“O praeclarum custodem ovium lupum!” proclaimed Cicero, one of early Rome's most proclaimed thinkers. An excellent protector of sheep, the wolf!
Fast-forward a couple millennia, and that sentiment shadows an incumbent San Diego city councilman who faces a fierce battle for re-election in the coming year.
In 2000, attorney Scott Peters ran in the northwest corner of town known as District 1, as a self-anointed environmental attorney, although his record suggested that his bread was buttered by companies seeking ways around environmental laws. The following year, he helped himself to more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from developers, and soon people were wondering if this guy really was the environmentalist Democrat he claimed to be.
Now, Peters will be confronted with his past, and in doing so, he seems to be hedging his electoral bets by seeking the endorsement of a local group far removed from liberal sentiment.
“Scott Peters ran for office as a community advocate. He has been anything but that,” said former supporter and now-opponent Kathryn Burton, a Democrat with the community experience and backbone to challenge Peters in the coming March primary.
“There is only one real Democrat in the race,” one political consultant told CityBeat recently. “Her running gives a place for hard-core Democrats to go to who know Peters sold out-and [who] will not vote for a Republican... under any circumstances.”
These are not just some radical activists who feel this way when it comes to Peters, who has characterized such allegations of selling out as “baloney.” But even a prominent city official, at a recent holiday party, made light of Peters' Democratic dilemma.
The official jokingly noted that more federal indictments might be headed San Diego's way, including one against Peters “for impersonating a Democrat.” The person also made light of several appearances a yellow-jacketed Peters made at news conferences during the recent wildfires, even though no flames made it to his district.
But that was a roast, where fun is poked at everyone. An election is an entirely different bird, and Peters will be reminded probably on a near-daily basis of the difference between candidate Peters and Councilman Peters.
Burton, who is running against Peters along with flight-school owner and Republican Phil Thalheimer, has had her sights set on the incumbent from La Jolla for some time now. Burton announced her intention to run using a grove of felled historic trees at Torrey Pines State Park as a backdrop. She said Peters, the candidate, had opposed the bridge-widening project that required the tree removal. But now he's its biggest promoter, she charged.
“Scott Peters has a history of fast-tracking controversial projects without full environmental and public review,” Burton said at her campaign kickoff. Those projects, she added, span the council district, and include proposals to build new parkways, biotech developments near schools and massive condominium projects on the coast, such as the Seahaus development in Bird Rock.
“His campaign contribution list reads like the Yellow Pages of special interests,” said Burton, who moved to San Diego with her husband in 1990 and has spent years with the local Sierra Club and on community planning boards. She presently chairs the Torrey Hills Planning Board.
So, you'd think Peters would be running away from developers and into the arms of environmental activists. Not the case, as it turns out. Although he does sport the endorsement of the local Sierra Club-payback, Burton claims, for appointments made to various city panels, including the powerful Planning Commission and an environmental task force-Peters has been seeking out nods from groups rarely associated with liberal causes.
In October, Peters wrote to the ultra-conservative Lincoln Club of San Diego County seeking its endorsement. In the letter, Peters boasts of his efforts “to earn a reputation as fair, effective and business-friendly.”
He also notes with pride his work on other environmentally questionable projects, from the controversial Vista Sorrento Parkway near Interstate-805, his-and Mayor Dick Murphy's-challenged claim of a 58-percent reduction in sewer spills. (Environmental groups have countered that spills may be down, but that the overall quantity of spilled gunk is worse.)
In the letter, Peters also thumps his chest over his opposition to efforts to make San Diego's rental-housing market more fair to tenants, claiming that political hot potatoes like rent control and evictions requiring just cause “would undercut our efforts” to “make housing in San Diego a more attractive investment for private capital.” In other words, yet more incentives for developers.
Peters also noted that he “resisted efforts” by his more left-leaning council colleagues to cut funding to such questionably effective organizations like the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which spend a ton of money telling people to come work and play here-like people don't know about San Diego already.
In a slap to labor, which supported his last campaign, Peters wrote: “I have consistently opposed imposition of project labor agreements on projects, except where (as in the case of the ballpark) the project proponent saw an advantage to it.”
Asked why he was seeking the Lincoln Club endorsement, Peters wrote, “I share with the Lincoln Club concern for a healthy, vibrant local economy and forward-looking leadership so San Diego can realize its potential as one of the world's great cities. Your support for my candidacy can help build the broad consensus necessary to achieve our shared goals.”
Burton and some political observers, however, suggest that Peters has worn out his welcome with the Democratic Party. “With Democrats like that, who needs the Republican Party?” she scoffed.
The consultant agreed: “This shows that Peters' Democratic base is really unhappy with him.”
Regarding Peters' Sierra Club endorsement, Burton, noting the irony, found “serious inequity” with the decision. “We have a candidate who requested an endorsement from the Lincoln Club and he is getting the Sierra Club endorsement,” she said.
Get ready for a weird and woolly 2004.Write to: spincycle@SDcitybeat.com.