‘Mayor Dumanis’ would help LGBTs by fixing economyAround the City Thursday, December 8th, 2011
Born and raised in Brockton, Mass. Bonnie Dumanis, San Diego County’s district attorney since 2003, describes her upbringing as scrappy, and the neighborhood where she was raised as “fighting.” In fact, her father went to school with the mythical boxing champ, Rocky Marciano.
Today, Dumanis (60) is fighting some tough competition of her own as she campaigns to replace Jerry Sanders as mayor of San Diego.
DA Dumanis agreed to be the first of a series of sit-down interviews with San Diego LGBT Weekly among all four of the major candidates (Dumanis, Councilman Carl DeMaio, Rep. Nathan Fletcher and Rep. Bob Filner).
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis: I’m running for mayor because I love San Diego. I’ve lived here for 38 years and I think I have a lot to offer San Diego.
Does a judge’s recent decision to deny a temporary restraining order against drug enforcement officers moving to shut down more medical marijuana dispensaries impact your position on the issue of access?
No, it doesn’t. The problem is the law isn’t clear in California. So my position has always been that if people have a legitimate and lawful use for marijuana under both the initiative and the law, i.e. what’s required – that you have a medical condition and a physician’s recommendation. I support that. I have had friends who had AIDS and cancer and they benefitted from it. It particularly helps with the wasting syndrome. But what we’ve seen is that people are hiding behind the initiative for the illegal sale and use of drugs.
How big of a problem do you think that is? That is, what percentage of use via collectives is disingenuous?
I think most of it is disingenuous use of the law – the medical marijuana law. When we originally started looking at (the collectives) in 2003, 2004, we actually compiled some statistics. The largest portion of the group that was using the medical marijuana was between 24 and 25. Then there were some of the upper end (of the age spectrum). There was one recommendation given to a dog; there were recommendations given for depression. I remember one in particular. It said “I don’t like stupid people.” That was the recommendation for why they needed medical marijuana.
I actually have a friend who told me a story of her husband who is very ill. They went online to make an appointment to get a recommendation. They went in, told the guy, “We have an appointment at 2 o’clock.” He said, “You do?” She said, “Yes; we do.” Then of course he said no one ever made an appointment. The technician or whatever he was took down the information, and said, “Well, you’re very sick! You need to go to the hospital.” The point being that they weren’t used to actually getting sick people in their place. In fact he all but admitted it was mostly kids just smoking pot. In my view I think we need to make the state law more clear.
Would lobbying for that be a priority for you as mayor?
No. The priority is the economy – getting our financial house in order.
I think as the mayor what I would do is bring federal and state officials and the U.S. attorney and all of the local stakeholders together and say OK, how can we craft something that fits within California law. And it might be that we have to change the law to clarify what can and can’t be done without going into the federal area. I think the federal government wants to honor the state law, but people in the state aren’t following the law. The feds understand that it really is a profit-making business.
What are your core values?
Be kind to everyone. Give everyone respect and dignity. And always do what your mother says to do.
What is your plan to balance the budget and get the city fiscally sound again?
First is pension reform. That is critical in getting the city budget on track. And that’s on the ballot in June, and I support that.
Do you support Carl DeMaio’s plan?
I support the initiative that was put forward by the mayor and Councilman (Kevin) Faulconer and many other individuals and groups.
But we do know that’s basically Carl DeMaio’s plan.
I don’t believe that it is. I believe many other people were working on it for a long time.
I’m talking about the initiative that will change everyone except police to a 401(k)-style retirement plan.
That includes firefighters?
That’s right. At first I had some concerns, but after further research on pensions and annuities, I felt comfortable that because the annuity option is included in that initiative, you can get through the annuity a reasonable and secure retirement almost like a pension.
But under that system, under that regime, wouldn’t firefighters have lost half of their 401(k)s in 2008? Does that concern you?
