By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner
Did you ever suspect you were being taken for a ride but decide to go along with it anyway? Did you ever ignore that little voice inside your head warning you to watch out! because the guy conning you was so smooth, so really cute, how could you say no?
You’ve just been introduced to Nathan Fletcher in his rematch race for mayor of San Diego.
Nathan Fletcher is funny, engaging, self-deprecating, and a topnotch storyteller. He is low-keyed even when boasting, “I interrogated al-Qaeda… I can negotiate a labor deal.” (You might remember that Fletcher was in the Marine Corps Reserves while working in the office of Duke Cunningham, a San Diego congressman who also used his military experience as a political prop to win an election. Cunningham was recently released from prison after serving a sentence for enriching himself illegally through bribery and fraud while in office.)
Nathan Fletcher is a performer with a special gift for reading the minds of his audience and bouncing back precisely what you want to hear. He strings his words together in a tightly-drilled speech pattern that convinces you he’s answered your question — even when he hasn’t.
Though once excoriated by labor unions for his conservative voting record, now his chief cheerleader is former labor-leader Lorena Gonzalez. He’s regarded as a good catch on both sides of the fence, or so it would seem from the number of wealthy San Diegans who’ve endorsed him for mayor.
Nathan Fletcher is the Great Gatsby of our time — a fabricated man filled with longing and wild ambition but not quite who you think he is… was… wants to be…
Which brings us to the mystery of the week: why was Nathan Fletcher plucked from a pool of contenders by Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, judged best in show, and adopted by the Qualcomm family?
Fletcher is not an engineer, not a businessman, not the holder of specialized academic degrees. Yet he’s got a job at Qualcomm that pays him $400,000/year ($220,000 according to the Fletcher campaign). What makes him worth it?
Meanwhile, he’s running an all-out political campaign for mayor of San Diego on company time and the big boss is doing his darndest to catapult him into office. How come? When the downtown establishment throws its full faith and credit behind Kevin Faulconer, we know that they know what they expect to get from him. Same goes for the Labor Council endorsement of David Alvarez. But what in the world does Irwin Jacobs want and expect to get from San Diego’s next mayor, should it be Nathan Fletcher? It’s a mystery.
I have a hunch part of the answer lies in an arcane section of the San Diego City Charter, specifically Article VI – Board of Education.
Look back to 1931 – that’s when a manager-council form of government was codified in the San Diego City Charter. Concurrently, the city’s school system (which then included kindergarten, elementary, secondary, evening, technical, and parental schools) was codified as Article VI. It states: “The government of the San Diego School District shall be vested in a Board of Education, composed of five members who shall be elected at large by the electors of the School District at the same time as the members of the City Council.”
Between then and now there’ve been a number of minor amendments to Article VI — one that narrowed the scope of the school district to kindergarten through secondary schools and others that adjusted salaries, terms of office, and timetables for electing new Board members.
Today, you’ll still find election procedures for the 5-member Board of Education in Article VI of the City Charter and, as always, any changes to the Charter must be approved by San Diego voters.
Now think back three years when an (unsuccessful) attempt was made to amend Article VI. The purpose was not to adjust salaries, terms of office, or election timetables but to make a significant change — to increase the size of the School Board from 5 to 9 members by appointing 4 additional people to preside as Board members.
These 4 would not be publicly elected. Instead they would be chosen by a committee of Chamber of Commerce/ Economic Development business organizations, some university leaders, and a select group of parents. We were told this change would “depoliticize the School Board.
The two big funders of this proposed amendment were charter school proponent and wealthy businessman Rod Dammeyer and Qualcomm’s Irwin Jacobs. Notable boosters included organized advocates of the charter school movement.
What has this got to do with Nathan Fletcher’s relationship to Qualcomm? Might it be that Irwin Jacobs et al. have not given up on their plans to redesign the city school system in their own image? Is this why Fletcher has been parading his credentials as an educator? Is Fletcher their political proxy?
Notice Fletcher’s frequent campaign remarks about school district education. He lifts stock phrases from his Qualcomm-sponsored speeches: best practices… innovation… vocational training… the digital divide… technical curriculum for middle school and high school. He calls for forming an independent educational foundation to guide public education.
Now notice Fletcher’s trumped-up credentials as an educator. On January 1, 2013 Nathan Fletcher was appointed “Professor of Practice” in the political science department at UCSD. Don’t laugh. He is the first-ever appointed practitioner of a newly-invented, no-academic-degree-required, privately-funded position to teach part-time at the university, subject matter to be determined.
And notice that while others in the academic jungle sweat and toil for years to attain the level of Professor, Fletcher was quietly ushered through a rear door to the top of the ivory tower — his feet barely alighting on the red carpet linking Qualcomm headquarters to UCSD. It’s handy to have wealthy patrons in high places, even when they use you for their own purposes.
Nobody disputes the desirability of improving public education. The question to ask ourselves is: Is this a role for the mayor of a city facing unprecedented deficits and debt with no good remedies in sight? In a city that hasn’t yet straightened out the kinks from our switch to a ‘strong mayor’ form of governance why would we want our mayor to take on the complex and challenging world of public education, as well? Especially one who’s so ill-equipped?
Might not San Diego’s mayor contribute to the success of our school system through constructive collaboration with school board members, principals, parents, health officials, education experts, business interests, and others in this city who support public education. Isn’t it preferable to discourage private and political incursions into the city schools?
What do we know about the mysterious Fletcher-Qualcomm connection? We know that Fletcher’s status as beneficiary of Irwin Jacobs’ largesse is a clue to the presumptive power behind the wished-for mayoral throne. It reminds us that influential private individuals — no matter how well-intentioned — tend to feel free (even entitled) to use the democratic process to gain control of the public domain. That might be okay with Fletcher – it’s not with me.
We know that Fletcher’s concocted job in a classroom at UCSD doesn’t give him credibility for spearheading changes in our school system. He may want you to think it does – it doesn’t.
We know that Nathan Fletcher’s touted experience as a Marine has nothing to do with his capability or desirability to be San Diego’s new mayor. He seems to think it does – I don’t.
We know that we don’t know who Fletcher really is. Within the span of 500 days he went from calling himself a Republican to an Independent to a Democrat. He disavows his past voting record. He says he’s seen the light and now he answers to a different drummer. He wants us to believe that an indeterminate chameleon with identity confusion would be a good choice for our next mayor — I don’t buy it.
We know that using democratic means to achieve undemocratic ends is never a good idea. People engaged in political subterfuge are not acting in the best interests of our collective future and should be sent packing — I think you will agree.
Editor’s Note: Nathan Fletcher’s salary at Qualcomm has apparently become a major point of dispute. Originally reported by KGTV Channel 10 as $400,000, representatives from Fletcher’s mayoral campaign have informed the SDFP that Fletcher is actually earning $220,000 per year from the communications technology giant.