Faulconer is hoping that you just won’t remember that the pension scandal occurred under a Republican mayor
By Jim Miller
As we head down the stretch run of the campaign to elect San Diego’s next mayor, Kevin Faulconer’s anti-union hysteria has reached critical mass.
In his latest TV ad a very serious woman’s voice warns us that despite the fact that “We need progress in San Diego,” David Alvarez wants to “take us back to times when union cronies ruled San Diego.” She goes on to warn us that Alvarez is being brought to you by “union bosses” who want “lavish pensions” and “no accountability” while “streets crumble” and “neighborhoods suffer.”
Cue the gritty black and white footage of San Diego in ruins.
While I have already dealt with Faulconer’s historically challenged and wildly misleading claims about pensions and the effect of Proposition B in last week’s column, it’s worth further reviewing the ridiculous nature of Faulconer’s faux history.
As I wrote when the run-off was just beginning, it’s clear that the Republicans want to “convince voters that San Diego has been dominated by ‘union influenced ways’ for the last century rather than the moneyed interests that have served as a shadow government for most of our history.”
That’s how Team Faulconer hopes to pull off the big bamboozle–by selling you right wing mythology as history with the hope that you aren’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
But, of course, the actual history of San Diego gives the lie to the fantasy of “times when union cronies ruled San Diego.” As I have pointed out on several other occasions:
Anyone who knows even a little about the history of San Diego understands that the suggestion that our city has been run by a union machine is a joke. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth, but the forces behind Faulconer are counting on folks being easily misled.
In “Under the Perfect Sun”, Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew and I observe that San Diego is a city that “many conservatives extol as a utopia of patriotism and free enterprise.” Indeed it was Nixon’s “lucky city” but, as we note, “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.”
Nonetheless, Kevin Faulconer and friends want to toss all that down the memory hole. Thus the lifelong Republican hides all his right-wing allies behind the curtain while he poses as a fake Democrat “independent” of all interests. The man in the pocket of moneyed interests who opposes raising the minimum wage and funding affordable housing pretends to be the patron saint of the homeless poor. The guy who wants to take the community groups out of the community planning process wants you to see him as Mr. Neighborhoods first. It goes on and on.
If Nathan Fletcher was the Magic Democrat, Kevin Faulconer is a Miraculous Independent, able to shed his entire career as a party line Republican faster than a thirty-second sound byte.
But more than anything else, Faulconer’s big lie campaign relies on his anti-union fantasy world. Faulconer is hoping that you just won’t remember that the pension scandal occurred under a Republican mayor or that after Proposition B all future city workers have no pensions to be made “lavish.” He also wants you to ignore the fact that the majority of the unions behind Alvarez don’t get paychecks, benefits, or pensions from the city. They support Alvarez because he shares their values and respects rather than demonizes working people.
The reason why you rarely have that pointed out to you is because the lack of knowledge about local history, labor history and the contemporary union movement in the San Diego press is pervasive. Hence, the local media enables Faulconer’s anti-union mythology because so many journalists here don’t know enough about labor to adequately fact check him.
In addition to that, San Diego’s only major newspaper, which unfortunately still drives much of the coverage elsewhere, is well known for being on a permanent jihad against unions and/or any governmental policy that benefits workers (union or not) at the expense of corporations or the wealthy. That’s why the Faulconer forces think they can bank on fantasy history trumping reality.
But let’s be real here for a moment. Perhaps the biggest issue at stake for AFSCME–the union that represents the city’s blue-collar workers and is a major player in the race–is outsourcing. Faulconer is a big advocate of outsourcing San Diego’s city services to private companies and, understandably, city workers would like to keep their jobs. So AFSCME is playing a big role in this race, as are the corporate interests who would like to get a spot at the public trough.
If you aren’t one of those workers you might be tempted to buy the line that outsourcing city workers’ jobs will save you money at tax time. Sucks to be them, but you don’t want to pay more for their fat paychecks, right? Think again. Outsourcing just isn’t the manna from heaven that Kevin Faulconer says it is.