Well, first of all that is prospective only. I think that when you look at the annuity portion, which is what I would implement; for instance, you look at TIAA Creff – they’re just one organization, but there are other organizations that do this too – it takes the risk from the city and places it on the vendor essentially. Organizations like TIAA Creff pool their money and therefore, they have more money and they are safer. They have a history of making good investment choices, diversifying (their investment capital). I think over the long haul, each one of these folks would have been OK.
But it is still more of a risk than a traditional pension, isn’t it?
Well of course it is, but the market has changed for everybody, and that includes public service.
Then why not include the police?
Because the police, you can’t go out and hire. Fire you can’t really either, but —
So you need better benefits to attract the right kind of officers?
Well, there is a hiring and retention problem with police. I was on the POST committee, which is the Peace Officers Standards and Training Committee, which did a survey I think in 2010. It detailed the recruitment issue with police. People just are not choosing to go into that field right now. So you need to be able to attract them. In addition to that, you have people who go into a line of work with the potential to lose their lives. And in San Diego they have lost their lives too often. So I believe unless you want security guards as your police, you need to have established benefits to attract good officers.
In order to be consistent; if I’m a firefighter, aren’t I also risking my life when I go into a burning building? Why don’t they also need recruitment attraction?
Because fire departments don’t face those same retention issues. Because they’re not regulated the same way; they’re not regulated statewide the way police officers are. It’s not as easy for them to jump from one part of California to another.
You mean they’re trained specifically for the region they work in?
Right, even in different parts of San Diego County, their skills are not as transferrable. But having said that, I do have that same concern for firefighters. But as I said, having looked at the annuity, I’m comfortable with that.
How much savings would pension reform provide toward balancing the budget?
About $2 billion. One to $2 billion.
Over what period of time?
Over 25 years.
If you are elected mayor, how long would it be before you had a balanced budget?
I can’t say. There are too many variables. But I can tell you the first thing I would do when I come into office would be to take a look at what the issues are right now and forecast two years, four years and beyond and set up a management system that would take a look at creating checks and balances in the system to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Pension reform is just one those aspects. Part of that is not adhering to the five-year plan. You can’t continue to rely on one-time monies to pay ongoing expenses.
We have taken to task another candidate for having endorsements from people who have made rabidly anti-LGBT statements in the past. Is it important to have endorsements that reflect acceptance of LGBT people?
I think you look at the whole person in addition to who’s supporting them. I think you change people’s minds about us by getting to know them. I can tell you this: You’d be shocked by the people who sent congratulations to Denise (Nelesen) and me when we got married, from people in the clergy to people in leadership. I think people can’t hate individuals. That’s how we’ve made as much progress as we have.
You supported Meg Whitman in the governor’s race. Meg doesn’t support marriage equality or LGBT issues in general. Why?
I select candidates based on more than one issue – not just LGBT issues. I felt in getting to know Meg that she treated me equally.
What bearing does that have on the average LGBT person in San Diego? The fact that she’s nice to gay or lesbian people doesn’t mean she supports equality.
No. But I believe you change hearts and minds one person at a time, by being involved with them. But I wasn’t that active in her campaign.
Does being a lesbian make you a better candidate for the LGBT community?
It think it’s always important when you can identify with people. It’s been the case with me when I was a judge and as DA. It makes people more comfortable when they can see people in those kinds of positions, and for young people it gives them encouragement to see a gay person as mayor that they can do it too.
Would you be afraid of alienating your broader constituency by being vocal in support of our community?
I would be the mayor for all of the city, not just one group or another. My first priority is to get the financial house in order. Not only is that important to everyone, but it’s also the best way I can help the LGBT community. That said, I will be as accessible as I have been as a judge and as district attorney. I would be available to everybody who has an issue they want to address.
Editor’s note: The following portion of our interview with District Attorney and mayoral candidate, Bonnie Dumanis appears only on LGBTweekly.com, and was not included in the print edition of San Diego LGBT Weekly
More on pension reform
Why do you support the pension reform initiative?
