The role of the city attorney in the city of San Diego has been unclear since 2004, when Mike Aguirre won the seat and redefined everything about it. To Aguirre, the city attorney represented the people of San Diego, not the city, as a corporation.
And that was a big deal. It meant he acted independently and often at odds with city leaders — investigating and even suing them. The city’s legal counsel suddenly became a souped-up auditor employing dozens of lawyers and setting up a major check on the mayor and City Council’s power.
Although he was voted out of office four years later, the power and prominence of the office had been revealed, and it hasn’t been the same since. Jan Goldsmith, Aguirre’s successor, ran on a plank of taking politics out of the office. But he hasn’t bowed completely to do the bidding of the mayor and City Council.
His chief deputy city attorney, Mara Elliott, wants to go, it seems, a bit further and clarify that the city attorney is quite simply the legal counsel for the mayor and City Council. The Democrat doesn’t even think it should be an elected office.
In special podcast editions over the next two months, I’m interviewing all seven candidates running for San Diego city attorney and City Council District 1 — the two hottest races in 2016 in the city.
Elliott is the one I knew least about before I sat down with her Monday. That changed. Elliott revealed her philosophy about the job, and we had a good exchange about who she would and would not take endorsements and money from after her attack on rival Gil Cabrera for receiving support from environmental attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez.
Next week, I’ll sit down with Cabrera, also a Democrat. Soon I’ll talk to the other Democrat in the race, Rafael Castellanos, and the lone Republican, Robert Hickey.