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Conservatives have always won in San Diego

D.C. Reed, Louis Wilde, Bob Wilson, Pete Wilson, Duncan Hunter, Clair Burgener, Susan Golding

A Mostly Republican History

What chance is there in San Diego for an honest young lawyer who is a Democrat?

— J. Robert O'Connor, U.S. attorney for California (1900)

"A choice, not an echo" was Barry Goldwater's slogan in his campaign for president in 1964. Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon Johnson by a landslide, in part because the conservative Republican dared promote himself in such unequivocal terms. For as long as San Diego has been holding elections, candidates have seemed, with their gloves-off campaigns, to offer a choice, but typically they present no more than an echo. Case in point, during much of 2004, is the mayor's race.

Supervisor Ron Roberts and Mayor Dick Murphy, combatants in 2000, still seem interchangeable: Republican barons of their county and city manors; white males in their 60s; buddies with the developers; supporters of municipal unions; and overseers of massive pension deficits, which in the case of the city amounts to $1.17 billion. Many believe that Roberts wouldn't be any better than Murphy -- a mayor who was saddled with the pension mess by his predecessor, Susan Golding. Murphy voted with all but one member of the council in 2002 to continue the underfunding.

The case stood until Donna Frye, the councilwoman who voted against pension underfunding, declared herself a write-in candidate for mayor on the last day of September. Whether or not Frye wins next Tuesday, her candidacy has been the biggest hurrah in local politics in years. A Democrat seriously challenging the Republican dynasty in San Diego is as rare as August rain. Almost unheard of in the lore of local elections was Frye's disclosure: she was running because everyday people had urged her to run so that they had, in her words, "somebody to vote for." In the wake of the pension debacle, she was listening: "It's hard to explain sometimes," she told the Union-Tribune, "when the public becomes very, very frustrated. Sort of like a big wave riding over the ocean just keeps building and building and building momentum."

Frye's candidacy is a phenomenon, which a look at our political history confirms. Since 1850, when the city was incorporated, nearly all of the men and women who've run for local, state, and federal office have, with a few wild exceptions, been cut from the same conservative cloth. But these are not just any old conservatives; they are the anointed ones. And who has anointed them? The owners of land and capital; builders and developers; wealthy "carpetbaggers" who fight wealthy "pioneers" for local control; political parties; newspaper publishers and editors; and, since the 1980s, special interests like labor unions, environmentalists, religious factions, issue-oriented attack groups, and a new class of hired guns -- partyless campaign consultants who commission and interpret polls and spin the political news.

A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker's preeminent critic, once said that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. San Diego media owners are no exception; they, too, are players in the game. Their TV and radio stations as well as newspapers bring us the candidates' messages and in so doing shape that message. How? By placement, frequency, and choice of stories (which means only the anointed get covered). By running campaign ads (whose often controversial content means opponents must respond in kind). By covering the spin-meisters (whose predictions and polls the media find newsworthy). And by endorsements (which in newspapers once were found on both the editorial and the front pages). On occasion, a TV station will endorse a mayoral or congressional candidate. But most stations practice campaign-season "neutrality": they avoid local politics (unless celebrities are involved) and save time to report on controversial ads that "make" news. When candidates go mano a mano in their 30-second TV spots, the stations tally up the profits.

We think that the difference between candidates stems from their different positions. But in local races, the candidates' positions are seldom substantively different, which is one reason most political ads avoid issues. Instead, ads highlight an opponent's putative demon -- a flawed character, a broken pledge, a tainted donation: all of us have at least one Willie Horton in our pasts. The goal is simple: pound away at the flaw until a seed of distrust is planted in the voter's mind. Distrust is the surest way for a candidate to widen the division between himself and his opponent. A clear division, the consultants say, produces a winner. However, such manufactured divisiveness -- attack ads, political rhetoric, media skewing -- rarely serves the interests of the voters, rarely holds a candidate to a promise.

When you study the most contentious and covered campaigns in our history -- from the Workingmen's mayoral victory by William J. Hunsaker in 1887; to the rise and fall of white supremacist Tom Metzger, the Democrats' candidate for Congress in 1980; to the dirtiest campaign of all, the bitch-slapping between Susan Golding and Peter Navarro in 1992 -- you find you're soiled by the same spill. It's the September-October stain of negative campaigning, in which both camps rouse our fears (or defend themselves from an opponent's provocation) until we're convinced that one candidate must be the worst, the one we should vote against. Conditioned by smear, we find it near impossible to see that the candidate we choose may be a cutout of the one we don't. Long ago, Englishman Thomas Hobson, who ran a livery stable, told those who asked for a choice of a horse that yes, the customer always had a choice. He could take the horse nearest the stable door or he could take nothing. For more than a century, Hobson's choice has been at work in our political stable.

D.C. Reed v. William J. Hunsaker (1887)

In 1885, San Diego was a fledgling city of 5000, a funny little movie-set town of clapboard houses and dirt roads. Tall ships dotted the harbor; the railroad had just connected the city with the East. In the next two years, San Diego grew quickly. Tourist and adventurer arrived for the pristine bays and perfect weather but more often came for the real estate boom. By 1887, the population had spiked to 30,000. New investors, pumped up by speculation on Wall Street, watched local land parcels double in value overnight; one parcel increased tenfold within three months. To those who were profiting from the sudden wealth -- land speculators and laborers -- the right mayor needed electing to keep the city growing.

After years of being administered by a board of five trustees, San Diego had, in 1887, chartered the election of a mayor and a council and set the election for November. Two parties emerged to run candidates. The first party, the Citizens, was composed of "genuine San Diegans." These men had settled San Diego and believed the boom threatened the quiet of the city and the quality of its civic life. The other party, the Workingmen, were the newcomers, men looking for work and men looking to invest in land and to open new businesses. The Citizens dubbed them "carpetbaggers," a post-Civil War term that referred to anyone whose profit motive might destroy what the "genuine" San Diegans held dear.

The mayoral candidate of the Citizens' party was D.C. Reed, an elegant Victorian and bewhiskered insurance salesman. The Workingmen put up William Jefferson Hunsaker, a portly, campaign-loving lawyer who had worked in Tombstone, Arizona, where he had defended vigilantes. The story of their campaigns comes to us from two newspapers. The Daily San Diegan, which supported the interests of laborers, backed Hunsaker and the Workingmen. The San Diego Union, the paper of capital, which opposed labor's desire to unionize, aligned with Reed and the Citizens. Both papers practiced the sensational style of the late 1800s called yellow journalism. During election season, the front pages were full of vituperative attacks against the candidate the rival paper was backing. The papers were as wild as the West and as bellicose as the boom. With few graphics, their table-size pages, either four or eight in number, featured tiny print and airless columns. The columns changed willy-nilly from city hall news to gossip, help wanted ads, ship arrivals, and letters from tourists.

In September, the quarreling between the two parties was launched when the Daily San Diegan published the Workingmen's platform. The laborers wanted a larger share of the wealth and profit their bosses were reaping; they believed their "producing interests...should be of first consideration in the legislation pertaining to the city government"; and they called for businesses to hire native-born workers instead of foreign-born, namely, the Chinese who had arrived by the thousands throughout California during the 1880s.

The Union didn't print the Citizens' platform but, rather, declared that by voting for the Workingmen, investors and workers would lose their money. In one story, the paper said "idle capital" was lying in the vault of a "leading banker" and that several big depositors had refused to "make any large investments in city property or improvements unless the Citizens' ticket should be elected." The Daily San Diegan responded that it would "produce twenty-five reputable, legitimate real estate men" who'd prove that land sales were increasing. The list of men included the McGarvin brothers, who held that articles in the Union "would have no effect on people of brains."

Next, on the front page, the Union printed a visitor's letter. The man warned that with Hunsaker's election, San Diego would become like Chicago, "an object of terror to other cities on account of the domination there of brutal, dastardly hordes of law-defying, bomb-throwing Anarchists and Socialists." He was referring to the 1886 riot in Haymarket Square: seven policemen had been killed by a bomb while fighting strikebreakers. The letter implied that San Diego's Workingmen would, if elected, unionize, strike, and, if necessary, riot.

The Daily San Diegan accused the Union of labeling the Workingmen "an irresponsible mob of Stingaree gutter snipes" and Mr. Hunsaker "the friend and bosom companion of drunkards, blacklegs, and thieves." Attorney Hunsaker had defended "saloon criminals, the denizens of Chinatown and other disreputables." The paper also reminded its readers that the Citizens had bought votes during an earlier primary election "wherever they could find wretches low enough.... They bought whisky by the barrel and pumped it into their rotten and degraded followers with a hose, until many of them became noisy, reeling drunk, and on the public street were indiscreet enough to show and boast how much they had been paid" by the Citizens' party.

The Union trotted out its moral servant, Reverend Harwood, pastor of the First Congregational Church. On the Sunday prior to election day, the paper printed his "political sermon": "The tendency of life in the cities is downward.... All the institutions of sin and evil are there. The saloons are there. The houses of ill-fame are there. The gambling places there. The vicious congregate there. Thieves ply their trades there.... Multitudes of the sons of the best families are corrupted by these things." To underscore the evil, the Union carried a story three columns to the right sympathetic to Harwood's claim. One of its headlines read, "How Men Are Made Captives and Robbed -- Dens of Vice on Second and Third Streets." Affixing salvation, the Golden Rule, and the love of Christ to the principles of citizenship and prosperity, Harwood made his truest feelings known: "I would not vote for the capitalists against labor, never; but I would vote for the people against the saloons, always." It was a careful bit of religious-cum-political rhetoric, designed to impugn the morality of the Workingmen.

Lost in all this "reporting" were comments by the two candidates, Hunsaker and Reed. At one point the Daily San Diegan quoted Reed as declaring with "his usual gusto and contempt for the laboring classes" that no workingman was fit to hold office. Little else, however, from either candidate was deemed attributable. Presumably candidates spoke on soapboxes in Horton Plaza. Presumably they said things that the newspapermen reasoned they could say better.

On November 9, across the Daily San Diegan's six front-page columns ran a graphic of six crowing roosters. "Hip. Hurrah!" "The Result." Of the men-only vote, Hunsaker received 1041; Reed, 867. At the bottom of the page, beneath a jab about the Union's mudslinging (the paper had enough "unused mud to start a brickyard"), was a rooster vomiting.

Although Hunsaker won, the majority of the new council were members of the Citizens' party. For 11 months Hunsaker and his conservative opponents stalemated: his every proposal was turned back, he stopped attending meetings, and he resigned in November 1888. With the Citizens controlling the council and the boom faltering, the Workingmen disbanded.

Overseeing all was the Union, where Douglas Gunn had been editor and proprietor for 17 years. In 1886, Gunn had sold the paper to John R. Berry, and Berry continued the paper's Republican stamp. In April 1889, Gunn and Berry were the candidates for mayor. Gunn ran on the Straight Republican ticket; Berry, on the Citizens' Non-Partisan ticket. (Gunn won.) In 1887, there was a choice; in 1889, there was only an echo. San Diego's election norm had been born.

George Marston v. Louis Wilde (1917)

It would be incorrect to suggest that the local battle between labor and capital ended with the demise of the Workingmen. And yet, except for the occasional socialist candidate or New Deal Democrat, except for E.W. Scripps's liberal San Diego Sun, which folded in 1939, working-class issues have seldom been a force in local elections. San Diego's political trail has been blazed by the growers, not the field hands. To grow slowly or to grow fast has been for a century the city's and the region's prime political issue. This issue has dominated nearly every election, insuring that candidates either kowtow to the city's growth-and-wealth machine or risk unfunded and uncovered campaigns.

Slow growth took to the political stage first in 1899, when Edwin Capps, an engineer, ran for mayor on the following plank: "We should cater to the entertainment of the tourist, make [San Diego] pleasant and congenial, have public places of resort in the nature of beautiful parks, fine boulevards, roads and drives." That popular philosophy, combining development with preservation, got Capps elected mayor twice, in 1899 and 1915. But catering to the tourist required that someone bring the resources of civilization -- water, railroads, schools, culture -- to the garden. Enter John D. Spreckels, a carpetbagger whose father's sugar profits in Hawaii allowed him to buy rights and access to much of the city's water supply as well as, in 1890, the San Diego Union. For years, Spreckels and his ilk helped lay development's fast track.

In 1917, the city's population had reached 50,000, and the speed of the city's growth became the issue of the mayor's race. Slow-growth advocate George W. Marston opposed Texas oil tycoon Louis Wilde. Marston was a department store owner, a city councilmember, and a park builder. Wilde was a banker who invested in imported silkworms, downtown apartment and office buildings, and hotels, one of which, the U.S. Grant, he rescued from bankruptcy with a $1.35 million shot in the arm.

