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San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott Campaigning For Reelection

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott sits at the dais, Dec. 12, 2016.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

Above: San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott sits at the dais, Dec. 12, 2016.

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San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott is campaigning to keep her job. She has endorsements from a number of high-profile elected officials. Elliott talked about her accomplishments and responded to criticism from her opponent, attorney Cory Briggs.

Aired: July 15, 2019 | Transcript

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott is campaigning to keep her job. She has endorsements from a number of high-profile elected officials including San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins.

But Elliott is also combating criticism from opponent and attorney Cory Briggs in a KPBS interview last week. Briggs said the city attorney's office has become politicized. Elliott responded to that criticism and talked about her accomplishments in an interview with KPBS Evening Edition anchor Ebone Monet.

Listen to this story by Ebone Monet

The interview transcribed below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Reported by L. Matthew Bowler

Q: Since being elected in 2016 what would you say are some of the highlights of your time in office?

A: Well it's been two and a half years and I think when the voters elected me they gave me a mandate and they expected me to protect San Diego. So I put all of our resources into doing that whether it's protecting people from gun violence or domestic violence or sex trafficking. So we've covered a lot of ground and two and a half years

Q: In 2016 when you first ran for city attorney you ran on a platform of transparency. You even talked about your desire to create a database that could be accessed by the public where people could access police body camera footage. Where do you stand on that now?

A: I think it's extremely important for government to be as open as possible and as transparent as possible with the public. And I still strongly believe that we need to do that. So I've advocated to have a person who is responsible under SB 1421 to be able to produce police records when requested. I am in the community as much as possible whether it's at forums or going to city council meetings every Tuesday so that I can answer directly to the public. We have brought policies before the public that have never been publicly discussed so that they can understand how the city is doing business. It's extremely important for us to be out there explaining what our work is telling the public about how they can use a city attorney's office to keep them safe.

Q: So you are San Diego's first woman city attorney. What does that mean for you?

A: It means a lot to me because the city has been in existence forever and we've always had men leading the legal office the largest municipal law firm in San Diego County. And it was time for a woman to step up. We see things differently. The way I address issues is very much looking out for to protect San Diego. I'm a mother. So I think that that has driven a lot of my agenda whether it's protecting children from abuses or victims of domestic violence and trafficking. Today we have a safe storage of firearms ordinance we're bringing to the city council. We have a concern about firearms that are in the home that are not secured because we have seen that children are very curious by nature and they will access a firearm if it's not locked up and we want to make sure that kids are kept safe. So a lot of the decisions I've made come from being a woman, a woman of color, a mother who is raising her children and really understands what San Diego needs need so that they feel invested in their community and they feel protected. Whether it's protecting our finances or protecting our public safety and I bring to the table over 20 years of municipal law experience. I know what I'm doing I know that office inside and out and I have the trust of the attorneys that I lead.

RELATED: Lawyer Cory Briggs Announces Run For San Diego City Attorney

Q: So if we can talk about some of the decisions you've made while in office for instance regarding the Mission Valley stadium site. You filed a lawsuit to keep the competing ballot measures off the ballot. What do you say to critics including San Diego attorney Cory Briggs who's also running for the city attorney's office who say that your recommendations about the stadium site and the lawsuit were politically motivated and cost the city a lot of money?

A: Well I think anytime you make difficult decisions and that was a difficult decision you're gonna get an accusation that it was political. I think that the voters when they elected me back in 2016 they had five diverse choices to make and I was very honest about who I was and how I was going to stand up for the taxpayer regardless. This is an important property in San Diego it's one of our largest properties and it's owned by the taxpayers. So it's concerning when a developer puts an initiative before the voters and it's been negotiated behind closed doors. It hasn't been subject to a competitive bidding process. And I wanted to make sure that San Diego was getting the best deal possible and that this was something that was legal. And the voters want me to ask those questions they want me to defend their rights to their property. We did the right thing. I have no second-guessing of having done that because that's exactly what San Diego expected us to do.

Q: And what about the argument that the voters had already spoken by signing the petition and the signatures were verified and therefore qualified for the ballot in the first place?

A: I've heard that argument before. But I think we can all relate to going to Target and somebody gives you a two-second blip of what they're asking you to sign. And the devil is always in the details. So I think when you sign something like that and you're agreeing, ‘yes let's put it before the voters.’ You're not doing it because you're buying into the legality or all the details that go with the measure. You're expecting that whatever is going to be placed before you as something you can rely on. And our city clerk places this on the ballot. So it's our job to take a look at the initial and decide is this legal. And then we also have to look at it and say Is this a good deal for San Diego. That's my job. I can't say what the voters wanted it so my work is done. I need to go back in there and look at the details so that we can advise the City Council and the public as to what that initiative says. And that's the job we did.

Q: Why are you the best person to continue in this job?

A: Because I've been doing this job for two and a half years and I built up to my moment as city attorney for many years before that as attorney for the transit authority here in San Diego, an attorney for the County of San Diego and also an attorney for a K through 12 schools throughout the state of California. This is what I do. I am very passionate about public service. I feel at the end of the day that the work that I have done has made San Diego a better place. We have a lot of momentum. But that said there's still so much to do especially when it comes to some of our more difficult border-related issues whether it's sex trafficking or the increases that we're seeing in domestic violence or hate crimes. I hear this from the public. I want to be responsive and I want to continue to deliver and protect them until I'm done as city attorney.

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