In November 2004, Aguirre, a securities lawyer, was elected city attorney. He knew that the pension problem involved criminality. “Official San Diego was terrified of Aguirre,” writes Lowenstein. “City Hall greeted him with a blackout,” denying him pension-related documents. But he fought to get them. “Once he had the files, he allowed Shipione to ransack them.… Shipione went through the files as if she were possessed — tipping over cartons, spilling papers on the floor.” Aguirre locked the door and let Shea go through the papers too. “Not yet in office a month, Aguirre was at war with the pension system, the city manager’s office, the council, and the local police.” But here is Lowenstein’s punch line: “Though his tactics were heavy-handed, they fulfilled a worthy purpose. San Diego’s government had flitted around like a bat intent on avoiding the sunlight for far too long. Now its people would learn the truth.”
Aguirre and Shipione would be brutalized by the corrupt power structure, but they had accomplished their objectives. In his final paragraph, suggesting possible curative measures, Lowenstein writes, “The pension schemes — public and private, federal and local — described in this book have been all guilty of similar crimes. To paraphrase Michael Aguirre, they behaved like ‘credit card junkies’ who charged to the card limit and made only minimum payments.” The heroes and heroines of the San Diego debacle are prophets elsewhere but not at home.