In a 1917 photo, Wilde is a pasty-faced man whose pince-nez enlarge the judgmental aspect of his deep-set eyes. In his photo, Marston has a haughty countenance, a man who used a small pocket comb on his mustache before speaking to the Ladies' Auxiliary. Wilde tagged the mayoral battle a contest between his wool socks and Marston's silks.

San Diego had recently held its Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, which, like other local park and waterfront projects, Marston had shepherded. Such a display of commercial possibility had infected San Diegans with the desire for another boom. The city fathers, though, knew Los Angeles was being overrun by capital. There, the economy's foundation -- based in motion pictures, clothing manufacture, oil wells, fish canning -- meant further expansion would likely be unstoppable. Did San Diegans want this?

Wilde said, yes, bring it on. He announced that unless the city invited manufacturers in, we'd remain a convalescent center. "We don't want San Diego to become 'the amen corner' of the United States." For Wilde, it was a simple choice, "whether we are to be a second Palm Beach or another Philadelphia." Marston countered that the exposition had revealed the beauty of our climate and natural surroundings. Now millions knew what we knew. "The development of the city's beauty and civic welfare," Marston wrote, "can go along with industrial development." Marston never opposed growth. If elected, he would "encourage...manufacturing, commerce and horticulture."

The Wilde-Marston race was nicknamed "Smokestacks v. Geraniums." Marston became Geranium George, Wilde, the "Smokestack" candidate. Marston opined that those leaning toward Wilde were "terrified at the thought that the aroma of flowers may destroy the fumes emanating from ten thousand smokestacks." Though Marston had a sizable payroll of workers, he ignored labor during his campaign. In his slow-blooming Eden, productivity was not the point. Wilde courted labor's vote, arguing that as a capitalist he was really their candidate. What else but smokestacks would bring good jobs and good wages? "Remember," he wrote, "that this is a fight to the last ditch [for] the wage earner, against big interests, high taxes, bond issues and expensive parks and flowers along millionaire row, against big expenditures for the pleasure of a few smug plutocrats."

Marston stuck to his aesthetic. Dedicating the Spreckels pipe organ at the exposition, he'd said, "I consider the giving of this instrument greater than building railroads or steamships. We who are in San Diego can live without means of transportation, for we never intend leaving here anyway, but we cannot live without music." Wilde boasted of his religious ties: his parents were Methodist, his uncle a Lutheran minister, his wife a Catholic, and he belonged "to the big Church of Gratitude, Loyalty, Freedom and Sunshine -- Eight Hours of Rest, Eight Hours of Happiness, Eight Hours of Steady Work."

Just as the Citizens' Party in 1887 had warned that land buyers would leave if the Workingmen won, Wilde also made threats. He hinted that with a Marston victory the commerce-bearing Salt Lake Railroad would never arrive. Marston often refused to respond. His daughter remarked later that the "name-calling and slandering" of Wilde's attack ads "wearied" him. Marston made the fatal calculation that by championing restraint, he'd win. Sure, he may have predicted urban sprawl in a letter -- "Here in Southern California there is bound to be a great population. The land will be so well covered...that there will be very little wild woods left for future generations" -- but the visionary's insight didn't do the politician much good.

Despite support from Scripps's Sun and Spreckels's Union, where Marston was the biggest advertiser, the Geranium withered. Wilde received 12,918 votes, Marston 9167. A few days after Wilde's election, Congress declared war on Germany. Into San Diego, as one local historian wrote, a massive new industry came via naval ships "belching smoke." From that day on, San Diego was a Navy town whose growth would accommodate a whole new enterprise.

The day before the election Wilde had published The Daily Smokestack, a four-page newspaper/campaign ad with an unforgettable illustration: in one panel, a George Marston-like dandy is snoozing in the park, basking in the sun's resplendent light; in the other panel, Louis Wilde beams at smoke-spewing factories. Such clever and grandly designed ads would become the central means by which candidates became known. Since most candidates weren't rich like Wilde, they would have to seek contributors to pay for the ads. Donors wanted to know what their money was buying. A political favor? A seat on a commission? Access? Contributors began to influence candidates unduly, as their money bought campaign ads. Until television came along, the newspapers cashed the checks.

DeGraff Austin v. Bob Wilson (1952)

Kevin Starr, California's former state librarian, describes Marston's political conviction as "public interest detached from economic motive." It was a losing conviction. San Diego would rarely unhitch its wagon from the oligarchical team of banker-builder. Such would be the case not only in most city elections but also in congressional races. In 1952, one campaign for Congress turned on the region's relationship with its biggest partner in development, the Navy, and the now-flourishing military-industrial complex in Southern California.

Following the 1950 census, in which the county population reached more than a half-million, Southern California gained a new congressional seat. In 1951, the San Diego County Republican Central Committee began trolling for a candidate. The committee fell on 35-year-old Bob Wilson, who earned $500 a month in an advertising firm. Flat-topped and iguana-eyed, Wilson was not an attorney nor did he possess a college degree. Though he'd served in the military, he hadn't fought overseas in the Second World War. But he had spearheaded Eisenhower's local campaign for president, and he had an exceptional talent for cooking the Republican meal. When he phoned the missus with the news of his selection, she laughed: "You a Congressman?"

The Democratic nominee was DeGraff Austin. He was brown-bear big with a paddle-face like actor John Goodman. His handlers offered him to the voters as Mr. San Diego, a local boy who'd been secretary-manager of the Rowing Club; class president at San Diego High School; a former member of the city council and the board of supervisors; and, most recently, a U.S. Customs collector.

Wilson's campaign was fear-based, buttressed by churchly virtue. As he reports in his political memoir, Confessions of a Kinetic Congressman (1996), a piece of ghostwritten puffery, Wilson wanted the country to "achieve and maintain atomic supremacy" as well as "resist Communist imperialism," allusions to McCarthyism and a deep-pockets Navy. He was also "running on a platform of truth and reform, convinced that most Americans were ashamed of Truman's administration." Wilson said the president's "morally bankrupt administration was riddled from within by graft and grand larceny. The Trumanites had had their day.... It was time to turn the rascals out, to make a clean sweep and reinstate Christian principles of morality on a national level."

In the narrow canyon of San Diego politics, Democrat Austin echoed the Republicans. "We must pay close attention to prevent big government from taking over...activities which are...our local and individual responsibilities." He championed other GOP values. Peace "lies in being a strong America, militarily and economically." "We are taxing ourselves far beyond our capacity to pay.... Waste, inefficiency, futile projects, premiums on idleness must be eliminated. The keystone of democracy is the free enterprise system."

Wilson got a big boost from the San Diego Union. In a 1953 letter, Wilson touts Herb Klein, the editorial page editor of the Union who would later become President Nixon's communications director. Wilson writes that the newspaper is run by "ardent Republicans and substantial contributors [to the party] of many years standing"; the Union is "of unestimable [sic] value to the Eisenhower campaign, as well as to my campaign. I have personally gained substantially by favorable editorials written by Mr. Klein." At bottom, Klein's inestimableness meant Wilson need not buy any newspaper ads.

Evidence of this comes from the Union's thoroughly partisan reporting in September and October of 1952. Recalling the tendentious coverage of the 1880s, that fall the Union published a regular page-three feature, "The Union's Informed-Voter Page" with the reminder "Read! Think! Vote!" In its blurbs, the Union warned that "words can be used to inform -- or to confuse and even to deceive."

In 1952, the Union was the Fox News of its day. Its coverage was neither fair nor balanced. The major story was the presidential race, Adlai Stevenson v. Dwight Eisenhower, along with his running mate, California senator Richard Nixon. The "informed voter" page showcased stories favorable to Eisenhower four times more often than stories favorable to Stevenson. The headline slants toward the Republicans were blatant, as in "Stevenson Sees No Tax Relief Before 1955." The Union also ran, in several variants, "news" about commie-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy, including a front-pager, "McCarthy Says Reds Support Gov. Stevenson." Translation: a vote for Stevenson was a vote for communism. Wilson even outscored Austin, three to one, in the number of personal photos featured on the "informed-voter" page. The only news story about Bob Wilson cited his honorable solution for ending the Korean War: "put in the Republicans."

Beloved by Klein, Wilson spent his money on flyers, buttons, posters, and cars with bunting and bullhorns announcing his candidacy -- all part of Wilson's bailiwick as an ad man. To level the field, Austin countered with five-minute TV spots. Preproduction notes for these spots show that in one, Austin will use a former soldier who supports the Korean War. He is "very handsome -- would look well on TV -- remarked that he would like to be back in Korea -- he hates the commies so much." Other notes promise to present a range of people (or potential voters) -- a physician, a dentist, a skilled worker, a fisherman, an insurance salesman, a person of Spanish ancestry, and "a colored man." Additional topics touch on "fear, inflation, high taxes...Social Security, roads, pensions." In his business telecast, Austin talks about the "healthy climate" in San Diego "for small business to succeed under Democratic Party leadership." In another telecast, he discusses "the need for maintaining the peace of the world" because these two young men (the camera shows two soldiers) "are fathers of three children" and "I will do every possible thing...to prevent these youngsters [from] ever having to go to war." Austin even brings his grandson Brucie on camera and reminds voters that Brucie's dad is fighting in Korea.

Austin used television to advertise his anticommunism and toughness on Korea, both of which meant money for the Navy. And yet he did so positively, red-baiting no one, seldom mentioning nuclear war, and never stating his religious beliefs. Rarely did Austin share his feelings publicly about the Republican Party and San Diego's major papers, the Union and the Evening Tribune. But he did write his feelings down. He calls both papers "extremely partisan"; "no Republican can do any harm." "Editorials, letters to the editor, cartoons and even the wire services are edited to promote their Republican views." "How many column inches do the Democrats get in comparison with the Republicans?" Austin writes that Newsweek and Time are mostly objective: "To read them is enlightening -- and quickly restores enthusiasm lost by reading the same tainted local news day after day."

He notes that "dollar for dollar I cannot hope to match my opposition, the local Republican Central Committee and their 'boy' Bob Wilson. In the primary race, my friends, Republican and Democrat alike, said, 'De, there's nothing to worry about. You're the only man that can be elected -- who else is there to choose?' And at that time I was foolish enough to...believe them. They pointed out my opponent's complete lack of qualifications and told me not to worry. [Elsewhere, Austin calls Wilson an "amateur" who "has never been outside the Junior Chamber of Commerce sphere," working only on "Bathing Beauty contests and the Yellowtail Fishing Derby!"] Yes, my biggest mistake was underestimating the value of a high priced and high pressure advertising campaign. Not fully realizing that thousands of San Diego's citizens are new here. And that all they base their selection and judgment on is advertising. Yes, political campaigns today are likened to any other type of advertising. 'I smoke so-and-so cigarettes because' -- Followed by illogical but appealing reasons. Today's political campaigns are on this same level -- A flip of a coin -- would be a good way out, after the voter has been caught amidst two advertising battles."

In bitterness, Austin devises a scenario in which he asks the "TV viewer" to imagine himself a declared Democratic candidate. "Immediately you become their target; they unload Communism, Korea, High Taxes, and every other burden the country bears upon your shoulders. Why? Simply because you're a Democrat -- trying to be elected. They care not what your individual views or record has been, they only try to pin the administration's mistakes upon your head. And if your views are good and will appeal to the voters -- then you are stealing their platform. Because you are against corruption and governmental waste -- and will not follow the party line on every single point, they call you a masquerader.... I believe, as do many people I've talked to locally, that the Republican Campaign here in San Diego is not the crusade they'd have you believe, but simply a mighty big and expensive high-pressure campaign to put in office their own candidates."

Austin was creamed by Wilson, 121,332 to 82,311. Even Wilson admitted "Ike's coattails" had helped secure his victory. Ninety-five percent of congressional incumbents are reelected; Bob Wilson was typical, serving 13 more terms. At his 1981 retirement, Wilson was ranked number three on the House Armed Services Committee. The warm seat came from his backing the aerospace and defense-industry smokestacks that proliferated here during the 1950s and 1960s.

Was Austin a sore loser? Was it naïve of him to expect issues, not ads, to rule? From his notes, it appears he knew that he was losing and that he had to push even harder against the Republican machine. In fact, he expresses concern about amassing a $6000 debt, most of the money spent on TV. Throughout, though, he was outwardly upbeat, stopping short, as we say today, of going negative. At some level we think we prefer a positive campaign to a negative campaign. Despite what we think, Austin's integrity -- and the fact that he was not quite as conservative as Bob Wilson -- did him in.

Lee Hubbard v. Pete Wilson (1975)

Otis Jones was a bright-faced, straight-talking attorney in 1975 when he -- along with councilmember Lee Hubbard and several others -- challenged Mayor Pete Wilson for his job. Jones's campaign was rooted in what he thought was the number-one issue of the day: unemployment. Double-digit inflation, a stock-market slump, and bank failures had stymied the economy severely. San Diego's especially. In November 1974, with an unemployment rate near 8 percent, labor unions marched down Broadway, demanding that Wilson hire more city workers.

