One of the reasons democracy works is that it requires those who would govern to go out among the people every few years and discuss the issues of the day. In the course of a political campaign, such as the one that recently ended in San Diego, the candidates tend to become pretty good bellwethers of what is going on in the minds of the electorate.
As we interviewed all eight finalists in the races for four City Council seats, we were struck by several themes that seemed to come up over and over in conversations with Democrats and Republicans from across the city. Chances are they tell us something.
Police-community relations: Not too many years ago, Councilman William Jones had a hard time getting a majority of the council to agree to establish a commission to even study the Police Department's dealings with the public, much less any kind of civilian review of police misconduct charges. But this year's crop of City Council candidates seem solidly committed to at least the level of outside review of complaints against the police that was recently established, and most would grant the reviewing agency more powers than it now has. Several expressed concern about the feelings of mistrust of the police they have encountered throughout the city--especially in predominantly minority neighborhoods, but not exclusively. As one candidate said, whether it is true or not, there is a perception among San Diegans that the police do not do a good enough job policing themselves.
Leadership and Mayor Maureen O'Connor: Though most of the candidates lauded specific accomplishments by O'Connor, they also spoke of a lack of leadership coming from the council as a whole. "Drifting" was a word that came up more than once.
Typical of the criticism leveled at O'Connor was that she is not accessible to people whom she should be open to. One candidate said, "She isolates herself from the normal processes of influence . . . which should operate to a certain degree." Another said she has raised the public's level of expectation, but at some point people will say, "You're really popular, but what are you doing?"
Garbage disposal: The candidates, almost certainly reflecting what they were hearing from the public, were firm in their unwillingness to accept a system of garbage incineration that will add to the area's air pollution problem. Some of their alternatives made more sense than others, but most agreed that when the appropriate level of technology is available, a trash-to-energy plant that does not cause significant pollution will have to be part of the garbage solution.
Sewage: Although there was not a strong consensus on the advisability of moving to secondary treatment of sewage, there was a sentiment that if the city must pay that price it should move to a system that would reclaim water that could be used for irrigation.
Port District and Lindbergh Field: Little confidence was expressed by council candidates in the leadership of the San Diego Unified Port District. Not surprisingly, perhaps, several said they believe San Diego should have a stronger voice, either by appointing council members to its three seats or by pushing for a change in state legislation that would give the city a majority on the board.
By and large, the candidates spoke out for taking a tougher stand with the airlines on the issue of requiring use of the newest, quietest jets at night. And many seemed to think that the time has come to seriously consider alternative sites to Lindbergh Field as the area's major airport. With the convention center well under way and many hundreds of thousands of new visitors expected for it and other attractions, the question of a new airport site, in fact, may be overdue as a topic for the public agenda.
In any event, the candidates so spoke, and now the people have spoken with their ballots. The next step would be translating these combined sentiments into action.