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Leaders of a community center and public health organization and the former city attorney weigh in on the former mayor.
We’re finishing up our review of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders’ tenure with three more op-eds from civically active San Diegans.
Click here for our first three op-eds from Unified Port of San Diego Commissioner Bob Nelson, political consultant Tom Shepard and cycling advocate Samantha Ollinger.
Sanders Helped Fix Finances But Didn’t Partner With Neighborhoods
Evaluating Jerry Sanders’ tenure as mayor of San Diego is no easy task and perhaps too early to gauge the full impact. Prior to being elected to this position, he had a distinguished career as a police officer and a nonprofit leader. While in office, he showed personal qualities that made him real and likeable. Sanders inherited many problems from his predecessors that only became more acute as the economy entered into a recession. He is credited for his leadership in the financial recovery of the city. But leadership of an elected official should not be evaluated on a bottom-line basis only.
The strategy to financial recovery developed by Sanders resulted in divestment from neighborhoods. Key community institutions were undermined under in his recovery strategy, including, libraries, parks and the delivery of other essential services. This strategy was particularly hurtful in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods.
It is true that the mayor alone cannot solve all the problems of the city. However, the mayor chose not to involve local residents in a meaningful effort of problem-solving and recovery. This was puzzling and disappointing especially coming from a person who had gained national recognition for his past work in community policing. As chief of police, Sanders was credited for reaching out to neighborhoods, utilizing volunteers to help with public-safety issues and making sure the Police Department was responsive to the community. The result of this was achieving a significant decrease in crime.
Mayor Sanders did many things right, but he missed the opportunity to do the right thing at the neighborhood level. The responsibility for problem-solving and recovery does not lie exclusively in government or the private sector, but in a shared effort of governance with neighborhood-based partners.
Jorge Riquelme is executive director of Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista.
San Diego Needed a Lincoln And Sanders Wasn’t One
Lincoln taught elected officials with a backbone to build the future by inspiring sacrifice. Jerry Sanders arrived when San Diego needed a Lincoln-like mayor to inspire pubic sacrifice. Instead, they got a consummate excuse-maker. His favorite scapegoat was Mr. “Computer Glitch.”
Sanders was also a master at using in-crowd media to get out slanted tales to embarrass Democrats. In one case, the victim laughed last. E.g., when President Obama’s jet touched down at Air Station Miramar in September 2011, Sanders and now-Mayor Bob Filner were among the greeters, according to Sanders’ devotee Tom Blair. An “onlooker” saw President Obama greet Sanders before Filner, even after Filner reportedly told Sanders beforehand that protocol dictated Filner greet the president first. Filner stepped in, telling the president he’d been a Freedom Rider in Mississippi in the 1960s, he’d been arrested and that he’d like to have the president’s endorsement, Blair reported in the U-T. “If I were you,” Sanders put in, “if you’re running for mayor, I wouldn’t mention the arrest.” And then, says the Blair onlooker, the president moved on, appearing appropriately bemused.
Sanders leaves with much undone. City finances are in shambles, its water supply in doubt, its streets, alleys and sidewalks unrepaired and its libraries and recreation centers operating on restricted schedules. With this record voters said no to a repeat; both Sanders’ candidates for mayor lost.
With the city in the red, Sanders leaves in the green. He has the Chamber of Commerce’s office keys and a $300,000-plus salary. He has a city pension and health care for life.
Sanders is coming to be seen as a contradiction — a weak mayor under San Diego’s newly adopted strong mayor form of government. His tenure proves courage, not charters, make Lincolns.
Michael Aguirre was San Diego’s city attorney from 2004 to 2008.
Sanders Forgot About Communities
Before the strong mayor form of government was adopted, Jerry Sanders and I both sat on a discussion panel to argue against it. Who knew that once given City Hall, he’d soak up that power and forget how he once thought communities deserved more?
But in Sanders’ case, it’s not about what he did — it’s about what he didn’t do.
During the development of the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, Sanders tried to force an alternative plan into the mix that didn’t come from the public stakeholder process. This community plan update is critical, as it will guide Barrio Logan’s development for decades to come. The residents envision separating polluting businesses from residential areas to create healthy communities with clean air. Sanders’ manipulation of the process put that vision in jeopardy and cost the city additional money. Fortunately, Sanders didn’t complete this plan before he termed out. The process has recovered, Barrio Logan’s work is back on track and we have a new mayor that’s on board with our communities.
Additionally, Sanders watered down the community’s work on the Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Plan, which is our roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city. After over a year of input from a well-qualified volunteer board helping to develop the climate plan, the mayor stepped in and attempted to produce a weaker version that doesn’t even meet our city’s goals. Had Sanders’ plan been approved, it could have put us behind other cities in the state and left our city vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We’re excited about completing an effective climate plan with new leadership committed to the goal and real action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in San Diego.
As tough as it is waiting to create healthy communities in Barrio Logan and for all of the city of San Diego, we’re happy to complete Sanders’ left behind projects with the new mayor.
Diane Takvorian is executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition, a public health advocacy group.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.
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