Jones believed that, as the city's first African-American mayor, he could make a difference. The only problem was, by mid-August, one month before the September primary, the media had ignored his candidacy. So Jones held a news conference to berate television and newspaper alike for disregarding him. He began by saying that this news conference proved his point: only a handful of reporters had showed up. They were, Jones said, busy attending to the two top candidates, Wilson and Hubbard. Jones was mad as hell that he was tagged a "minor candidate." He understood the reason; he lacked the contributions to be considered major. He scolded the media for implying that the amount of money one raised determined a candidate's viability. "The major candidates -- or those who the media say are the major candidates -- say growth and crime are the issues. I don't think the average person is interested in growth or no growth. That is a big-business platform. The average person wants to know about jobs." Jones was right about his treatment: the Evening Tribune covered this news conference and then returned to tracking donors and the supposed divide between Wilson and Hubbard. Jones stewed and got disgusted. The debates rolled around, and he refused to participate.

In 1971, when Pete Wilson was first elected mayor, he was 38, the youngest mayor in San Diego history. A moderate Republican, he had advocated "controlled growth" in a city that had begun sprouting suburbs like crazy. In his campaign, Wilson got mileage by stating, "We don't want to be another sprawled-out Los Angeles monster." A workaholic, his face was, according to Patricia Lee Murphy of the Los Angeles Times, "no big advertisement for San Diego sunshine and outdoor life." That Cub Scout visage also had, Murphy wrote, an almost "Wall Street pallor." His main opponent in 1975 was the curly-haired, six-foot-four Hubbard, a San Diego native and businessman whose concrete company built warehouse slabs, bank floors, and city sidewalks. Hubbard, whose service on many local boards had won him the cuddly nickname "Mother Hubbard," differed strongly with Wilson about growth management.

The savvy Wilson played the geranium card against his smokestack foe. He announced that Hubbard was being supported by the developers who wanted "a return to the good old days" of unchecked growth, before Wilson took office. He charged that Hubbard and other city councilmembers were making their decisions about San Diego on behalf of the builders. Wilson said he would continue to put the "brakes on sprawl." Voters should know that if they elected Hubbard, the owner of a $6 million construction firm, he couldn't be trusted to curb development.

Hubbard drew his lance. In a debate five days before the primary, he insisted that Wilson's "no growth" policies had been "dragging people beyond our city limits." Towns like La Mesa were booming because Wilson had pushed the developers out there. On that basis, Hubbard said, Pete Wilson had lied about slowing development. Wilson volleyed that he wanted to stop the proliferation of urban sprawl because it necessitated more city services and higher taxes to pay for those services. Wilson said he was a tax-cutter, hoping to shrink the city's payroll by reducing the number of public employees. Hubbard countered that Wilson's policies drove up the price of existing homes and made property taxes higher as well.

Fearing that the "no growth" position would prevail, the builders went after Wilson on their own. The leaders of five construction associations called Wilson's policies "contradictory" and wondered "how much 'managed growth' the public can afford." The contractors noted that the slowdown put San Diego in "a dangerous economic and social position." In response, Wilson portrayed himself as the victim -- all he was trying to do was preserve land, "mostly canyons and sloping areas...as open space." Besides, Wilson charged, changing the subject, Hubbard was the real villain. He had a blatant conflict of interest: 27 percent of his cement-pouring business came from contracts with the city.

The combatants also argued about relocating the airport. Hubbard called Wilson's idea of moving it to Otay Mesa "the height of idiocy." Only one in five people, Hubbard said, would drive that far; the loss of the airport near downtown would ruin tourism. Wilson said he wanted the airport moved because "juries are awarding plaintiffs in lawsuits," those suing against airport noise. The Los Angeles airport had "already paid out more than $120 million," which was more than half of what a new airport would cost. The award for pandering, however, had to go to Hubbard. The pavement king called Wilson "out of touch" with voters because he, Wilson, "evades the issue of Black's Beach nudity." Hubbard tried to cast Wilson as a libertine on an issue of social conservatism. But it was the 1970s, and few people were worried about naked sunbathers.

In the September primary, Wilson gored Hubbard badly. Wilson received 62 percent of the vote, well beyond the 50 percent required to win the election outright. Hubbard said he lost because he was "pictured as being pro-growth, and it was made to sound like a dirty word." And yet, eight months into his second term, Wilson was speaking to the chamber of commerce, hoping to clarify his slow-growth position once and for all. He said his job as mayor was to rein in the "leapfrog development" of the suburbs. Since new tracts hadn't been paying for their police, fire, and road services, taxes on citywide residents had to be raised. His crusade during the campaign, he now said, was more antitax than it was managed growth. Wilson said he desired to redevelop downtown, creating projects for builders and sources of new tax revenue. To achieve development friendly to the city, he said, we needed to do a better job of "selling San Diego, and I think it's time we got off our fanny and did so." That was his Job One, "being a salesman" for the city. The businessmen cheered. It was the first of Wilson's many invitations to commercial businesses to relocate to San Diego. Even beyond downtown. Two years later, in a nod to local builders, Wilson ventured into the growth column with the suburban development North City West, now Carmel Valley. Wilson's support came after he received campaign donations from insiders at Pardee, who, along with another developer, was building the project. At Wilson's urging, the city council approved North City West in 1979, in part, because Wilson promised it would pay for its services and the city would collect new taxes on its businesses and homes. Voilà: managed growth. Simple, except that the city's northern expansion would be called "managed sprawl" and lead to hellacious traffic at the I-5/I-805 merge.

In a 1979 piece for San Diego Magazine, Harold Keen assessed Wilson's near-decade of maneuvering. Keen quoted Ed Butler, the man Wilson beat in 1971 for mayor, who was "awed by Wilson's ability to retain the blessing and financial support of the very people whose industry might be hobbled by his crusade for controlled growth." Keen also quoted Democrat Si Casady, who had run against Wilson for mayor in 1979 and lost. Casady characterized Wilson's ongoing support of downtown redevelopment with public funds, often earmarked for a select set of builders and donors to Wilson's election bids, as "welfare for the rich." This, 15 years before John Moores unpacked his bags downtown.

Casady wasn't finished. He said that almost all the "establishment leaders" in San Diego history to date had been Republicans. "And those who aren't Republican, act Republican when the indications are it would be beneficial to them." Our local political races have been the domain of what the San Diego Sun once termed "a divided majority" of Republican leaders. Countervailing political forces such as labor, environmentalists, or Democrats seldom have the money or a strong enough vision to challenge the stranglehold of the city's designated conservatives.

Tom Metzger v. Clair Burgener (1980)

In June 1980, San Diego took its first political terrorist strike: Tom Metzger, Ku Klux Klan supporter and founder of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), narrowly won the Democratic primary for Congress in the 43rd District. (At the time, the 9000-square-mile district extended across San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside Counties.) Metzger, a Fallbrook TV repairman whose hairpiece and swagger were his way of representing the forgotten and abused "white working class," faced Republican Clair Burgener. Burgener was as patrician as Metzger was pugnacious, businessman v. bigot. The five-time representative wasn't planning on campaigning. How could he lose to a Klansman who was to most voters neither choice nor echo? But Burgener, like everyone else, got hot once the press started reporting, in detail, Metzger's every claim:

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that the creed "all men are created equal" could never be proven;

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that Jews were a "parasite people" who should be deported to Israel "first class";

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that the Holocaust hadn't occurred but was "staged";

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that blacks were "inferior" and that all the "colored" races were descended from Satan;

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that Fidel Castro's "desire for oil" will foment a revolution, which will spread to Mexico;

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that America should build a military base at the border to stop the avalanche of illegal immigration;

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that if Mexicans tried to force their way into America, "they should be shot";

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that every home in America should have guns and that elementary and secondary schools should require "marksmanship training" for all children;

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that he'd stopped being a practicing Catholic "when the church started making a saint out of César Chávez and people in the radical left";

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that he'd never advocated violence and couldn't be blamed if those who hated him were violent, comparing himself to the "good-looking gal who gets raped when she walks down the street and then someone tries to blame her for the rape just because she's attractive";

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and that "win, lose, or draw, I come out winning...I come out far better than how I went in."

Some Democrat.

By October, Burgener had endorsements from Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Alan Cranston, both Democrats. The big issue, Burgener said, was no longer inflation but the Klan. He called Metzger "an admirer of Hitler." Metzger didn't deny it. Burgener's biggest worry was that the Klan-man might receive 40 percent of the vote. Such a high "losing" percentage, he said, would be a "moral victory" for white supremacy. Worse, it might suggest that his constituents were racists. By November, however, the Union's spotlight (both anti-Klan and anti-Democrat) had overexposed Metzger's oddity. Of the nearly 300,000 votes, Burgener garnered 82 percent. But it was clear that a good 35,000 Southern Californians knew exactly what they were supporting.

Duncan Hunter v. Lionel Van Deerlin (1980)

That same year, the race in San Diego's 42nd Congressional District pitted 66-year-old Democrat Lionel Van Deerlin against Republican challenger Duncan Hunter. Van Deerlin had been San Diego's lone Democrat in the House of Representatives since 1962; Hunter, a 31-year-old Vietnam War Army paratrooper, was a strong-on-defense and tax-cutting supporter of Ronald Reagan. Unlike the Burgener-Metzger race, the Van Deerlin-Hunter fight was civil. Unrelated to the civility, though, was a significant push by one religious group that insisted on moral issues that voters and candidates could not escape.

The stocky Hunter, with the set jaw of a Georgia football coach, walked precincts in the 42nd, which had the lowest per capita income of San Diego's three congressional districts. Registration of Democrats in the 42nd outnumbered Republicans two to one, and the non-Anglo population was close to 50 percent. As workers entered plants and shipyards at 6:00 a.m., Hunter met them with the message that Van Deerlin was weak on defense spending. Translation: you -- and your jobs -- aren't safe. He got 55 retired admirals, most living in Coronado, to sign a petition that stated, "We are in greater danger today than at any time since Pearl Harbor." The "open letter" also said that Hunter's opponent voted "regularly against adequate national defense even though he is one of the big spenders in Congress." As important as national security was to Hunter's campaign, so too was military-related employment. From his law-office base in Barrio Logan, he appealed, according to the Union, to "an area of steel fabricating, boat building, large and small businesses" that contained "many minorities." In one of Hunter's TV ads, he showed his National Avenue neighbors, a welder and an immigration counselor, who decried the lack of defense jobs in San Diego. Hunter made much of his pre-law-school working-class background: he had "operated heavy equipment, built homes, laid pipelines, and farmed."

Van Deerlin, educated at the University of Southern California, was a former newspaperman and TV producer who had regularly won reelection by 70 percent. He was lanky and dapper, a man who was, by several accounts, "no ball of fire" but decent. In Washington, he conducted congressional hearings into deregulating the $300 billion broadcasting and telephone industries in what would become the breakup of AT&T. At first, Van Deerlin wasn't worried about his opponent. He made it known that he would retire in 1982; he hoped this last dance would be a waltz. One early poll had him out in front of Hunter 61 to 22 percent, so his campaign neither polled nor bought ads. After Hunter's early TV attacks, Van Deerlin responded that "it's just utter nonsense to believe that someone could have been elected from this district nine straight times and be anti-defense."

But Hunter was gaining from his weak-on-defense claim and from a political tsunami that was carrying him and other New Right candidates with it. Stoked by the national Republican Party, disaffected Democrats were being told to rethink their party affiliation. Traditionally, Democrats were aligned with labor, the working class, and professional and trade classes like teachers and government employees; Republicans represented the interests of businessmen and the rich. The Republican Party was already pro-military, pro-tax cut, and anti-union. But once the liberal indulgences of the 1960s Democrats were counted, Republicans repositioned themselves as antiregulation, antiwelfare, antiabortion, and pro-Christian. As a result, the party recast itself as the mad-as-hell domain of antigovernment working-class Christian Americans. This movement of "populist conservatism" has meant that today, according to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, millions of people are voting for Republicans and against their own economic interests. "While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety," Frank writes in his 2004 book, the Republican "backlash" "mobilizes voters with explosive social issues -- summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art -- which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends." The end is, strangely, an erasure of economic issues from the campaign. Instead, political candidates emphasize very narrow issues, like keeping "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, prayer in school. This backlash against Democrats found its first expression locally with Hunter and Van Deerlin.

In September 1980, the San Diego Evangelical Association, following the model of the Moral Majority, sent a "morals" questionnaire to all candidates in the county. The questions sought their views on "civil rights for homosexuals, legal penalties for prostitution and drug use, sex education, abortion for minors and protections for the tax-exempt status of churches." Another query asked the candidate to describe "your relationship with God." One of the evangelicals was the Rev. Tim LaHaye, who cofounded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell and later coauthored the Left Behind series. LaHaye's comment at the time was that "God created the church, the family, and the government." And government had, in his words, "become the enemy of the family, and therefore must be changed."

