Al Sharpton: "San Diego has a place in my heart."
A national political figure has parachuted into San Diego's decades-long big-money war over which paramedic provider should get the city's exclusive contract, virtually guaranteeing another heated round of racially charged wheeling and dealing.
"San Diego has a place in my heart, and I have been supportive of the grassroots work being done by local leaders," writes the Rev. Al Sharpton, known as one of New York City's most influential political players, in a February 5 Union-Tribune opinion piece.
"However, San Diego's leaders appear to be careening toward a massive debacle with their controversial selection of a new 911 emergency ambulance provider, Falck.
"The Denmark-based company has been accused of inequitable service and unjust practices in the United States, and there is great concern that the move could undermine San Diego's commitment to racial equality."
Calling on Democratic mayor Todd Gloria and the new city council majority to repudiate a pending deal with Denmark-based Falck U.S.A., Sharpton says Alameda County fined the company "hundreds of thousands of dollars for not meeting ambulance response time requirements. And sadly, its slowest response times have been in communities of color."
"Of equal concern, Falck was also the emergency medical services provider that supplied ketamine in Aurora, Colorado, which was used to sedate Elijah McClain when he was unjustly arrested and died in 2019."
In September 2020, the Aurora city council banned the use of ketamine by paramedics as a result of the McClain incident. He was sedated with the drug after police used a carotid hold that rendered him unconscious, according to a December 2020 accountby the website E.M.S. World.
"McClain then went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died a few days later. He was not armed or suspected of a crime."
Sharpton attacked the San Diego selection committee that picked Falck, echoing the county medical society's previous concerns. "The committee was composed mostly of fire personnel — all White males, incidentally — who lack the diverse experience needed to thoroughly evaluate the bids on behalf of San Diegans."
"Addressing racial justice and equity must be a priority in health care and public safety decisions that should be non-negotiable. I find it unacceptable that a woman or a person of color was not included in this important decision — this is systemic racism."
A companion U-T op-ed on Falck's behalf, authored by Nancy Maldonado, Chicano Federation C.E.O; Francine Maxwell, the president of N.A.A.C.P.'s San Diego branch; and C.E.O. of the Asian Business Association Jason Paguio, doesn't directly address Sharpton's charges.
Instead, the trio says that Falck "has taken neglected and understaffed emergency response systems and turned them around to ensure that communities are getting reliable and attentive medical care."
The history of the contract with current provider American Medical Response, the opinion piece says, “has been dotted with complaints, response time compliance fines and demands from the city for improved service levels. We have an opportunity to turn this around and receive enhanced levels of service with a new contract. More importantly, our community will have resolution and certainty.”
Of Falck, the piece says, "They've contributed to the health and safety of San Diegans before and during the ongoing pandemic by partnering and providing financial support to community organizations like ours,” without detailing who got the money.
Sharpton and his National Action Network are no strangers to municipal controversy.
In July 2019, the New York Times reported that Sharpton joined with Manhattan Democratic Party boss Keith L.T. Wright at the behest of tobacco giant Reynolds American to oppose the city's regulation of menthol cigarettes. The proposal subsequently foundered.
Sharpton acknowledged to the paper that his group, the National Action Network, had received funding from Reynolds American, as did the company itself, but neither would not say how much.
"'Ten thousand dollars or $15,000 would not influence us either way,' he said, adding that his convention brings in more than $1 million from corporate and other sponsors. ‘This is not about money.'"
Incumbent contractor American Medical Response has heavily lobbied San Diego's paramedic deal, deploying campaign contributions, personal gifts, and charity donations. Since 2012, according to campaign finance disclosure records, A.M.R. employees have given almost $40,000 to municipal campaigns. The lineup of high-dollar lobbyists on both sides is formidable.
City records show that Falck U.S.A. has signed up Public Policy Partners, run by Nancy Chase, to lobby for its selection as E.M.S. provider. Southwest Strategies, another well-connected San Diego influence peddler, has also been retained by Falck, the filings show. Southwest has represented Falck on the matter since the Fourth Quarter of 2019.
Like Falck, A.M.R. uses two lobbying firms, including Miller Public Affairs, run by Kimberly Miller. Her previous partner on the A.M.R. account, ex-GOP aide Phil Rath, was slapped with hefty fines in 2018 by the San Diego city ethics commission and California's Fair Political Practices following a conflict of interest scandal arising from Rath's votes as a Faulconer appointee to the board of Civic San Diego.
In addition to Miller, A.M.R. employs Presidio Public Affairs Group, per the disclosures. That lobbying shop was founded in 2014 by Faulconer's political strategist Jason Roe.
A year later, Roe left the operation after engaging in a nasty public spat with Chargers' special counsel Mark Fabiani, who questioned his role as a lobbyist for stadium food service contractor Delaware North.