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.
As 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.