Why Mayor Filner is Right to Stand Up to the Real Bullies

What Filner is doing here is important and historic: he is standing up to the entitled private interests who have run San Diego for its entire history.

political-puppetsAs Doug Porter reported here at the San Diego Free Press last week, Mayor Bob Filner is now engaged in an intense struggle with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, big hoteliers, and the UT-San Diego because he has refused to sign off on the sweetheart deal negotiated by his predecessor whose legacy is quickly evaporating as you read this.  Specifically, Filner wants legal protections for the city if the dubious deal goes to court, a shorter tourism marketing agreement, a cut of hotel fees for city services, and a living wage for hotel employees.

Other than their questionable notion that the 2% tourist surcharge is not a tax, the real agenda behind the attack on Filner is San Diego’s elites’ desire to maintain their privilege and the advantages that have come to them from decades of shadow government.

As Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew, and I wrote in the introduction to Under the Perfect Sun, “San Diego has too frequently been a town wide open to greed but closed to social justice. Like its Sunbelt siblings—Orange County, Phoenix, and Dallas—it has a long history of weak and venal city halls dominated by powerful groups of capitalist insiders.  ‘Private Government’ has long overshadowed public politics.”

More recently in Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failure in San Diego, Steve Erie, Vladimir Kogan, and Scott MacKenzie similarly illustrate how San Diego’s political and business elite have done a fantastic job of “using public resources to maximize private profit” with little to no oversight from our “shadow governments.”

What Filner is doing here is important and historic: he is standing up to the entitled private interests who have run San Diego for its entire history.  He is saying no to shadow government, plain and simple.  For this, he deserves to be praised.

In essence, the war against our new mayor is a class war.  Filner has upset the apple cart of San Diego politics and threatens to end the reign of private government that enriches powerful interests by using public resources as a piggy bank for the affluent.  They rigged the game, made the rules, and now they think it’s outrageous that anyone has the temerity to challenge them–even if he is the democratically elected strong mayor of the city.

The argument driven by the UT-San Diego and echoed in much of the San Diego media that Filner is the problem because he is uncivil is a pathetic joke.  You should take it as an insult to your intelligence. What is truly offensive here is the level of entitlement that many of the city’s moneyed interests and Doug Manchester’s mouthpiece have and how readily much of the rest of the local media serves as an echo chamber when they cry foul just because they have to deal with a mayor who is more interested in the public interest than private profit.

Sanders and the long legacy of weak to criminal mayors that he belongs to was the embarrassment, not Filner.  They brought us government by and for the 1%.  But perhaps the hue and cry emanating from San Diego’s corporate crew needs to be put into context.  So, before you get all hot and bothered at the terrible prospect of the tourism industry being forced to be accountable, pay living wages, and give something back to the city, let’s review the current state of affairs nationally and locally and see who has really been getting away with economic murder.

Recently Think Progress reported that nationally, “From 2009 to 2011, average real income per family grew modestly by 1.7% but the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 11.2% while bottom 99% incomes shrunk by 0.4%. Hence, the top 1% captured 121% of the income gains in the first two years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. . . . How is it possible for the 1 percent to capture more than all of the nation’s income gains? The number is due to the fact that those at the bottom saw their incomes drop.”

As a result of this trend, the United States is now one of the most unequal countries in the Americas ranked just above Colombia but behind Costa Rica and nine other Latin American nations in terms of economic inequality .  This is not because American workers are less productive than they once were either.  It’s because wages have not kept pace with productivity while the top 1% have sucked up all the gains.

Indeed, as the Economic Policy Institute has shown, “forty percent of Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage, had the minimum wage kept pace with productivity gains.”.  And at the bottom rung, with pervasive de-unionization, large employers have squeezed more profit out of their industries by making sure working class jobs pay less and have far fewer benefits than they once did.  This is particularly true of the growing American service sector, one of San Diego’s largest sources of jobs.