Hunter responded to the questionnaire, his answers reflecting Christian values. Van Deerlin made news by refusing to fill it out. He disapproved strongly of evangelicals assessing his or anyone else's morals. He complained in a letter that the queries "deal with complex social problems, on which it seems to me we might well differ without attributing our differences to higher or lower moral standards. Your questions seem to restrict morality to the confines of sexual morality. In fact, you seem to equate morality itself to sexual morality. There is not one question regarding my views on the virtue of justice which together with charity, mercy and peace, form the heart of the Christian message." The director of the San Diego Evangelical Association noted Van Deerlin's refusal to cooperate and published that fact -- but not Van Deerlin's letter -- along with the results of the questionnaire in the group's newsletter. Thirty thousand copies of the newsletter were printed and distributed in 150 churches on the final two Sundays prior to the election.

Suddenly, Van Deerlin was trailing -- and it was too late to mount an attack against Hunter. Besides, Van Deerlin was dispassionate by nature; typically he would hold his tongue rather than accuse his rival of dirty politics. He did respond, angrily, during the last week, when Hunter suggested that Van Deerlin's support of AT&T's spinoff of the Baby Bells would raise everyone's long-distance phone rates. He was especially pissed when national GOP strategists sent voters a mailer designed, as the Union reported, to "look like a telephone company letter that attacks his bill to deregulate major portions of the phone industry."

Van Deerlin lost by 9500 votes, or 6.5 percent; he blamed his own "complacency." In the past, he had "won too easily, too often." He vowed he would not become a lobbyist "like many former legislators. I don't want to be grubbing around utilizing my friendship with congressmen on behalf of any industrials." And then, expressing a conundrum of political life, he noted that "if you have relied on the people's judgment for 18 years, and benefited by it, it's hard the morning after the people have turned to someone else to say their judgment has gone awry."

Duncan Hunter benefited greatly from voters who were reidentifying their loyalties. What was perhaps most interesting about this change was that such loyalties could be expressed not only by the candidate and the support of his or her local newspaper but more so by partisan groups. From 1980 on, campaigns would outsource their party's historic role of attacking opponents to organizations bent on a single issue. One such group, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, targeted 51 Democrats for defeat in 1980. After knocking out half of them, the committee announced that it would, in the future, give half its money directly to Republican candidates and spend the other half on "negative campaigning against" the next set of "targets."

How did the Union perform that year? Though it had endorsed Van Deerlin, it said in a postelection editorial that its board was "impressed" by Hunter's "logic." The editors "came away from a pre-election interview with Mr. Hunter convinced he was a likely candidate to take over the seat...but two years from now, when Mr. Van Deerlin intended to retire. Our instincts were right but our timing was off." The Union covered the Metzger-Burgener race two to three times more often than any other race, once headlining a story about a Jew in Imperial Valley who was voting for Metzger. One other thing: the Union had stopped editorializing for Republican candidates on the front page. That practice was finally confined to the editorial page. Wherever possible, though, the moral issues of the campaigns were given prominent position.

  1. Susan Golding v. Peter Navarro (1992)

The future of San Diego should have as much of the past in it as possible.

-- Pete Wilson (1975)

The Republican backlash figured only marginally in the sleaziest of all local campaigns, Golding v. Navarro for mayor in 1992. What consumed the candidates was enmity; no combatants in San Diego history have ever hated each other with as much Cyclopean fury as these two. Golding and Navarro tried to rely on direct mail to proffer image and position. But whenever they got into each other's space, typically in their radio debates, they went berserk. The slashing was so scissor-toothed, one felt they weren't running for office, they were divorcing.

Republican Golding was, as Navarro identified her, an insider. The 46-year-old had been a city councilmember and, since 1984, a county supervisor. She had also been married to Richard Silberman, who was caught laundering cocaine money in an FBI sting; convicted, he had begun serving a term in federal prison. In early 1992, she and Silberman had divorced. But his specter followed her everywhere: she was, one observer wrote, "walking around with a big bull's-eye on her back, and Dick Silberman is in the center of it." In leaked memos, Golding was told not to discuss her ex and to emphasize campaign ethics as an issue to "dispel doubts about her own ethics." She was also reminded to play to her strength. As Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times noted, Golding had always been a vicious campaigner; she was "one of the foremost practitioners of the politics of demonization."

A self-christened "conservative Republican," Navarro had changed his affiliation to independent not long before the primary. At 42, he had a Ph.D. from Harvard in economics and taught at the University of California Irvine. Navarro had held no elective office but had organized and chaired the growth-control group Prevent Los Angelization Now!, or PLAN! The group was popular in a year of anti-incumbency; during a recession-weary 1991, both Ross Perot and Bill Clinton had arisen to challenge George H.W. Bush. Navarro applied the local tonic: San Diego was "a Republican town that takes pride in the fact that we don't spend enough for public services. The developers are making a lot of money. Their fees are five to ten times too small. We need to force them to pay full price."

Preprimary adjectives befitting each candidate were indistinguishable: both were labeled aggressive, arrogant, attractive, abrasive, and ambitious. Navarro was termed "a cross between Robert Redford and Roger Hedgecock." A political novice, he often revealed "unending inconsistencies" and was said (by many) to be on "a colossal ego trip." Golding epitomized the dressed-to-kill businesswoman; her lust to be the future "CEO" of San Diego, a $1 billion-a-year enterprise in 1992, was palpable. Like her mentor Pete Wilson, she blue-ribboned herself as San Diego's "chief salesperson."

In the June primary, Navarro got 38 percent of the vote to Golding's 31. Golding was livid, but she took a breath and let the city's Republican power structure shape the fight for her. Even before the primary, Navarro saw it coming. "She's going to try to position herself," he said, "as close to me as possible and then bury me with her developer money. We know that they're going to get dirty. The only question is whether Susan's campaign is going to do it or whether her surrogates will."

But before the big donors could sign their checks, Navarro started the fight. On the night of his primary win, Navarro and Golding were watching the returns at Golden Hall. At one point, Navarro tried to get by Golding's press secretary, Nikki Symington, to join Golding in a TV interview. Navarro and Symington began shoving each other, and Navarro called Symington a "pig." What's more, he had to fess up to the insult because it was, like the Rodney King beating, caught on tape. The slope slipped south from that moment on.

Here's a flash card version of their point-counterpoint. Navarro was an outsider and inexperienced; Golding, an insider and an incumbent. Navarro was dubbed Professor Navarro; Golding, Supervisor Golding. Navarro was "scary"; Golding, a "megalomaniac." Navarro's ideas were "idiotic," "classroom, cockamamie"; Golding's were "trickle-down to the last drop," a reference to Reagan's voodoo economics. Many of Navarro's supporters were "academicians"; Golding's, "developer dawgs." Navarro relied on volunteer academics for strategy, and they pumped him full of "ivory-tower theories"; Golding relied on pricey consultants -- some of whom had helped get the master political chameleon Roger Hedgecock elected mayor ten years earlier -- and they were "angling for positions" in her administration. Navarro was antibusiness and antijobs; Golding was bought and paid for by the developers.

The pair prepped strategies to get San Diego out of its funk. Usually recession-proof, the city had lost the Naval Training Center, aerospace industries were closing, and the unemployment rate had risen to 10 percent. Navarro repeated the old-time challenger's refrain that the council was a "toady" to builders, and he would turn that around by advocating development of the inner city over the suburbs. While Golding said that things needed changing at city hall (as if she were the outsider), she crowed that "seeing what's broke from the inside makes it easier to fix."

In August, the he-said, she-said began. Navarro wanted more debates than Golding did. He said she was avoiding them because "she's trying to reserve a lot of time for big-dollar fund-raisers with the fat cats." Golding responded that Navarro's words were "really juvenile." If he were looking for fat cats, "he ought to look in the mirror."

Next was the jail-beds controversy. Navarro said there were only 3200 beds in the county for inmates. Golding said there were 6800. Navarro called her number "fantasy" because she included beds in East County that had not yet been open. A bed was a bed, Golding said, occupied or not.

Next came Navarro's personal finances. He claimed he had loaned his campaign $220,000 from his savings. But, one reporter found, the assertion was untrue. Navarro had inherited the money from his mother, a fact he told no one. He said his secrecy was to protect Mom. What's more, Navarro, a critic of "real estate speculation," had made money by selling properties in Massachusetts. Golding called him a hypocrite. In return, Navarro questioned Golding's loan of $278,000 from her financier ex-husband Silberman, a man she married during her 1984 run for supervisor. How was that money acquired? Navarro's salvo was remarkable for his apparent unawareness of what he was actually saying: "I have no intention of personally attacking Susan Golding -- I have not and I don't intend to. However, if she wants to get tough with me personally, I will get tougher with her. If she wants to throw dirt at me, I'll bury her with her own dirt." Navarro wasn't being cute. After reminding voters that Golding's previous races had spawned lawsuits, he poured his money into TV ads in late October; he alleged that Supervisor Golding in 1986 supported a change in tax law that would have benefited Silberman's clients.

While Golding and Navarro gibed in forums, while aides for both said their bosses exaggerated their attacks, the issues other than growth that the public was interested in -- jobs, crime, homelessness -- died. In fact, some argued that issues weren't discussed because there wasn't much difference between Golding and Navarro -- and that's why they fought. Aside from slower v. faster growth and Navarro's opposition to NAFTA, which Golding supported, they had similar stances: higher utility rates; new power plants; no new taxes and no tax raises; needle-exchange programs to fight AIDS (though when pressed, Golding changed her mind); controlled expansion of the suburbs; public funds to build homeless shelters; tax breaks for biotech development; no upgrade of the city's sewage treatment process; more cops; and less red tape at city hall. Newspaper reporters and the papers' editorials continued covering the dirt, attacking the pair for their "petty charges and countercharges." Only one or two astute journalists bothered to show that Golding and Navarro were peas in a pod.

In September a poll showed Golding trailing Navarro 29 to 41 percent. Navarro might have been content to let his candidacy appear as a choice for voters. But, for some reason, he felt a face-lift was in order. He began calling himself -- like his famous mayoral forerunner Louis Wilde -- the "jobs candidate." He was also hoping to resurrect one of Pete Wilson's policies, namely, that managed development would lead to greater productivity. Calling him the "jobs terminator," Golding giddily said that Navarro's new tack was "one of the most unbelievable political flip-flops in history."

What Golding saw in Navarro was a person whose decisions would lead only to fewer jobs, higher home prices, and less expansion. What Navarro saw in Golding was a person whose decisions would lead only to more gridlock, more economic depression, and more paved-over greenbelts. Voters knew things were not that polarized. And yet this was the choice: no matter how you voted, according to either candidate, you were voting for a demon. Even if you sided with the one who was closest to you politically (whatever that meant), you were still doing business with the prince or the princess of darkness.

One day in September, Barry Horstman wrote in the Los Angeles Times that in an effort to clean up their negative campaigns the two pledged "to stay on the high road during the remainder of the race but took a detour minutes later and by day's end were again stuck in a muddy rhetorical ditch." Golding accused Navarro of taking money from pornographers; Navarro accused Golding of having a prostitute on her campaign staff. Golding's camp ran an ad that showed a back-lit marquee of a porno theater and naked women in suggestive silhouette. The implication was that Navarro had been bought off by the pornographers. In reality, two adult bookstore owners had given him several hundred dollars (one-quarter of 1 percent of his donations), which Navarro returned when he found the money so tainted. Navarro responded that Nicole Ramirez-Murray, a politically active female impersonator in the gay and lesbian community and a fund-raiser for Golding, was a "male prostitute." Navarro got his comeuppance when Ramirez-Murray held a news conference and showed a photo of herself in drag with Navarro: Ramirez-Murray sobbed, saying Navarro had viciously impugned her integrity. Both candidates called these spurious attacks unavoidable -- the other had forced his or her hand.

In November, Golding squeaked by Navarro, 222,603 to 205,448, 52 to 48 percent. Navarro would continue to suffer election defeats in 1993, 1994, 1996, and 2001; Golding would serve two terms as mayor. She is remembered in the current political season for beginning, in 1996, to underfund the city's pension system. It was a decision that echoes in the choice we make for mayor next week.

Like Shakespearean drama, political campaigns hold us spellbound. We know player and system are inscrutable, unreasonable, dare we say, immoral. Though we've tried to close the loopholes in how campaigns are financed, we fund parties and candidates at a rate greater than any time in our history. Though we say we despise negative ads, we remember them much more often than we do the positive ones. How often we wish candidates wiser than those on the ballot would run. How often we want to believe in but end up distrusting the very candidates we vote for. If a democratic election is a narrative, the story it tells is a tragedy.