Recently, In the Public Interest released a study on outsourcing that debunks the conservative line about cost savings, Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations. As they note, their report “serves as a cautionary tale for lawmakers and taxpayers alike.” In sum, their study (which includes several examples from San Diego) shows how:
Eager for quick cash, state and local governments across America have for decades handed over control of critical public services and assets to corporations that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Unfortunately for taxpayers, not only has outsourcing these services failed to keep this promise, but too often it undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition – the underpinnings of democracy itself.
And the results of “managed competition” here in San Diego have been far from stellar as we put it here at the San Diego Free Press during our virtual mayoral forum:
It was billed by proponents as a way for the city government to save millions of dollars annually by eliminating inefficient public workers.
While the change to the City Charter was brought about as an attempt to privatize city government services, the law also allowed city agencies to submit bids in competition with their private competitors. After four years of tug-o-war with labor unions, in July, 2010 the City finally published its “Managed Competition Guide,” setting the guidelines for the bidding process on city services.
Only bids submitted by outside contractors that achieve at least a 10% savings over city agency bids would be accepted.
The City put several services out to bid, including the in-house print shop, vehicle fleet services, the Miramar Landfill, street sweeping, and street and sidewalk maintenance, with the public agencies winning all four bids at significant savings for the City.
However, as reported in a September 25, 2013 investigation in San Diego City Beat, the winning bids, while saving tens of millions of dollars, are likely not sustainable, and have demonstrated numerous inadequacies in the results brought about by managed competition.
City agencies, while significantly underbidding their private sector competitors, have been forced into substantial staffing cuts, and in the case of the city’s vehicle fleet maintenance division, are struggling to keep up with the workload due to a high demand and a shortage of manpower.
In fact, the CityBeat investigation found that the department could have submitted a bid that was 20 percent higher and still won the contract comfortably.
A report issued by the office of the City’s Chief Operating Officer questioned whether the savings achieved were the result of greater efficiencies or the result of reductions in the quality of the services provided, and offered some suggestions to improve the system.
Not surprisingly, Kevin Faulconer was an empty chair during much of the San Diego Free Press’s mayoral forum, and he continues to discuss outsourcing only in vague terms as part of his heroic “reform” narrative. But the truth of the matter is that, as with his claims about pension reform, there is little evidence to support his contention that outsourcing has been or will be San Diego’s fiscal savior.
There has been very little of the “progress” that the serious lady in Faulconer’s anti-union commercial talks about and the only thing his agenda is sure to bring is the replacement of living wage jobs with benefits with a system that funnels public money into private hands while providing no real gain to taxpayers. Indeed, from what we have seen, it has led to a diminishment of city services.
Thus Faulconer’s crusade against unions is less about saving the public from union domination than it is about scapegoating already beleaguered city workers in order to return power to San Diego’s traditional elite so that they can continue to milk public resources for their private profit Faulconer isn’t standing up to “union bosses,” he’s kicking the city’s blue-collar workers when they are already down.
So really what’s at stake in this election is not whether or not we return to “times when union cronies ruled San Diego” but whether we have a mayor that cares about working people and all of San Diego’s neighborhoods in David Alvarez or a mayor who will return power to the moneyed special interests who have actually ruled San Diego for its entire history.
The fact is that San Diego has never had the union density of the other large cities in California and labor has never been the dominant political force here. What has changed in recent years are the city’s demographics and its political character. In 2014, even in a low turnout special election that historically would have been a slam-dunk for the right, Faulconer has to go around pretending that he’s really not a lifelong Republican with deep ties to the city’s traditional moneyed elite.
It’s clear from this campaign that the Republicans know that the future of San Diego is going to be more diverse and Democratic, and the labor movement in concert with its community allies has the resources to mobilize the new San Diego in a way that will change the city going forward and make the halls of power more open to everyone, no matter what their pedigree. Win or lose this election, the right knows it will eventually lose San Diego.
Consequently, it’s not a return to the past that Team Faulconer fears; it’s the future that David Alvarez represents.