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President’s Message, Third Quarter of 2010

On July 1, Carl DeMaio officially threw in the towel on his misguided and misleading outsourcing ballot initiative. DeMaio’s failure gives San Diegans and City employees hope that we might be nearing the end of a painful era of extreme, sometimes hateful, political rhetoric that has seemed to dominate the San Diego political debate for the last several years.

For those City employees who have had better things to do than to pay attention to everything Carl DeMaio has been up to, let me give you a brief recap. Last year, DeMaio launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative aimed at outsourcing almost every essential City service, with the exception of police and fire. Although he portrayed it as a “grassroots” initiative drive, the reality is that developers and anti-union contractors poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund paid signature gatherers. In June, DeMaio turned in more than 134,000 signatures in support of his initiative to the City Clerk’s office, even though he only needed about 96,000 valid signatures to qualify his measure for the November ballot.

His initiative paid lip service to “transparency” but included hidden provisions that would have wiped away numerous existing City policies and ordinances, including the Living Wage Ordinance passed by the City Council in 2005. The proposed initiative would have eliminated any thoughtful process for managed competition, and instead, replaced it with unchecked outsourcing with absolutely no regard for maintaining service. In fact, the initiative would have prohibited any minimum contract standards, independent review, or anything else that dared to slow down the DeMaio outsourcing train.

Most thought the initiative was sure to qualify, and MEA joined a coalition of other organizations committed to opposing the initiative. Battle plans were being drawn and money was set aside for the fight. Meanwhile, DeMaio was busy strutting around town with entourage in tow, confidently touting the initiative as his basis for a run at Mayor in 2012.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the train station. The County Registrar of Voters and the San Diego City Clerk determined that the signatures on DeMaio’s initiative petitions were just as phony as his initiative. Due to a disproportionate number of disqualified and duplicate signatures, the Registrar projected that DeMaio’s initiative was more than 20,000 signatures short of the requirement, even though he supposedly turned in nearly 40,000 more signatures than were needed. Oops.

DeMaio pretended to be outraged by it all, but acknowledged just a few days later that his initiative had failed to qualify. In classic DeMaio fashion, he spun the failure as some sort of victory “for the people” and vowed to fight another day. I have no doubt about his resolve for a continued fight, but his most recent embarrassing misstep has demonstrated once again that there is not much bite to his constant bark.

Before it was clear that DeMaio’s initiative was going to fail to even make it to the ballot, there were a few honorable and courageous City leaders working hard to get the truth out about the many shortcomings of DeMaio’s initiative. Councilmember Marti Emerald led the charge and spoke loud and clear about what a sham the whole effort was. She challenged and debated Carl at every turn, including a KPBS radio debate where she walloped him with the truth and derailed his carefully scripted blather. In short, Marti was courageous and outspoken when it wasn’t necessarily popular to be so vocal about opposing the initiative, and she deserves all of our thanks.

The Union-Tribune editorial page surprised us all by also speaking candidly about the problems with DeMaio’s initiative before the measure imploded. Among other criticisms, the editorials questioned DeMaio’s motives, calling his measure a misguided and “vindictive” attempt to punish City employees. When the measure failed to make the ballot the UT gloated that DeMaio was left with “egg on his face.”

Is this the same editorial page that has relentlessly attacked San Diego City employees for the last several years? Although I’m not holding my breath, here’s to the hope that a new day in the anti-City employee rhetoric of this City is near.