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Keeping Up With Commander Cody

“He poured a much-too-large line on my hand”

A Mostly Republican History

What chance is there in San Diego for an honest young lawyer who is a Democrat?

— J. Robert O'Connor, U.S. attorney for California (1900)

"A choice, not an echo" was Barry Goldwater's slogan in his campaign for president in 1964. Goldwater lost the election to Lyndon Johnson by a landslide, in part because the conservative Republican dared promote himself in such unequivocal terms. For as long as San Diego has been holding elections, candidates have seemed, with their gloves-off campaigns, to offer a choice, but typically they present no more than an echo. Case in point, during much of 2004, is the mayor's race.

Supervisor Ron Roberts and Mayor Dick Murphy, combatants in 2000, still seem interchangeable: Republican barons of their county and city manors; white males in their 60s; buddies with the developers; supporters of municipal unions; and overseers of massive pension deficits, which in the case of the city amounts to $1.17 billion. Many believe that Roberts wouldn't be any better than Murphy -- a mayor who was saddled with the pension mess by his predecessor, Susan Golding. Murphy voted with all but one member of the council in 2002 to continue the underfunding.

The case stood until Donna Frye, the councilwoman who voted against pension underfunding, declared herself a write-in candidate for mayor on the last day of September. Whether or not Frye wins next Tuesday, her candidacy has been the biggest hurrah in local politics in years. A Democrat seriously challenging the Republican dynasty in San Diego is as rare as August rain. Almost unheard of in the lore of local elections was Frye's disclosure: she was running because everyday people had urged her to run so that they had, in her words, "somebody to vote for." In the wake of the pension debacle, she was listening: "It's hard to explain sometimes," she told the Union-Tribune, "when the public becomes very, very frustrated. Sort of like a big wave riding over the ocean just keeps building and building and building momentum."

Frye's candidacy is a phenomenon, which a look at our political history confirms. Since 1850, when the city was incorporated, nearly all of the men and women who've run for local, state, and federal office have, with a few wild exceptions, been cut from the same conservative cloth. But these are not just any old conservatives; they are the anointed ones. And who has anointed them? The owners of land and capital; builders and developers; wealthy "carpetbaggers" who fight wealthy "pioneers" for local control; political parties; newspaper publishers and editors; and, since the 1980s, special interests like labor unions, environmentalists, religious factions, issue-oriented attack groups, and a new class of hired guns -- partyless campaign consultants who commission and interpret polls and spin the political news.

A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker's preeminent critic, once said that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. San Diego media owners are no exception; they, too, are players in the game. Their TV and radio stations as well as newspapers bring us the candidates' messages and in so doing shape that message. How? By placement, frequency, and choice of stories (which means only the anointed get covered). By running campaign ads (whose often controversial content means opponents must respond in kind). By covering the spin-meisters (whose predictions and polls the media find newsworthy). And by endorsements (which in newspapers once were found on both the editorial and the front pages). On occasion, a TV station will endorse a mayoral or congressional candidate. But most stations practice campaign-season "neutrality": they avoid local politics (unless celebrities are involved) and save time to report on controversial ads that "make" news. When candidates go mano a mano in their 30-second TV spots, the stations tally up the profits.

We think that the difference between candidates stems from their different positions. But in local races, the candidates' positions are seldom substantively different, which is one reason most political ads avoid issues. Instead, ads highlight an opponent's putative demon -- a flawed character, a broken pledge, a tainted donation: all of us have at least one Willie Horton in our pasts. The goal is simple: pound away at the flaw until a seed of distrust is planted in the voter's mind. Distrust is the surest way for a candidate to widen the division between himself and his opponent. A clear division, the consultants say, produces a winner. However, such manufactured divisiveness -- attack ads, political rhetoric, media skewing -- rarely serves the interests of the voters, rarely holds a candidate to a promise.

When you study the most contentious and covered campaigns in our history -- from the Workingmen's mayoral victory by William J. Hunsaker in 1887; to the rise and fall of white supremacist Tom Metzger, the Democrats' candidate for Congress in 1980; to the dirtiest campaign of all, the bitch-slapping between Susan Golding and Peter Navarro in 1992 -- you find you're soiled by the same spill. It's the September-October stain of negative campaigning, in which both camps rouse our fears (or defend themselves from an opponent's provocation) until we're convinced that one candidate must be the worst, the one we should vote against. Conditioned by smear, we find it near impossible to see that the candidate we choose may be a cutout of the one we don't. Long ago, Englishman Thomas Hobson, who ran a livery stable, told those who asked for a choice of a horse that yes, the customer always had a choice. He could take the horse nearest the stable door or he could take nothing. For more than a century, Hobson's choice has been at work in our political stable.

D.C. Reed v. William J. Hunsaker (1887)

In 1885, San Diego was a fledgling city of 5000, a funny little movie-set town of clapboard houses and dirt roads. Tall ships dotted the harbor; the railroad had just connected the city with the East. In the next two years, San Diego grew quickly. Tourist and adventurer arrived for the pristine bays and perfect weather but more often came for the real estate boom. By 1887, the population had spiked to 30,000. New investors, pumped up by speculation on Wall Street, watched local land parcels double in value overnight; one parcel increased tenfold within three months. To those who were profiting from the sudden wealth -- land speculators and laborers -- the right mayor needed electing to keep the city growing.

After years of being administered by a board of five trustees, San Diego had, in 1887, chartered the election of a mayor and a council and set the election for November. Two parties emerged to run candidates. The first party, the Citizens, was composed of "genuine San Diegans." These men had settled San Diego and believed the boom threatened the quiet of the city and the quality of its civic life. The other party, the Workingmen, were the newcomers, men looking for work and men looking to invest in land and to open new businesses. The Citizens dubbed them "carpetbaggers," a post-Civil War term that referred to anyone whose profit motive might destroy what the "genuine" San Diegans held dear.

The mayoral candidate of the Citizens' party was D.C. Reed, an elegant Victorian and bewhiskered insurance salesman. The Workingmen put up William Jefferson Hunsaker, a portly, campaign-loving lawyer who had worked in Tombstone, Arizona, where he had defended vigilantes. The story of their campaigns comes to us from two newspapers. The Daily San Diegan, which supported the interests of laborers, backed Hunsaker and the Workingmen. The San Diego Union, the paper of capital, which opposed labor's desire to unionize, aligned with Reed and the Citizens. Both papers practiced the sensational style of the late 1800s called yellow journalism. During election season, the front pages were full of vituperative attacks against the candidate the rival paper was backing. The papers were as wild as the West and as bellicose as the boom. With few graphics, their table-size pages, either four or eight in number, featured tiny print and airless columns. The columns changed willy-nilly from city hall news to gossip, help wanted ads, ship arrivals, and letters from tourists.

In September, the quarreling between the two parties was launched when the Daily San Diegan published the Workingmen's platform. The laborers wanted a larger share of the wealth and profit their bosses were reaping; they believed their "producing interests...should be of first consideration in the legislation pertaining to the city government"; and they called for businesses to hire native-born workers instead of foreign-born, namely, the Chinese who had arrived by the thousands throughout California during the 1880s.

The Union didn't print the Citizens' platform but, rather, declared that by voting for the Workingmen, investors and workers would lose their money. In one story, the paper said "idle capital" was lying in the vault of a "leading banker" and that several big depositors had refused to "make any large investments in city property or improvements unless the Citizens' ticket should be elected." The Daily San Diegan responded that it would "produce twenty-five reputable, legitimate real estate men" who'd prove that land sales were increasing. The list of men included the McGarvin brothers, who held that articles in the Union "would have no effect on people of brains."

Next, on the front page, the Union printed a visitor's letter. The man warned that with Hunsaker's election, San Diego would become like Chicago, "an object of terror to other cities on account of the domination there of brutal, dastardly hordes of law-defying, bomb-throwing Anarchists and Socialists." He was referring to the 1886 riot in Haymarket Square: seven policemen had been killed by a bomb while fighting strikebreakers. The letter implied that San Diego's Workingmen would, if elected, unionize, strike, and, if necessary, riot.

The Daily San Diegan accused the Union of labeling the Workingmen "an irresponsible mob of Stingaree gutter snipes" and Mr. Hunsaker "the friend and bosom companion of drunkards, blacklegs, and thieves." Attorney Hunsaker had defended "saloon criminals, the denizens of Chinatown and other disreputables." The paper also reminded its readers that the Citizens had bought votes during an earlier primary election "wherever they could find wretches low enough.... They bought whisky by the barrel and pumped it into their rotten and degraded followers with a hose, until many of them became noisy, reeling drunk, and on the public street were indiscreet enough to show and boast how much they had been paid" by the Citizens' party.

The Union trotted out its moral servant, Reverend Harwood, pastor of the First Congregational Church. On the Sunday prior to election day, the paper printed his "political sermon": "The tendency of life in the cities is downward.... All the institutions of sin and evil are there. The saloons are there. The houses of ill-fame are there. The gambling places there. The vicious congregate there. Thieves ply their trades there.... Multitudes of the sons of the best families are corrupted by these things." To underscore the evil, the Union carried a story three columns to the right sympathetic to Harwood's claim. One of its headlines read, "How Men Are Made Captives and Robbed -- Dens of Vice on Second and Third Streets." Affixing salvation, the Golden Rule, and the love of Christ to the principles of citizenship and prosperity, Harwood made his truest feelings known: "I would not vote for the capitalists against labor, never; but I would vote for the people against the saloons, always." It was a careful bit of religious-cum-political rhetoric, designed to impugn the morality of the Workingmen.

Lost in all this "reporting" were comments by the two candidates, Hunsaker and Reed. At one point the Daily San Diegan quoted Reed as declaring with "his usual gusto and contempt for the laboring classes" that no workingman was fit to hold office. Little else, however, from either candidate was deemed attributable. Presumably candidates spoke on soapboxes in Horton Plaza. Presumably they said things that the newspapermen reasoned they could say better.

On November 9, across the Daily San Diegan's six front-page columns ran a graphic of six crowing roosters. "Hip. Hurrah!" "The Result." Of the men-only vote, Hunsaker received 1041; Reed, 867. At the bottom of the page, beneath a jab about the Union's mudslinging (the paper had enough "unused mud to start a brickyard"), was a rooster vomiting.

Although Hunsaker won, the majority of the new council were members of the Citizens' party. For 11 months Hunsaker and his conservative opponents stalemated: his every proposal was turned back, he stopped attending meetings, and he resigned in November 1888. With the Citizens controlling the council and the boom faltering, the Workingmen disbanded.

Overseeing all was the Union, where Douglas Gunn had been editor and proprietor for 17 years. In 1886, Gunn had sold the paper to John R. Berry, and Berry continued the paper's Republican stamp. In April 1889, Gunn and Berry were the candidates for mayor. Gunn ran on the Straight Republican ticket; Berry, on the Citizens' Non-Partisan ticket. (Gunn won.) In 1887, there was a choice; in 1889, there was only an echo. San Diego's election norm had been born.

George Marston v. Louis Wilde (1917)

It would be incorrect to suggest that the local battle between labor and capital ended with the demise of the Workingmen. And yet, except for the occasional socialist candidate or New Deal Democrat, except for E.W. Scripps's liberal San Diego Sun, which folded in 1939, working-class issues have seldom been a force in local elections. San Diego's political trail has been blazed by the growers, not the field hands. To grow slowly or to grow fast has been for a century the city's and the region's prime political issue. This issue has dominated nearly every election, insuring that candidates either kowtow to the city's growth-and-wealth machine or risk unfunded and uncovered campaigns.

Slow growth took to the political stage first in 1899, when Edwin Capps, an engineer, ran for mayor on the following plank: "We should cater to the entertainment of the tourist, make [San Diego] pleasant and congenial, have public places of resort in the nature of beautiful parks, fine boulevards, roads and drives." That popular philosophy, combining development with preservation, got Capps elected mayor twice, in 1899 and 1915. But catering to the tourist required that someone bring the resources of civilization -- water, railroads, schools, culture -- to the garden. Enter John D. Spreckels, a carpetbagger whose father's sugar profits in Hawaii allowed him to buy rights and access to much of the city's water supply as well as, in 1890, the San Diego Union. For years, Spreckels and his ilk helped lay development's fast track.

In 1917, the city's population had reached 50,000, and the speed of the city's growth became the issue of the mayor's race. Slow-growth advocate George W. Marston opposed Texas oil tycoon Louis Wilde. Marston was a department store owner, a city councilmember, and a park builder. Wilde was a banker who invested in imported silkworms, downtown apartment and office buildings, and hotels, one of which, the U.S. Grant, he rescued from bankruptcy with a $1.35 million shot in the arm.

