6:80 a.m., Mon., March 12
Aguirre shows up on time, ready to jog in blue gym shorts and a blue sweat top with hood. I'd expected velour from Adam’s apple to tarsus, but only the New Balance logo on his shoes suggests Jog Chic, and that mildly. He wants to run up Sixth Avenue along Balboa Park instead of through my gentle neighborhood course, so we ride in his late-model BMW, a suitable lawyer’s car, down Florida Canyon and briefly onto the northbound 1-5 chute to Sixth Avenue, where we park at Elm Street. We do some minimal stretching, and then off we go — it’s all uphill. But damn. He’s not jogging. He’s running.
Immediately he starts in on virtually everybody and anything. This town, he says, tolerates mediocre and compromised politicians, is a haven for three-piece-suited frauds who wouldn’t get away with their chicanery elsewhere. An IRS investigator he knows “just laughs about San Diego” and says the city has a national reputation among his cohorts. “Look at Alessio,” Aguirre says, explaining how the one-time owner of Agua Caliente racetrack and Mr. A’s, and former principal in the Hotel del Coronado used to remodel the hotel and bill the work to Agua Caliente to avoid paying taxes.
We’re only at Juniper or so, and I’m breathing hard. Now he’s on to Sheriff John Duffy, his nemesis, the man he tormented with public challenges of accepting money from La Costa resort owners until Duffy was forced to give up his seat on President Reagan’s organized crime advisory board. Now he’s badmouthing Congressman Jim Bates. Now talking about J. David and Roger Hedgecock. And about publisher Larry Remer (“If we lose the idealists, what chance do we have?”). And back to Hedgecock and the $130,000 “loan” from J. David and Nancy Hoover: “Why do the papers keep calling it a loan?”
“Because,” I venture, now winded seriously, “If he [huff] repaid it or [puff] began to repay it [huff] before the news of the crash came out [huff and puff], who’s to say [huff] it wasn’t a loan?”
He doesn't hesitate a beat. “Well then, if that were true, you'd never see any fraud prosecutions at all.”
We’re only just past Laurel Street and I have to stop for a walk. How embarrassing.
Until last month my only contact with Mike Aguirre had been as potential constituent of would-be Congressman Aguirre, back in the spring of 1982 when he was running against Jim Bates for the Democratic nomination to Congress from the Forty-fourth District. It was a sunny Saturday morning and I was outside my house wondering what to make out of the day when I saw the Aguirre-for-Congress, one-car motorcade bearing down on me, a blond guy at the wheel of a Detroit convertible and the candidate sitting atop the rag- top deck in the rear, homecoming- style. Mine was the only vote in sight, the morning being still fairly young, and by the time I saw what was about to happen, it was too late to retreat into the house.
“Are you a registered Democrat?” Aguirre shouted, and there followed a sidewalk give-and-take that lasted perhaps as long as ten minutes, he mostly giving and me mostly taking. Aguirre is a swarmer: venture one opinion and he has three examples of his compatibility w ith that attitude. He had been, he said, an assistant U.S. attorney here in the early 1970s and had successfully prosecuted Laborers Union officials for pension fund fraud, had been an investigator for a U.S. Senate subcommittee that probed the rackets, was an antiwar activist when he went to school at Berkeley, and more, and more.
All of this was spilling out in response to what he thought I would go for, and in fact, he was managing to appeal more than repel. He wanted to know what I do for money and when I told him, he almost leaped up and down proclaiming that he was in the middle of the Penthouse-La Costa trial defending the magazine against the spa’s libel suit. He couldn’t understand why a person like me wouldn’t be happy to vote for him, and I just repeated what by then he must have grown weary of hearing. 1 didn’t want to have to vote for a man simply because he might win a lawsuit against Jim Bates.
By early that year Bates had become the pre-eminent Democratic officeholder in San Diego and was a shooin for the new district that the national Democratic Party had meticulously carved to include the city’s eastern neighborhoods south of Interstate 8, with a finger reaching southward into equally Democratic National City. Even in conservative San Diego, in the conservative 1980s, the Republicans weren't likely to capture that seat.
Along with three other Democrats, Bates had been elected to the San Diego City Council in the early 1970s, during the city’s brief fling with the two-party system, and he had proved to be a party trouper. His loyalty had helped keep the council’s four-vote minority intact while the Republican majority on the council, some of them jealous of their own Pete Wilson, sometimes came unglued, forcing the mayor to swing with the Democrats whenever the tenuous majority collapsed. This made the Republicans unhappy. The mayor would roll his eyes and snipe sarcastically at Bates initiatives; editors at Copley Newspapers cracked about Bates’s having been a donut salesman; and some of the reporters followed their bosses’ leads, writing stories that either discounted Bates’s successes or illuminated his failures. But Bates, while not brilliant, knew how to stay in touch with his constituents. His machine kept chugging along, taking him on to the county board of supervisors. In 1982 Bates was the first and only well-known Democrat to take out papers for the new Forty-fourth Congressional District, much of which lay within his supervisorial district. As night follows the day. the Forty-fourth was going to be Bates's district.
Into this picture walked Aguirre, who, though he'd been born at Mercy Hospital thirty-three years earlier, hadn’t spent much time in the city at all. "There was a big backlash,” Aguirre recalls. "People [in the party] were saying, 'Here we’ve been working the salt mines all these years and along comes this punk who wants it all.’ ” That wasn't half of it. If Aguirre had been satisfied just to put his name out there and build a reputation for a future run at another office, the party regulars might have quickly forgiven him for costing Bates and the Democrats time and money they wouldn’t have had to spend in an uncontested primary. Instead, Aguirre went berserk. It wasn’t just a congressional seat he was after; he was after total reform, clean government, a voice, no, a system to represent the people.