Along those lines, last September the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI) released a report on poverty, earnings, and income in San DiegoCounty that revealed the sad fact that  “more than a third of San DiegoCounty’s population” lives “in economic hardship.”  Nearly one out of five children in our city live in poverty with 16% of women, 21% of Latinos, and 23% of African Americans joining them—and we are losing ground “as the quality of jobs created by major industries in the region failed to keep pace with the cost of living.”

Median income is falling and the household income for all races and ethnicities decreased here in San Diego.  About 17% of us don’t have health insurance, three out of five renters are paying more than they can afford, the middle class is getting leaner, and poverty and income inequality have been on the rise over the last five years.

And, importantly, despite our city’s relentless boosterism, “The tourism industry had the lowest median earnings in 2011, $24,422 for a year of full-time work.”   That’s just a bit above the poverty level for a family of four, hardly the stuff that dreams are made of in “the world’s greatest country and America’s finest city.”  Low wages such as that sound a lot more like what keeps our local economy running for the benefit of the city’s elite while the rest of us struggle.

Thus Mayor Filner’s insistence that the tourism industry should be obliged to pay living wages is a righteous argument.  His belief that industries that get public subsidies give back is also a just and eminently reasonable position.  And his concern that any deal that benefits the tourism industry also needs to be clearly good for the city legally and economically is both correct and a breath of fresh air.  If he is successful we’ll get a deal that will help create better jobs and lift all of us up at the same time.

So of course those very elite and the local politicians and media that have buttered their bread for time immemorial are howling with outrage because San Diego’s new mayor is holding them accountable.  Much like the perpetually enraged Republicans at the national level they just can’t master the fact that they lost the election.  And even some of the weak Democrats on the City Council just can’t seem to understand that they shouldn’t keep operating by the old rules.

Sorry guys, you’re not running America’s Finest Tourist Plantation anymore.  If you are going to get $30 million in public funds to promote your industry, you need to give back and pay a living wage to your workers.  Period.

Shame on all of them for whining, but shame on all of us too if we allow the tabloid ready, petty, personality-based news coverage in the local media to bring down the mayor as he stands up to the real bullies in town who are determined to keep profiting at all our expense whether we are their underpaid workers or taxpayers made to fund the promotion of private greed.

The truth is that, warts and all, Mayor Filner represents a new day in San Diego.  If you believe that our government needs to be open and accountable and that the interests of social justice are more important than Manchester and company’s bottom line, then you should support him.

You can join CPI’s campaign to support Filner’s agenda here.  You can also show up at the City Council today (Monday) at 2 pm to let them know how you feel.


Jim Miller

Jim Miller, a professor at San Diego City College, is the co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See and Better to Reign in Hell, and author of the novel Drift. His most recent novel on the San Diego free speech fights and the IWW, Flash, is on AK Press.


  1. avatarSD says

    A true Professor, one worthy of that honorable title. Thanks Prof. Miller; I will attend today.

    How often does such an opportunity come around, to support a leader that will finally stand up for the public interest. Let’s put the out-of-control private profiteers in their place! San Diego’s good people and governance must no longer be plundered this way.

  2. avatar says

    This is not merely a labor issue. It’s about our new mayor’s determination to bring the benefits of ‘good government’ to everyone in San Diego — no matter which community you live in, how you earn your living, or what choices you make as you get on with your daily life.

    Mayor Bob Filner is proposing moderate, common sense changes to the way the city does the public’s business…nothing startling. In fact, they’re standard operating procedures in other big cities all over the country.

    San Diego’s entrenched private entities are the ones who are out of control. Looks to me as if their hysteria borders on pathological.

    Thank you Jim!

  3. avatarSimon Mayeski says

    Clearly a fight worth having: living wages and a caring mayor vs. poverty, and the Old Guard trying to protect an unearned income stream, good government and the New San Diego vs the same old…stuff.

    I’ll be there today.