In a 1917 photo, Wilde is a pasty-faced man whose pince-nez enlarge the judgmental aspect of his deep-set eyes. In his photo, Marston has a haughty countenance, a man who used a small pocket comb on his mustache before speaking to the Ladies' Auxiliary. Wilde tagged the mayoral battle a contest between his wool socks and Marston's silks.

San Diego had recently held its Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, which, like other local park and waterfront projects, Marston had shepherded. Such a display of commercial possibility had infected San Diegans with the desire for another boom. The city fathers, though, knew Los Angeles was being overrun by capital. There, the economy's foundation -- based in motion pictures, clothing manufacture, oil wells, fish canning -- meant further expansion would likely be unstoppable. Did San Diegans want this?

Wilde said, yes, bring it on. He announced that unless the city invited manufacturers in, we'd remain a convalescent center. "We don't want San Diego to become 'the amen corner' of the United States." For Wilde, it was a simple choice, "whether we are to be a second Palm Beach or another Philadelphia." Marston countered that the exposition had revealed the beauty of our climate and natural surroundings. Now millions knew what we knew. "The development of the city's beauty and civic welfare," Marston wrote, "can go along with industrial development." Marston never opposed growth. If elected, he would "encourage...manufacturing, commerce and horticulture."

The Wilde-Marston race was nicknamed "Smokestacks v. Geraniums." Marston became Geranium George, Wilde, the "Smokestack" candidate. Marston opined that those leaning toward Wilde were "terrified at the thought that the aroma of flowers may destroy the fumes emanating from ten thousand smokestacks." Though Marston had a sizable payroll of workers, he ignored labor during his campaign. In his slow-blooming Eden, productivity was not the point. Wilde courted labor's vote, arguing that as a capitalist he was really their candidate. What else but smokestacks would bring good jobs and good wages? "Remember," he wrote, "that this is a fight to the last ditch [for] the wage earner, against big interests, high taxes, bond issues and expensive parks and flowers along millionaire row, against big expenditures for the pleasure of a few smug plutocrats."

Marston stuck to his aesthetic. Dedicating the Spreckels pipe organ at the exposition, he'd said, "I consider the giving of this instrument greater than building railroads or steamships. We who are in San Diego can live without means of transportation, for we never intend leaving here anyway, but we cannot live without music." Wilde boasted of his religious ties: his parents were Methodist, his uncle a Lutheran minister, his wife a Catholic, and he belonged "to the big Church of Gratitude, Loyalty, Freedom and Sunshine -- Eight Hours of Rest, Eight Hours of Happiness, Eight Hours of Steady Work."

Just as the Citizens' Party in 1887 had warned that land buyers would leave if the Workingmen won, Wilde also made threats. He hinted that with a Marston victory the commerce-bearing Salt Lake Railroad would never arrive. Marston often refused to respond. His daughter remarked later that the "name-calling and slandering" of Wilde's attack ads "wearied" him. Marston made the fatal calculation that by championing restraint, he'd win. Sure, he may have predicted urban sprawl in a letter -- "Here in Southern California there is bound to be a great population. The land will be so well covered...that there will be very little wild woods left for future generations" -- but the visionary's insight didn't do the politician much good.

Despite support from Scripps's Sun and Spreckels's Union, where Marston was the biggest advertiser, the Geranium withered. Wilde received 12,918 votes, Marston 9167. A few days after Wilde's election, Congress declared war on Germany. Into San Diego, as one local historian wrote, a massive new industry came via naval ships "belching smoke." From that day on, San Diego was a Navy town whose growth would accommodate a whole new enterprise.

The day before the election Wilde had published The Daily Smokestack, a four-page newspaper/campaign ad with an unforgettable illustration: in one panel, a George Marston-like dandy is snoozing in the park, basking in the sun's resplendent light; in the other panel, Louis Wilde beams at smoke-spewing factories. Such clever and grandly designed ads would become the central means by which candidates became known. Since most candidates weren't rich like Wilde, they would have to seek contributors to pay for the ads. Donors wanted to know what their money was buying. A political favor? A seat on a commission? Access? Contributors began to influence candidates unduly, as their money bought campaign ads. Until television came along, the newspapers cashed the checks.

DeGraff Austin v. Bob Wilson (1952)

Kevin Starr, California's former state librarian, describes Marston's political conviction as "public interest detached from economic motive." It was a losing conviction. San Diego would rarely unhitch its wagon from the oligarchical team of banker-builder. Such would be the case not only in most city elections but also in congressional races. In 1952, one campaign for Congress turned on the region's relationship with its biggest partner in development, the Navy, and the now-flourishing military-industrial complex in Southern California.

Following the 1950 census, in which the county population reached more than a half-million, Southern California gained a new congressional seat. In 1951, the San Diego County Republican Central Committee began trolling for a candidate. The committee fell on 35-year-old Bob Wilson, who earned $500 a month in an advertising firm. Flat-topped and iguana-eyed, Wilson was not an attorney nor did he possess a college degree. Though he'd served in the military, he hadn't fought overseas in the Second World War. But he had spearheaded Eisenhower's local campaign for president, and he had an exceptional talent for cooking the Republican meal. When he phoned the missus with the news of his selection, she laughed: "You a Congressman?"

The Democratic nominee was DeGraff Austin. He was brown-bear big with a paddle-face like actor John Goodman. His handlers offered him to the voters as Mr. San Diego, a local boy who'd been secretary-manager of the Rowing Club; class president at San Diego High School; a former member of the city council and the board of supervisors; and, most recently, a U.S. Customs collector.

Wilson's campaign was fear-based, buttressed by churchly virtue. As he reports in his political memoir, Confessions of a Kinetic Congressman (1996), a piece of ghostwritten puffery, Wilson wanted the country to "achieve and maintain atomic supremacy" as well as "resist Communist imperialism," allusions to McCarthyism and a deep-pockets Navy. He was also "running on a platform of truth and reform, convinced that most Americans were ashamed of Truman's administration." Wilson said the president's "morally bankrupt administration was riddled from within by graft and grand larceny. The Trumanites had had their day.... It was time to turn the rascals out, to make a clean sweep and reinstate Christian principles of morality on a national level."

In the narrow canyon of San Diego politics, Democrat Austin echoed the Republicans. "We must pay close attention to prevent big government from taking over...activities which are...our local and individual responsibilities." He championed other GOP values. Peace "lies in being a strong America, militarily and economically." "We are taxing ourselves far beyond our capacity to pay.... Waste, inefficiency, futile projects, premiums on idleness must be eliminated. The keystone of democracy is the free enterprise system."

Wilson got a big boost from the San Diego Union. In a 1953 letter, Wilson touts Herb Klein, the editorial page editor of the Union who would later become President Nixon's communications director. Wilson writes that the newspaper is run by "ardent Republicans and substantial contributors [to the party] of many years standing"; the Union is "of unestimable [sic] value to the Eisenhower campaign, as well as to my campaign. I have personally gained substantially by favorable editorials written by Mr. Klein." At bottom, Klein's inestimableness meant Wilson need not buy any newspaper ads.

Evidence of this comes from the Union's thoroughly partisan reporting in September and October of 1952. Recalling the tendentious coverage of the 1880s, that fall the Union published a regular page-three feature, "The Union's Informed-Voter Page" with the reminder "Read! Think! Vote!" In its blurbs, the Union warned that "words can be used to inform -- or to confuse and even to deceive."

In 1952, the Union was the Fox News of its day. Its coverage was neither fair nor balanced. The major story was the presidential race, Adlai Stevenson v. Dwight Eisenhower, along with his running mate, California senator Richard Nixon. The "informed voter" page showcased stories favorable to Eisenhower four times more often than stories favorable to Stevenson. The headline slants toward the Republicans were blatant, as in "Stevenson Sees No Tax Relief Before 1955." The Union also ran, in several variants, "news" about commie-hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy, including a front-pager, "McCarthy Says Reds Support Gov. Stevenson." Translation: a vote for Stevenson was a vote for communism. Wilson even outscored Austin, three to one, in the number of personal photos featured on the "informed-voter" page. The only news story about Bob Wilson cited his honorable solution for ending the Korean War: "put in the Republicans."

Beloved by Klein, Wilson spent his money on flyers, buttons, posters, and cars with bunting and bullhorns announcing his candidacy -- all part of Wilson's bailiwick as an ad man. To level the field, Austin countered with five-minute TV spots. Preproduction notes for these spots show that in one, Austin will use a former soldier who supports the Korean War. He is "very handsome -- would look well on TV -- remarked that he would like to be back in Korea -- he hates the commies so much." Other notes promise to present a range of people (or potential voters) -- a physician, a dentist, a skilled worker, a fisherman, an insurance salesman, a person of Spanish ancestry, and "a colored man." Additional topics touch on "fear, inflation, high taxes...Social Security, roads, pensions." In his business telecast, Austin talks about the "healthy climate" in San Diego "for small business to succeed under Democratic Party leadership." In another telecast, he discusses "the need for maintaining the peace of the world" because these two young men (the camera shows two soldiers) "are fathers of three children" and "I will do every possible thing...to prevent these youngsters [from] ever having to go to war." Austin even brings his grandson Brucie on camera and reminds voters that Brucie's dad is fighting in Korea.

Austin used television to advertise his anticommunism and toughness on Korea, both of which meant money for the Navy. And yet he did so positively, red-baiting no one, seldom mentioning nuclear war, and never stating his religious beliefs. Rarely did Austin share his feelings publicly about the Republican Party and San Diego's major papers, the Union and the Evening Tribune. But he did write his feelings down. He calls both papers "extremely partisan"; "no Republican can do any harm." "Editorials, letters to the editor, cartoons and even the wire services are edited to promote their Republican views." "How many column inches do the Democrats get in comparison with the Republicans?" Austin writes that Newsweek and Time are mostly objective: "To read them is enlightening -- and quickly restores enthusiasm lost by reading the same tainted local news day after day."

He notes that "dollar for dollar I cannot hope to match my opposition, the local Republican Central Committee and their 'boy' Bob Wilson. In the primary race, my friends, Republican and Democrat alike, said, 'De, there's nothing to worry about. You're the only man that can be elected -- who else is there to choose?' And at that time I was foolish enough to...believe them. They pointed out my opponent's complete lack of qualifications and told me not to worry. [Elsewhere, Austin calls Wilson an "amateur" who "has never been outside the Junior Chamber of Commerce sphere," working only on "Bathing Beauty contests and the Yellowtail Fishing Derby!"] Yes, my biggest mistake was underestimating the value of a high priced and high pressure advertising campaign. Not fully realizing that thousands of San Diego's citizens are new here. And that all they base their selection and judgment on is advertising. Yes, political campaigns today are likened to any other type of advertising. 'I smoke so-and-so cigarettes because' -- Followed by illogical but appealing reasons. Today's political campaigns are on this same level -- A flip of a coin -- would be a good way out, after the voter has been caught amidst two advertising battles."

In bitterness, Austin devises a scenario in which he asks the "TV viewer" to imagine himself a declared Democratic candidate. "Immediately you become their target; they unload Communism, Korea, High Taxes, and every other burden the country bears upon your shoulders. Why? Simply because you're a Democrat -- trying to be elected. They care not what your individual views or record has been, they only try to pin the administration's mistakes upon your head. And if your views are good and will appeal to the voters -- then you are stealing their platform. Because you are against corruption and governmental waste -- and will not follow the party line on every single point, they call you a masquerader.... I believe, as do many people I've talked to locally, that the Republican Campaign here in San Diego is not the crusade they'd have you believe, but simply a mighty big and expensive high-pressure campaign to put in office their own candidates."

Austin was creamed by Wilson, 121,332 to 82,311. Even Wilson admitted "Ike's coattails" had helped secure his victory. Ninety-five percent of congressional incumbents are reelected; Bob Wilson was typical, serving 13 more terms. At his 1981 retirement, Wilson was ranked number three on the House Armed Services Committee. The warm seat came from his backing the aerospace and defense-industry smokestacks that proliferated here during the 1950s and 1960s.

Was Austin a sore loser? Was it naïve of him to expect issues, not ads, to rule? From his notes, it appears he knew that he was losing and that he had to push even harder against the Republican machine. In fact, he expresses concern about amassing a $6000 debt, most of the money spent on TV. Throughout, though, he was outwardly upbeat, stopping short, as we say today, of going negative. At some level we think we prefer a positive campaign to a negative campaign. Despite what we think, Austin's integrity -- and the fact that he was not quite as conservative as Bob Wilson -- did him in.

Lee Hubbard v. Pete Wilson (1975)

Otis Jones was a bright-faced, straight-talking attorney in 1975 when he -- along with councilmember Lee Hubbard and several others -- challenged Mayor Pete Wilson for his job. Jones's campaign was rooted in what he thought was the number-one issue of the day: unemployment. Double-digit inflation, a stock-market slump, and bank failures had stymied the economy severely. San Diego's especially. In November 1974, with an unemployment rate near 8 percent, labor unions marched down Broadway, demanding that Wilson hire more city workers.

