems, Aguirre says; problems like the Sunroad scandal, where a developer had to be forced to take down the top storey of a building that violated FAA height limits.
AGUIRRE : What happened in Sunroad was wrong. And I believe that calling that corrupt, I think that played a major role in getting that building down to the safe height that it did. That is called courage and honesty. I don’t believe San Diego is any more corrupt than any other city, but we definitely do have a corruption problem, and I don’t go out and call everybody corrupt but what I did try to do is to shake things up, because we don’t want that.
Aguirre’s abrasive style may help explain why he has raised only one sixth of the money that Goldsmith’s campaign has raised since the June Primary.
But few people are willing to bet on whether voters still want Aguirre’s “shake things up” style, or Goldsmith’s “calm things down” approach.
Alison St John, KPBS News.