This reform plan that I support simply means that for the next five years, I’m not going to be able to add into that pension retirement plan. It’s a one-time thing that sunsets in five years. If I’m an employee, I still have my pension, but I’m not going to be able to add any of the extras to my pension. I’m still going to get what I was promised as a pension for the experience I’ve already had working under that plan. If your under 40, nothing’s going to change. I get what the city said they promised me and I get all that I’ve put in and what they’ve promised me at the end.
What the initiative says is I still get everything that was promised to me at the rate it was promised to me, the only thing that will be different will be those five years where I may not be able to add to that pension. For instance, for that period, I’m not going to be able to include overtime (in calculating my future pension benefit).
What will change is that if I’m hired after this initiative passes, I will not be able to enter into a defined benefit program. What I will be able to get will be set by negotiations up to nine percent paid by the city.
So, the only savings that is being created by the pension reform plan comes from new employees who will be hired and by the five-year freeze on contributions.
In essence, yes.
And that’s where the $2 billion savings comes from?
Yes. Well, nobody knows exactly how much will be saved, but it’s somewhere between one and two billion. It depends on
What’s the city’s annual budget?
I can’t remember off hand. It’s in the billions – about $4 billion.
How is $2 billion over 20 years going to significantly improve a budget that, over the same period approaches $100 billion?
It’s a combination of things. It actually increases a little bit as you close the defined benefit.
So, is there an exponent savings mechanism that doesn’t show in the beginning?
No, it’s just savings over time; the budget’s unfunded liability goes down. I mean, that’s kind of a paper debt. In essence they’ve been spending money they don’t have for a long time. They’ve been trying to balance the budget by cutting. But I think one thing we need to do is explore managed competition and consider outsourcing.
What is your plan on sanitation outsourcing?
My first plan would be competition. It’s always better when you have competition. Although, they (the city) already has a way of doing that, I would change the way they’re doing it now and make it more akin to what the county’s doing. They’ve had competition for years and it works; and they’ve actually implemented it. The city has picked two different things to do managed competition with—printing and fleet management—but they haven’t implemented it. One of the things I would do differently is make sure it happens. The goal is to get good quality services for as little money as possible.
What are some good candidates for outsourcing? What types of city services?
Sanitation is a good one to talk about.
If it outsources sanitation, does the city maintain the 450 sanitation trucks it owns and outsource the maintenance, or the other way around?
I think one would want to transfer the trucks, and there’s also a way to put provisions to at least allow the (existing city sanitation workers) to apply to keep their jobs. I don’t think you can require a private company to keep them, but you can at least give them first shot at keeping the jobs they do for the city.
Hypothetically, let’s say it’s $10 million to do sanitation today, and the city wants to save 15 percent. Where does the private company find those savings? If there’s a way, does that mean you think the city’s inefficient?
I definitely think the city is inefficient.
So you think the savings can be found in identifying and fixing inefficiencies, and doesn’t have to come from salary cutting?
Well, I don’t know. Look; we outsource transcription at the DA’s office. Nobody likes to do transcription. We were able to outsource without laying anyone off.
What about taxes? Are you a “no-tax-increases-under-any-circumstances” Republican?
I think we need to make San Diego the best place to do business. First we have to sell San Diego to employers. Once we get them here, we know they won’t want to leave. Low taxes and less red tape is how we can get them here.
Why did your fundraising not reach the level of some of the
First of all I started June 5 because that’s when the law says you can start running. Within 30 days, I raised more than $100,000. It’s a good showing that shows I’m a solid candidate. I don’t have business with a lot of people in Washington and outside the area as some candidates might have networks across the country? When you look at all the candidates, my money is 97 percent from the area. The only money that’s not from the area is relatives. Also, I won’t take money from my employees or city employees.
The other candidates
What distinguishes you from the other three candidates?
I’m the only one with executive experience. I have a thousand people, a budget of $150 million and three labor organizations. It’s one thing to be one of many legislators and getting people together to agree on ideas. It’s another thing to be an executive you has to implement those ideas and make sure they get done and get done well.
Who would you vote for if you weren’t running?
I AM running! I’m in it to win it.
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