Jones believed that, as the city's first African-American mayor, he could make a difference. The only problem was, by mid-August, one month before the September primary, the media had ignored his candidacy. So Jones held a news conference to berate television and newspaper alike for disregarding him. He began by saying that this news conference proved his point: only a handful of reporters had showed up. They were, Jones said, busy attending to the two top candidates, Wilson and Hubbard. Jones was mad as hell that he was tagged a "minor candidate." He understood the reason; he lacked the contributions to be considered major. He scolded the media for implying that the amount of money one raised determined a candidate's viability. "The major candidates -- or those who the media say are the major candidates -- say growth and crime are the issues. I don't think the average person is interested in growth or no growth. That is a big-business platform. The average person wants to know about jobs." Jones was right about his treatment: the Evening Tribune covered this news conference and then returned to tracking donors and the supposed divide between Wilson and Hubbard. Jones stewed and got disgusted. The debates rolled around, and he refused to participate.

In 1971, when Pete Wilson was first elected mayor, he was 38, the youngest mayor in San Diego history. A moderate Republican, he had advocated "controlled growth" in a city that had begun sprouting suburbs like crazy. In his campaign, Wilson got mileage by stating, "We don't want to be another sprawled-out Los Angeles monster." A workaholic, his face was, according to Patricia Lee Murphy of the Los Angeles Times, "no big advertisement for San Diego sunshine and outdoor life." That Cub Scout visage also had, Murphy wrote, an almost "Wall Street pallor." His main opponent in 1975 was the curly-haired, six-foot-four Hubbard, a San Diego native and businessman whose concrete company built warehouse slabs, bank floors, and city sidewalks. Hubbard, whose service on many local boards had won him the cuddly nickname "Mother Hubbard," differed strongly with Wilson about growth management.

The savvy Wilson played the geranium card against his smokestack foe. He announced that Hubbard was being supported by the developers who wanted "a return to the good old days" of unchecked growth, before Wilson took office. He charged that Hubbard and other city councilmembers were making their decisions about San Diego on behalf of the builders. Wilson said he would continue to put the "brakes on sprawl." Voters should know that if they elected Hubbard, the owner of a $6 million construction firm, he couldn't be trusted to curb development.

Hubbard drew his lance. In a debate five days before the primary, he insisted that Wilson's "no growth" policies had been "dragging people beyond our city limits." Towns like La Mesa were booming because Wilson had pushed the developers out there. On that basis, Hubbard said, Pete Wilson had lied about slowing development. Wilson volleyed that he wanted to stop the proliferation of urban sprawl because it necessitated more city services and higher taxes to pay for those services. Wilson said he was a tax-cutter, hoping to shrink the city's payroll by reducing the number of public employees. Hubbard countered that Wilson's policies drove up the price of existing homes and made property taxes higher as well.

Fearing that the "no growth" position would prevail, the builders went after Wilson on their own. The leaders of five construction associations called Wilson's policies "contradictory" and wondered "how much 'managed growth' the public can afford." The contractors noted that the slowdown put San Diego in "a dangerous economic and social position." In response, Wilson portrayed himself as the victim -- all he was trying to do was preserve land, "mostly canyons and sloping areas...as open space." Besides, Wilson charged, changing the subject, Hubbard was the real villain. He had a blatant conflict of interest: 27 percent of his cement-pouring business came from contracts with the city.

The combatants also argued about relocating the airport. Hubbard called Wilson's idea of moving it to Otay Mesa "the height of idiocy." Only one in five people, Hubbard said, would drive that far; the loss of the airport near downtown would ruin tourism. Wilson said he wanted the airport moved because "juries are awarding plaintiffs in lawsuits," those suing against airport noise. The Los Angeles airport had "already paid out more than $120 million," which was more than half of what a new airport would cost. The award for pandering, however, had to go to Hubbard. The pavement king called Wilson "out of touch" with voters because he, Wilson, "evades the issue of Black's Beach nudity." Hubbard tried to cast Wilson as a libertine on an issue of social conservatism. But it was the 1970s, and few people were worried about naked sunbathers.

In the September primary, Wilson gored Hubbard badly. Wilson received 62 percent of the vote, well beyond the 50 percent required to win the election outright. Hubbard said he lost because he was "pictured as being pro-growth, and it was made to sound like a dirty word." And yet, eight months into his second term, Wilson was speaking to the chamber of commerce, hoping to clarify his slow-growth position once and for all. He said his job as mayor was to rein in the "leapfrog development" of the suburbs. Since new tracts hadn't been paying for their police, fire, and road services, taxes on citywide residents had to be raised. His crusade during the campaign, he now said, was more antitax than it was managed growth. Wilson said he desired to redevelop downtown, creating projects for builders and sources of new tax revenue. To achieve development friendly to the city, he said, we needed to do a better job of "selling San Diego, and I think it's time we got off our fanny and did so." That was his Job One, "being a salesman" for the city. The businessmen cheered. It was the first of Wilson's many invitations to commercial businesses to relocate to San Diego. Even beyond downtown. Two years later, in a nod to local builders, Wilson ventured into the growth column with the suburban development North City West, now Carmel Valley. Wilson's support came after he received campaign donations from insiders at Pardee, who, along with another developer, was building the project. At Wilson's urging, the city council approved North City West in 1979, in part, because Wilson promised it would pay for its services and the city would collect new taxes on its businesses and homes. Voilà: managed growth. Simple, except that the city's northern expansion would be called "managed sprawl" and lead to hellacious traffic at the I-5/I-805 merge.

In a 1979 piece for San Diego Magazine, Harold Keen assessed Wilson's near-decade of maneuvering. Keen quoted Ed Butler, the man Wilson beat in 1971 for mayor, who was "awed by Wilson's ability to retain the blessing and financial support of the very people whose industry might be hobbled by his crusade for controlled growth." Keen also quoted Democrat Si Casady, who had run against Wilson for mayor in 1979 and lost. Casady characterized Wilson's ongoing support of downtown redevelopment with public funds, often earmarked for a select set of builders and donors to Wilson's election bids, as "welfare for the rich." This, 15 years before John Moores unpacked his bags downtown.

Casady wasn't finished. He said that almost all the "establishment leaders" in San Diego history to date had been Republicans. "And those who aren't Republican, act Republican when the indications are it would be beneficial to them." Our local political races have been the domain of what the San Diego Sun once termed "a divided majority" of Republican leaders. Countervailing political forces such as labor, environmentalists, or Democrats seldom have the money or a strong enough vision to challenge the stranglehold of the city's designated conservatives.

Tom Metzger v. Clair Burgener (1980)

In June 1980, San Diego took its first political terrorist strike: Tom Metzger, Ku Klux Klan supporter and founder of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), narrowly won the Democratic primary for Congress in the 43rd District. (At the time, the 9000-square-mile district extended across San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside Counties.) Metzger, a Fallbrook TV repairman whose hairpiece and swagger were his way of representing the forgotten and abused "white working class," faced Republican Clair Burgener. Burgener was as patrician as Metzger was pugnacious, businessman v. bigot. The five-time representative wasn't planning on campaigning. How could he lose to a Klansman who was to most voters neither choice nor echo? But Burgener, like everyone else, got hot once the press started reporting, in detail, Metzger's every claim:

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that the creed "all men are created equal" could never be proven;

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that Jews were a "parasite people" who should be deported to Israel "first class";

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that the Holocaust hadn't occurred but was "staged";

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that blacks were "inferior" and that all the "colored" races were descended from Satan;

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that Fidel Castro's "desire for oil" will foment a revolution, which will spread to Mexico;

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that America should build a military base at the border to stop the avalanche of illegal immigration;

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that if Mexicans tried to force their way into America, "they should be shot";

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that every home in America should have guns and that elementary and secondary schools should require "marksmanship training" for all children;

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that he'd stopped being a practicing Catholic "when the church started making a saint out of César Chávez and people in the radical left";

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that he'd never advocated violence and couldn't be blamed if those who hated him were violent, comparing himself to the "good-looking gal who gets raped when she walks down the street and then someone tries to blame her for the rape just because she's attractive";

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and that "win, lose, or draw, I come out winning...I come out far better than how I went in."

Some Democrat.

By October, Burgener had endorsements from Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Alan Cranston, both Democrats. The big issue, Burgener said, was no longer inflation but the Klan. He called Metzger "an admirer of Hitler." Metzger didn't deny it. Burgener's biggest worry was that the Klan-man might receive 40 percent of the vote. Such a high "losing" percentage, he said, would be a "moral victory" for white supremacy. Worse, it might suggest that his constituents were racists. By November, however, the Union's spotlight (both anti-Klan and anti-Democrat) had overexposed Metzger's oddity. Of the nearly 300,000 votes, Burgener garnered 82 percent. But it was clear that a good 35,000 Southern Californians knew exactly what they were supporting.

Duncan Hunter v. Lionel Van Deerlin (1980)

That same year, the race in San Diego's 42nd Congressional District pitted 66-year-old Democrat Lionel Van Deerlin against Republican challenger Duncan Hunter. Van Deerlin had been San Diego's lone Democrat in the House of Representatives since 1962; Hunter, a 31-year-old Vietnam War Army paratrooper, was a strong-on-defense and tax-cutting supporter of Ronald Reagan. Unlike the Burgener-Metzger race, the Van Deerlin-Hunter fight was civil. Unrelated to the civility, though, was a significant push by one religious group that insisted on moral issues that voters and candidates could not escape.

The stocky Hunter, with the set jaw of a Georgia football coach, walked precincts in the 42nd, which had the lowest per capita income of San Diego's three congressional districts. Registration of Democrats in the 42nd outnumbered Republicans two to one, and the non-Anglo population was close to 50 percent. As workers entered plants and shipyards at 6:00 a.m., Hunter met them with the message that Van Deerlin was weak on defense spending. Translation: you -- and your jobs -- aren't safe. He got 55 retired admirals, most living in Coronado, to sign a petition that stated, "We are in greater danger today than at any time since Pearl Harbor." The "open letter" also said that Hunter's opponent voted "regularly against adequate national defense even though he is one of the big spenders in Congress." As important as national security was to Hunter's campaign, so too was military-related employment. From his law-office base in Barrio Logan, he appealed, according to the Union, to "an area of steel fabricating, boat building, large and small businesses" that contained "many minorities." In one of Hunter's TV ads, he showed his National Avenue neighbors, a welder and an immigration counselor, who decried the lack of defense jobs in San Diego. Hunter made much of his pre-law-school working-class background: he had "operated heavy equipment, built homes, laid pipelines, and farmed."

Van Deerlin, educated at the University of Southern California, was a former newspaperman and TV producer who had regularly won reelection by 70 percent. He was lanky and dapper, a man who was, by several accounts, "no ball of fire" but decent. In Washington, he conducted congressional hearings into deregulating the $300 billion broadcasting and telephone industries in what would become the breakup of AT&T. At first, Van Deerlin wasn't worried about his opponent. He made it known that he would retire in 1982; he hoped this last dance would be a waltz. One early poll had him out in front of Hunter 61 to 22 percent, so his campaign neither polled nor bought ads. After Hunter's early TV attacks, Van Deerlin responded that "it's just utter nonsense to believe that someone could have been elected from this district nine straight times and be anti-defense."

But Hunter was gaining from his weak-on-defense claim and from a political tsunami that was carrying him and other New Right candidates with it. Stoked by the national Republican Party, disaffected Democrats were being told to rethink their party affiliation. Traditionally, Democrats were aligned with labor, the working class, and professional and trade classes like teachers and government employees; Republicans represented the interests of businessmen and the rich. The Republican Party was already pro-military, pro-tax cut, and anti-union. But once the liberal indulgences of the 1960s Democrats were counted, Republicans repositioned themselves as antiregulation, antiwelfare, antiabortion, and pro-Christian. As a result, the party recast itself as the mad-as-hell domain of antigovernment working-class Christian Americans. This movement of "populist conservatism" has meant that today, according to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, millions of people are voting for Republicans and against their own economic interests. "While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety," Frank writes in his 2004 book, the Republican "backlash" "mobilizes voters with explosive social issues -- summoning public outrage over everything from busing to un-Christian art -- which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends." The end is, strangely, an erasure of economic issues from the campaign. Instead, political candidates emphasize very narrow issues, like keeping "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, prayer in school. This backlash against Democrats found its first expression locally with Hunter and Van Deerlin.

In September 1980, the San Diego Evangelical Association, following the model of the Moral Majority, sent a "morals" questionnaire to all candidates in the county. The questions sought their views on "civil rights for homosexuals, legal penalties for prostitution and drug use, sex education, abortion for minors and protections for the tax-exempt status of churches." Another query asked the candidate to describe "your relationship with God." One of the evangelicals was the Rev. Tim LaHaye, who cofounded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell and later coauthored the Left Behind series. LaHaye's comment at the time was that "God created the church, the family, and the government." And government had, in his words, "become the enemy of the family, and therefore must be changed."