  4. avatarMichael Young says

    It is as I had suspected. When an administration happens that replaces one power structure with another, rocks get overturned and sunlight nails some of the creepy crawlies. In this case Mayor Filner is exposing the Sanders “Kings Clothes” style of mayoring, a “nice guy” who was in over his head and protective of his pension and his job prospects after being termed-out. I am very happy Bob Filner was elected, and my household tossed 4 votes his way. BUT, let’s remember what we’re seeing. We’re seeing “regime change” and, quite predictably, the good old Sanders boys are being kicked out. Great. Now comes the hard part. Let’s be sure that good old Filner boys don’t just step in. I’d like to see a more open process for filling his staff and key positions at City hall. I think Bob has the integrity, the courage, and the brains, to clean up the mess Sanders left behind. I just hope he does.

    • avatardagobarbz says

      Jerry Sanders has slithered off to head the Chamber of Commerce, another useless backslapping circle jerk composed of men who don’t necessarily have our best interests in mind.

      Mayor Filner is doing what Donna Frye might have done, run San Diego for locals, not special interest groups, corporate developers and tourism profiteers.

      The status quo here was that concerned about Frye’s win, they stole the election by imposing some absurd “color in the bubble right” standard that lost her the write in vote. Misspelling her name was also used as an excuse to discard a ballot. Because there was a Frie, Fry, and Frye on the ballot? No. Because “they” didn’t want her to win!

      They wouldn’t have dared try to steal this election. Mayor Filner has served San Diego for many years. Frye was a surf shop owner and clean ocean activist.

      We’ve had eight years of lousy leadership. I am so happy I can type Mayor Filner, it fills me with glee! MAYOR FILNER! MAYOR FILNER! MAYOR FILNER!

      Hey, he just materialized in my bathroom…

  5. avatarJohn Lawrence says

    The whole Republican meme is to use government as a conduit to siphon off tax money and funnel it to private enterprise. Loopholes in the tax code are one example. Charter schools which funnel tax money to private corporations are another example. San Diego hoteliers simply want government not to ‘tax and spend’ but to ‘tax and give to private interests’, in this case hoteliers.

    This is a fight worth having. Thank you, Jim, and keep up the good work.

  6. avatarDorothy Lee says

    Bravo! As for “that Filner is the problem because he is uncivil is a pathetic joke. You should take it as an insult to your intelligence.”

    I do!

  7. avatarJane Cartmill says

    While he is looking at the tourism industry, Filner should take a hard look at the sweetheart deal between the city and SeaWorld as well. The theme park is leasing that property for a song compared to what other entertainment venues pay in California. SeaWorld had a banner year in income last year and the city of San Diego could certainly benefit from a more appropriate percentage of that revenue. I support Filner and hope he will also be the one to finally resolve the madness at Casa Beach.

    • avatar says

      A Sea World representative was one of the petitioners today at the City Council hearing. And in the leadoff presentation from the TMD, it was pointed out that the Mayor’s embargo on releasing funds to the hoteliers might threaten the halfsies-deal
      that Sea World enjoys with the TMD to promote the summer season for that astronomically expensive theme park.

      • avatar says

        Just for the record, what they bill as a “7-Day Ticket” to Sea World costs $78 for an adult — that would be any person over 9 years of age — and $70 for a kid from 3 to 9 years old. If you’re under 3, I don’t know what happens to you.

  8. avatarRobert Cox says

    One of the groups that the author failed to mention was the Catholic church as well as some of the evangelical churches that have rolled over the mayor and city council over the last 30 years. With their lawsuits and threats of not having religious freedom, they have been able to grab tracts of land from taxpayers and expand their empires, which are non-taxable. A number of recent examples (ie OLP and The Rock expansions come to mind). Filner inherited one of these and was not able to nip it in the bud as should have been done.

  9. avatar says

    That was a fine article, Jim, it hit some of the nails on the head. This town has been run by the 1%ers for so long, more times than not with the cooperation of many of the Democrats on the San Diego City Council. This Mayor will need all of the help he can get to reverse some of the shenanigans that have taken place in our city’s government. This $1.2 Billion TMD Boondoggle is simply the latest one. It is interesting that most of the mainstream media already have their long knives out for Mayor Filner and are trying to caricature him as the bully in this TMD matter. Those of us who supported his election need to get even better organized now to show that we have Mayor Filner’s back. Today’s volume of supporters at City Hall, organized by the Center on Policy Initiatives, is a good beginning of that .

