Political contraception

It's dirty job, but someone's got to do it

by Carolyn Chase

irectly after the March primary election, I set upon a personal quest: to determine who was really the better environmental choice for Mayor of San Diego. Even if this race (Judge Murphy vs. Supervisor Roberts) can be characterized as say, Bush vs. Reagan, I still feel I have duty to figure out which one would be best.

Here's the thing about political endorsements. It's a lot like virginity: you don't want to waste it. But unless it's a religious commitment, in politics, if you aren't willing to use it, you will never get any action. And there you are: with your virtue intact and status quo in charge.

In my view, an endorsement is not some kind of award, but merely an indicator of who someone thinks is better in any particular race. Sure, maybe this farmer's daughter will be violated somehow along the way. But it is simply not possible for me to be neutral about the importance of environmental issues for the mayor of the city I live in.

Since everyone is concerned about getting screwed in politics, environmentalists have gotten both candidates for Mayor of the City of San Diego on the record on as many issues as possible. We networked and interviewed as many people as possible about their true natures, commitments, and style.

The Murphy for Mayor campaign sent out a press release in July, outlining the Judge's "Environmental Vision." The same day, I received from opponent Roberts' Supervisorial office a fax of copies of Board actions to form "Project Clean Water," and another entitled "Mowing Down Pollution" (a trade-in program of the Air Pollution Control District, where they are seeking 500 lucky San Diegans to trade-in polluting gas lawn mowers for cleaner electric ones).

Some call it pandering. But after years of getting little to nothing, do I care what you call it? Hopefully, the electoral process is finally compelling politicians to commit to action on clean air and water and saving our remaining natural landscapes.

In Roberts' case, especially with the water memo, one wonders why it took five years.

When I first started focusing on the Mayor's race, I sent out an email posing the question, "What does the City of San Diego need more at this moment in time, the Judge or the architect?"

At first glance, at the simplest level, the most obvious leap to make would be the architect. Facing an era of great growth, the architect could be the one best suited to shape the vision and build the city. But what if you get a mediocre architect? In the end, architects can only build to the visions of the project owners. Even if the vision itself is from Roberts, who would be his "project owners"?

Even if I truly believed that Roberts would side with nature and quality of life over his major contributors and peers enough of the time, I still don't feel I know why his "urban vision" would be better than the Judge's "2020 vision." Roberts may be the better mechanic, but what I'm thinking the city needs more now is a better listener and better arguer on behalf of the public. Someone who's willing to draw some lines and stand up for them.

Ironically, I really think that if we started to make it clear that we weren't going to allow growth to continue to destroy our remaining natural resources, this could actually provide the true streamlining the building industry says it craves. Just imagine if we didn't have to perpetually fight over what was going to be saved or destroyed.

Supervisor Roberts may be sincere about "Smart Growth." But I don't exactly see it happening at the County, do you? We are certainly making some progress on habitat acquisition, and while that's a critical piece of the puzzle, has the growth itself gotten any smarter in the County? The issue in the City - and the fundamental issue of Smart Growth is what's going to be built and what's going to be destroyed? Who's going to profit and who's going to pay? It's time to have a Mayor who is both friendly to commerce and has the greatest possible freedom to stand up to the vested interests that continue to chip and chop away at our landscapes and ultimately our quality of life.

Oddly enough, one of the main things I learned over the last couple of months is that I had posed the question incorrectly. Roberts has been out of architecture for longer than the Judge has been out of politics.

The choice is really between the Judge and the politician. Some have argued that the Judge is just as much the politician, having served - as Roberts has on the City Council for a term in the 80s. But he has been as far removed from politics as Roberts has from architecture. And it shows. In many areas it's clear he's been out of politics for a while. The Judge has a tendency to answer questions curtly, yes or no. He also resorts to saying that he doesn't know. It's actually pretty refreshing, if not "slick." In reviewing the video of the candidates' debate, I couldn't help thinking, "Poor Judge Murphy, he's actually trying to give a true answer not just what people want to hear."

Roberts has the "skill" of talking glowingly for minutes without saying very much. It sounds good, but at the end, you realize he may not have really answered the question. It's kind of akin to eating the menu instead of the meal.

Some environmentalists have argued that we just don't know the Judge well enough to throw in with him - that neither one of the choices merits the honor of an endorsement. But politics is always problematic for both purists and those dominated by risk-reduction considerations.

Both candidates have a mixed environmental record. In looking to determine what is pandering vs. what are valid promises, some advocate only looking at their voting records; that is the only place you find what they did. True enough. But there is something else vital to be learned: whether or not the person has a reputation for keeping their word, changing their minds (How do they learn? Do they learn?), how do they use deception, meanness or other slimy behavior?

In networking around town - and including at least one enemy of the Judge who made it a point to go out and dig up dirt I was able to find few who questioned that the Judge was a man of his word. The rap was, "He may be against you, but he doesn't lie about it, or tell you he's going to do one thing and then do another." I find that astonishing in politics today. That alone is one of the best reasons I've found to vote for the Judge environmentalist or not.

Roberts, on the other hand, has a reputation for being "mean." At least a dozen different individuals in positions to know have described him as "vindictive." I have heard that more than one endorsement in the race has been based upon threats of retribution. While this gives me some pause, if no one is willing to stand up to this kind of bullying, then it can indeed carry the day.

In an uncertain world, written commitments - combined with the Judge's reputation is as much political contraception as a gal could ask for.

The Judge represents the chance for something better for San Diego that I have come to believe is worth taking.