A Call from Mike

I was enclosed in my dark work chamber, where the glow from a computer screen illuminates your face, when I spotted the email from Mike Aguirre.

Mike had been the San Diego City Attorney who used to make  life miserable for more staid and practical city politicians. Accusations of misconduct and corruption flowed from his office nonstop for a four-year term that ended when a judge, with a bad toupee, challenged him in the election and sent Mike packing.

Mike Aguirre

People in city hall regularly quoted the Werner Herzog film, calling him “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” I don’t think Mike would differ with that.

Anyway, the email that came out of nowhere referred to a three-year-old interview I did with Jan Goldsmith (of the bad toupee) during the election that lead to Aguirre’s ouster. The note came attached to a soundfile of the interview, which Mike said displayed a brazen contradiction to Goldsmith’s actions as City Attorney.

I responded by writing that I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he could feel free to give me a call to explain. My phone rang five minutes later.

It was a typical phone discussion with Aguirre, who spoke at blazing speed, going off on ten different tangents. As in the past, he managed to say at least a couple of things that rang true, and which gave me the journalistic notion there may be a good story to tell.

Much of our talk revolved around reform of the heavily indebted San Diego pension system. As City Attorney, Aguirre filed a lawsuit that argued the level of benefits approved for city workers were illegal… a lawsuit Goldsmith would eventually drop.

Mike told me he never wanted to kill the municipal pension and turn it into a 401K, as appears to the way local politics are taking us. He just wanted to make the pension legal and affordable: A strong point, but one that depends on believing that he was right about the law, which he may not have been.

I finally put down the phone, half an hour after it rang. I thought about Aguirre’s manic personality, the disorder it brought to city hall and the belief some people had that he wasn’t right in the head. I remember a reporter friend telling me a story of chatting with Aguirre at a press event, when he told her and another reporter that he had to take some time off for an MRI.

“Of your head?” asked one of them. Aguirre laughed as he said no, it was for his knee. But at least one member of the press assumed Mike needed to have his head examined.

To this I would say that while some people are mentally ill, some people are just plain crazy. Mike Aguirre is a member of the second group. His behavior in office showed a person who was motorized by an outsized ego and a strong faith in his beliefs. His success as a private attorney shows he’s a person who is very mentally on the ball, despite his problems getting along with people.

But his failure as a politician shows he just wasn’t cut out for that game. Mike was an elected official who managed to antagonize every powerful group. That left him with nobody to dance with, aside from a handful of crabby anti-establishment types who didn’t really like anyone.

Once Aguirre earned the dislike of both the unions AND the Republican party, it was clear he did not have a career in politics.

I remember being at a dinner party with Mike Aguirre when I didn’t know he was also going to be invited. This was a night when the host told us he once had sex with Marilyn Monroe. A real conversation stopper, that.

I was crabby that night as I had to share a table with Aguirre, who then had a very confrontational relationship with my station (imagine that). But I wish I had lightened up a bit. Aguirre is back where he should be, practicing law. I’ll keep taking his calls if he’ll take mine.

PS: The SD Union Tribune DID do an Aguirre story today. Here it is.

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