    • avatarSD says

      J. Falchi, Thanks for stating it — everyone may and should sign up at CPI to keep on top of this issue to back up the Mayor and balance our city: http://onlinecpi.org/

      I watched and made eye contact with several of the privileged (they filled nearly every seat in the council chambers, leaving the foyer & overflow room for the others). While statements were being made about workers needing the basics of life, I saw mock & scorn on some of those faces. Another SDFP writer said it well in another article yesterday, San Diego is “America’s Finest Tourism Plantation”.

      To those who claimed their bonuses/promotions yesterday for aligning themselves with the Plantation Masters, it demonstrates how corrupt the fields have become and how defeated the people feel.

      Thank you R. Cox for explaining that. I was wondering “Where-oh-where are all the sacerdotes (priests) that should be here speaking eloquently and fervently on behalf of their faithful flock?”.

      • avatarbob dorn says

        I’ve seen those barely concealed eye-rolls and smirks from the more genteel at public meetings. I’ve also seen them leave the meeting early before the hoi polloi started taking it to the mics. The times have changed. It’s going to get interesting.

      • avatarDorothy Lee says

        I especially loved the statement by rich hotelier Joe Terzi:
        ” ‘I’m hoping the mayor gets the input that’s out there in full support of him signing the agreement and he sees all the real people, not just rich hoteliers who he keeps talking about, who could be out of a job, including my 100 employees,’ said Joe Terzi, who heads the city’s Tourism Authority. ”

        Yep, all 100 of the real people, the Terzi employees, are behind Terzi, 100%. Sure. Because if they weren’t…

  10. avatardagobarbz says

    As far as caring about the people who live in San Diego goes, just look at Jerry Sanders, and his genius idea to remove the fire rings. A beach with no beach party is no party at all. And a bonfire is an integral part of any good beach party.

    Then the stupid witless wonder had to put them back because we made a mighty noise about it. That cost the city (us) over $100,000 by the time it was over.

    No beach rings for the people, but perks for the good old boys of the Chamber of Commerce and sports teams owners. And how about the redevelopment funds that were going to install a “dog park” downtown. Meanwhile, two miles east of downtown on Market, they can’t even get the sandstone bluff slump off the sidewalks, or fill the cracks and potholes, remove graffiti, replace dead trees on the curb.

    But those so special little sweeties downtown would get a park so little Muffy could run free. Good riddance to Sanders, sez I!

    Now if we could just cut the Chamber of Commerce out of the city government loop, we might start getting somewhere even faster!

  11. avatarKP says

    Hopefully this article as true as it is was no revelation to anyone. The politics of this town (and much of this nation)couldn’t be more obvious.

  12. avatarmicaela shafer porte says

    yes! and yea! to professor mayor bob…
    good luck and gods bless,
    i’m with ya

  13. avatarCarrie says

    Can’t. Just. Can’t.

    An article praising Filner as an advocate for social justice, the same day it is revealed he preyed on the weakest of the weak.

    The longer Filner apologists keep red herring the crap out of this, losing sight of what this is really about – THE ABUSE OF OFFICE / ASSAULT OF WOMEN – the deeper the divide between the progressives and the brogressives becomes. The Democratic Party, of which I am a proud member, has lost a lot of my faith because they keep putting politics before women. How do you think the championing of progressive causes is going to go for the local party once it’s turned off half of its constituency?

    I can’t shake the feeling that this is the Democratic Party’s TEA party moment. If this is what the progressive movement is all about – really, nothing but brogressivism – I’m happy to jump ship.

    • avatarDoug Porter says

      This article was published on February 25th. Maybe next time you’ll read below the headline.

      • avatarCarrie says

        *whew* the whole article trending on Twitter and FB threw me. Guess scalability and persistence got the better of me. Apologies. For now :)


  1. […] San Diego Free Press calls out wealthy hoteliers for demanding the corporate welfare they got by buying off the city council and city attorney; after all, these “entitled private interests … have run San Diego for its entire history”.  The fact that they’re wasting precious San Diego tax dollars to sue the city is particularly galling.   […]