In Superficial-Diego, who needs a plan when you’ve got stereotypes?

    They say the all-important line has moved in the last few years. Local politicos used to draw it at Interstate 8, but they now say it’s moved to the 52.

    That line — a tried-and-true tool in this town — roughly divides the city of San Diego into two parts: places where people are interested in what’s going on at City Hall, and places where people aren’t.

    The division is obviously not merely geographic: Even in Little Italy or Clairemont, it can be hard to find anyone who knows — or cares — about city politics. But “that old I-8 line,” as local strategists call it, illustrates an interesting point, one that will likely have a huge effect on who the next mayor is: Political participation in America’s Finest City is at best spotty. At worst, it’s practically despotism. And geography does seem to have something to do with it.

    This is important when judging candidates whose campaigns are focused around an absurdly complex problem at City Hall. Jerry Sanders and Donna Frye are now busy touting their somewhat detailed plans for “fiscal recovery” (a euphemism for what ought to be something of a revolution down there), but how many of the voters whose disinterest put us here know enough about the problem to pick the best solution?

    My guess is not many.

    So let’s have a little necessary fun, and look at the candidates and their plans from the perspective that will likely count the most: the idiot’s.

    (Of course nearly everyone, including the author, is something of an idiot when it comes to actually understanding this problem. If you want to hear about unfunded liability and pension obligation bonds, read VoiceofSanDiego.org. I don’t want to depress you any more than I have to.)

    Sanders-a Claus

    Appearance is everything in America’s Finest City — can’t you tell by all the fake boobs and chrome spinners? Sanders wears big smiles and fine, pinstriped suits. If he isn’t Santa Claus minus the beard and hat, he’s a classically round, jolly, big-city mayor. (Plus three points.) Sanders released his plan in chapters so he could hold a press conference for each one, like holiday presents for the voters. (Plus one point.)

    There’s also a magical element to his plan, which sort of says that because it’s him trying to fix the city, and not anyone who’s already trying, all the warring parties will finally agree and give up money, their egos and whatever else will be best for the voters. (Plus three points for the godlike agenda.) He says he’ll threaten bankruptcy, though he doesn’t seem at all serious, and knows he wants to lay off “up to 10 percent” of city employees (plus 10 points — that’s a made-for-TV line aimed at the city’s gobs of outlying right-wingers.)

    Other main Sanders points: asking workers to pay more of their health care costs, contracting out city services to the private sector, raising the retirement age — you get the idea. In our imaginary model, the soccer moms of above-the-line Rancho Bernardo are applauding in their Suburbans. “This guy sounds great! The government screwed up, and he wants to gut it! Give those greedy, union workers what they deserve! Muahahaha!”

    OK, OK. The point is that the Sanders plan appears to be constructed in order to appeal especially to uninformed voters — people who don’t know, for instance, that members of the City Council have already said publicly that they won’t back filing for bankruptcy. Sanders’ plan needs them to at least look like they will actually do it, or else he doesn’t have any bargaining power with union leaders. If the council doesn’t want to play his game, he has no way to get rid of the pension increases that drove the city broke.

    Sanders strategy will probably be an effective one: Sell the voters a plan that asks very little of them. Blame the mess entirely on the city, the council and the unions, and let the people who don’t care to continue not caring. That’s probably what they want, right?

    Freaky Frye

    Councilwoman Frye speaks in a deep, weathered voice. It isn’t pretty, but it is real — and people listen to it. Think of this as a metaphor for her entire campaign, right down to the messy, volunteer-clogged headquarters. For her supporters, the aesthetic indifference is part of the candidate’s charm: She’s a politician, not a movie star.

    But the disarming humility and honesty (that even her opponents won’t deny) doesn’t come across in the TV ads … because there aren’t any. (On our idiot’s scorecard, count Frye down an infinite number of points.) Unlike Sanders, who doesn’t have any public record and therefore has to be judged almost exclusively by what he plans to do, Frye has years of public service as a councilmember to talk about — which isn’t necessarily good. Sanders is using her council seat as a reason she shouldn’t be trusted, even though Frye was for years the sole vote against the resolutions that brought on this current pain. (Minus three points for Frye, because having one guy say on TV that she’s part of the problem is probably more effective than all the real-person prowess in the world.)

    Her plan, like Sanders’, relies on the City Council — but not to threaten bankruptcy. Frye wants the council to vote to give her the power to fix the problems herself — be it through bargaining, bankruptcy or more ballot measures — with a heavy dose of input from the people. If the council won’t do what she wants, Frye will ask for an initiative to get things done. (Plus a half point for the woman who was originally against the strong-mayor idea.)

    But Frye’s real problems in Superficial-Diego start and end with the “A” word. As good as her plan may be, as charming and accessible as she has been, Frye got to city government by way of environmental activism. Minus 15 points for her — can’t you feel Suzie Suburban quaking in her traffic jam? Local businesspeople are certainly busting their tight collars with fear that Frye will bring commercial life to halt with a tree-hugger’s holocaust.

    So there you have it: a slick Santa versus the rough-edged environmentalist. How sad if it actually comes down to those stereotypes, but this is San Diego, where we should all know not to get our hopes up.

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