Hunter responded to the questionnaire, his answers reflecting Christian values. Van Deerlin made news by refusing to fill it out. He disapproved strongly of evangelicals assessing his or anyone else's morals. He complained in a letter that the queries "deal with complex social problems, on which it seems to me we might well differ without attributing our differences to higher or lower moral standards. Your questions seem to restrict morality to the confines of sexual morality. In fact, you seem to equate morality itself to sexual morality. There is not one question regarding my views on the virtue of justice which together with charity, mercy and peace, form the heart of the Christian message." The director of the San Diego Evangelical Association noted Van Deerlin's refusal to cooperate and published that fact -- but not Van Deerlin's letter -- along with the results of the questionnaire in the group's newsletter. Thirty thousand copies of the newsletter were printed and distributed in 150 churches on the final two Sundays prior to the election.

Suddenly, Van Deerlin was trailing -- and it was too late to mount an attack against Hunter. Besides, Van Deerlin was dispassionate by nature; typically he would hold his tongue rather than accuse his rival of dirty politics. He did respond, angrily, during the last week, when Hunter suggested that Van Deerlin's support of AT&T's spinoff of the Baby Bells would raise everyone's long-distance phone rates. He was especially pissed when national GOP strategists sent voters a mailer designed, as the Union reported, to "look like a telephone company letter that attacks his bill to deregulate major portions of the phone industry."

Van Deerlin lost by 9500 votes, or 6.5 percent; he blamed his own "complacency." In the past, he had "won too easily, too often." He vowed he would not become a lobbyist "like many former legislators. I don't want to be grubbing around utilizing my friendship with congressmen on behalf of any industrials." And then, expressing a conundrum of political life, he noted that "if you have relied on the people's judgment for 18 years, and benefited by it, it's hard the morning after the people have turned to someone else to say their judgment has gone awry."

Duncan Hunter benefited greatly from voters who were reidentifying their loyalties. What was perhaps most interesting about this change was that such loyalties could be expressed not only by the candidate and the support of his or her local newspaper but more so by partisan groups. From 1980 on, campaigns would outsource their party's historic role of attacking opponents to organizations bent on a single issue. One such group, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, targeted 51 Democrats for defeat in 1980. After knocking out half of them, the committee announced that it would, in the future, give half its money directly to Republican candidates and spend the other half on "negative campaigning against" the next set of "targets."

How did the Union perform that year? Though it had endorsed Van Deerlin, it said in a postelection editorial that its board was "impressed" by Hunter's "logic." The editors "came away from a pre-election interview with Mr. Hunter convinced he was a likely candidate to take over the seat...but two years from now, when Mr. Van Deerlin intended to retire. Our instincts were right but our timing was off." The Union covered the Metzger-Burgener race two to three times more often than any other race, once headlining a story about a Jew in Imperial Valley who was voting for Metzger. One other thing: the Union had stopped editorializing for Republican candidates on the front page. That practice was finally confined to the editorial page. Wherever possible, though, the moral issues of the campaigns were given prominent position.

  1. Susan Golding v. Peter Navarro (1992)

The future of San Diego should have as much of the past in it as possible.

-- Pete Wilson (1975)

The Republican backlash figured only marginally in the sleaziest of all local campaigns, Golding v. Navarro for mayor in 1992. What consumed the candidates was enmity; no combatants in San Diego history have ever hated each other with as much Cyclopean fury as these two. Golding and Navarro tried to rely on direct mail to proffer image and position. But whenever they got into each other's space, typically in their radio debates, they went berserk. The slashing was so scissor-toothed, one felt they weren't running for office, they were divorcing.

Republican Golding was, as Navarro identified her, an insider. The 46-year-old had been a city councilmember and, since 1984, a county supervisor. She had also been married to Richard Silberman, who was caught laundering cocaine money in an FBI sting; convicted, he had begun serving a term in federal prison. In early 1992, she and Silberman had divorced. But his specter followed her everywhere: she was, one observer wrote, "walking around with a big bull's-eye on her back, and Dick Silberman is in the center of it." In leaked memos, Golding was told not to discuss her ex and to emphasize campaign ethics as an issue to "dispel doubts about her own ethics." She was also reminded to play to her strength. As Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times noted, Golding had always been a vicious campaigner; she was "one of the foremost practitioners of the politics of demonization."

A self-christened "conservative Republican," Navarro had changed his affiliation to independent not long before the primary. At 42, he had a Ph.D. from Harvard in economics and taught at the University of California Irvine. Navarro had held no elective office but had organized and chaired the growth-control group Prevent Los Angelization Now!, or PLAN! The group was popular in a year of anti-incumbency; during a recession-weary 1991, both Ross Perot and Bill Clinton had arisen to challenge George H.W. Bush. Navarro applied the local tonic: San Diego was "a Republican town that takes pride in the fact that we don't spend enough for public services. The developers are making a lot of money. Their fees are five to ten times too small. We need to force them to pay full price."

Preprimary adjectives befitting each candidate were indistinguishable: both were labeled aggressive, arrogant, attractive, abrasive, and ambitious. Navarro was termed "a cross between Robert Redford and Roger Hedgecock." A political novice, he often revealed "unending inconsistencies" and was said (by many) to be on "a colossal ego trip." Golding epitomized the dressed-to-kill businesswoman; her lust to be the future "CEO" of San Diego, a $1 billion-a-year enterprise in 1992, was palpable. Like her mentor Pete Wilson, she blue-ribboned herself as San Diego's "chief salesperson."

In the June primary, Navarro got 38 percent of the vote to Golding's 31. Golding was livid, but she took a breath and let the city's Republican power structure shape the fight for her. Even before the primary, Navarro saw it coming. "She's going to try to position herself," he said, "as close to me as possible and then bury me with her developer money. We know that they're going to get dirty. The only question is whether Susan's campaign is going to do it or whether her surrogates will."

But before the big donors could sign their checks, Navarro started the fight. On the night of his primary win, Navarro and Golding were watching the returns at Golden Hall. At one point, Navarro tried to get by Golding's press secretary, Nikki Symington, to join Golding in a TV interview. Navarro and Symington began shoving each other, and Navarro called Symington a "pig." What's more, he had to fess up to the insult because it was, like the Rodney King beating, caught on tape. The slope slipped south from that moment on.

Here's a flash card version of their point-counterpoint. Navarro was an outsider and inexperienced; Golding, an insider and an incumbent. Navarro was dubbed Professor Navarro; Golding, Supervisor Golding. Navarro was "scary"; Golding, a "megalomaniac." Navarro's ideas were "idiotic," "classroom, cockamamie"; Golding's were "trickle-down to the last drop," a reference to Reagan's voodoo economics. Many of Navarro's supporters were "academicians"; Golding's, "developer dawgs." Navarro relied on volunteer academics for strategy, and they pumped him full of "ivory-tower theories"; Golding relied on pricey consultants -- some of whom had helped get the master political chameleon Roger Hedgecock elected mayor ten years earlier -- and they were "angling for positions" in her administration. Navarro was antibusiness and antijobs; Golding was bought and paid for by the developers.

The pair prepped strategies to get San Diego out of its funk. Usually recession-proof, the city had lost the Naval Training Center, aerospace industries were closing, and the unemployment rate had risen to 10 percent. Navarro repeated the old-time challenger's refrain that the council was a "toady" to builders, and he would turn that around by advocating development of the inner city over the suburbs. While Golding said that things needed changing at city hall (as if she were the outsider), she crowed that "seeing what's broke from the inside makes it easier to fix."

In August, the he-said, she-said began. Navarro wanted more debates than Golding did. He said she was avoiding them because "she's trying to reserve a lot of time for big-dollar fund-raisers with the fat cats." Golding responded that Navarro's words were "really juvenile." If he were looking for fat cats, "he ought to look in the mirror."

Next was the jail-beds controversy. Navarro said there were only 3200 beds in the county for inmates. Golding said there were 6800. Navarro called her number "fantasy" because she included beds in East County that had not yet been open. A bed was a bed, Golding said, occupied or not.

Next came Navarro's personal finances. He claimed he had loaned his campaign $220,000 from his savings. But, one reporter found, the assertion was untrue. Navarro had inherited the money from his mother, a fact he told no one. He said his secrecy was to protect Mom. What's more, Navarro, a critic of "real estate speculation," had made money by selling properties in Massachusetts. Golding called him a hypocrite. In return, Navarro questioned Golding's loan of $278,000 from her financier ex-husband Silberman, a man she married during her 1984 run for supervisor. How was that money acquired? Navarro's salvo was remarkable for his apparent unawareness of what he was actually saying: "I have no intention of personally attacking Susan Golding -- I have not and I don't intend to. However, if she wants to get tough with me personally, I will get tougher with her. If she wants to throw dirt at me, I'll bury her with her own dirt." Navarro wasn't being cute. After reminding voters that Golding's previous races had spawned lawsuits, he poured his money into TV ads in late October; he alleged that Supervisor Golding in 1986 supported a change in tax law that would have benefited Silberman's clients.

While Golding and Navarro gibed in forums, while aides for both said their bosses exaggerated their attacks, the issues other than growth that the public was interested in -- jobs, crime, homelessness -- died. In fact, some argued that issues weren't discussed because there wasn't much difference between Golding and Navarro -- and that's why they fought. Aside from slower v. faster growth and Navarro's opposition to NAFTA, which Golding supported, they had similar stances: higher utility rates; new power plants; no new taxes and no tax raises; needle-exchange programs to fight AIDS (though when pressed, Golding changed her mind); controlled expansion of the suburbs; public funds to build homeless shelters; tax breaks for biotech development; no upgrade of the city's sewage treatment process; more cops; and less red tape at city hall. Newspaper reporters and the papers' editorials continued covering the dirt, attacking the pair for their "petty charges and countercharges." Only one or two astute journalists bothered to show that Golding and Navarro were peas in a pod.

In September a poll showed Golding trailing Navarro 29 to 41 percent. Navarro might have been content to let his candidacy appear as a choice for voters. But, for some reason, he felt a face-lift was in order. He began calling himself -- like his famous mayoral forerunner Louis Wilde -- the "jobs candidate." He was also hoping to resurrect one of Pete Wilson's policies, namely, that managed development would lead to greater productivity. Calling him the "jobs terminator," Golding giddily said that Navarro's new tack was "one of the most unbelievable political flip-flops in history."

What Golding saw in Navarro was a person whose decisions would lead only to fewer jobs, higher home prices, and less expansion. What Navarro saw in Golding was a person whose decisions would lead only to more gridlock, more economic depression, and more paved-over greenbelts. Voters knew things were not that polarized. And yet this was the choice: no matter how you voted, according to either candidate, you were voting for a demon. Even if you sided with the one who was closest to you politically (whatever that meant), you were still doing business with the prince or the princess of darkness.

One day in September, Barry Horstman wrote in the Los Angeles Times that in an effort to clean up their negative campaigns the two pledged "to stay on the high road during the remainder of the race but took a detour minutes later and by day's end were again stuck in a muddy rhetorical ditch." Golding accused Navarro of taking money from pornographers; Navarro accused Golding of having a prostitute on her campaign staff. Golding's camp ran an ad that showed a back-lit marquee of a porno theater and naked women in suggestive silhouette. The implication was that Navarro had been bought off by the pornographers. In reality, two adult bookstore owners had given him several hundred dollars (one-quarter of 1 percent of his donations), which Navarro returned when he found the money so tainted. Navarro responded that Nicole Ramirez-Murray, a politically active female impersonator in the gay and lesbian community and a fund-raiser for Golding, was a "male prostitute." Navarro got his comeuppance when Ramirez-Murray held a news conference and showed a photo of herself in drag with Navarro: Ramirez-Murray sobbed, saying Navarro had viciously impugned her integrity. Both candidates called these spurious attacks unavoidable -- the other had forced his or her hand.

In November, Golding squeaked by Navarro, 222,603 to 205,448, 52 to 48 percent. Navarro would continue to suffer election defeats in 1993, 1994, 1996, and 2001; Golding would serve two terms as mayor. She is remembered in the current political season for beginning, in 1996, to underfund the city's pension system. It was a decision that echoes in the choice we make for mayor next week.

Like Shakespearean drama, political campaigns hold us spellbound. We know player and system are inscrutable, unreasonable, dare we say, immoral. Though we've tried to close the loopholes in how campaigns are financed, we fund parties and candidates at a rate greater than any time in our history. Though we say we despise negative ads, we remember them much more often than we do the positive ones. How often we wish candidates wiser than those on the ballot would run. How often we want to believe in but end up distrusting the very candidates we vote for. If a democratic election is a narrative, the story it tells is a tragedy.

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