October 31, 2008

Whitburn looks to shake up city hall

By Daniel Muñoz

Voters in District 3, City of San Diego, will be choosing a new city council person this coming Tuesday to replace the incumbent and termed out council person - Toni Atkins. Voters have a choice between two very qualified and well liked members of the community in Stephen Whitburn and Todd Gloria.

Both Whitburn and Gloria are Democrats and as a testament to their qualifications and support both seemingly have split the Democratic Party endorsement list right down the middle which is a sign of their strengths and the just how tough a decision this is going to be.

Gloria’s endorsement list demonstrates more of the establishment type including a sweep of the law enforcement establishment, but his politics reflect a progressive style.

Whitburn also has an equally impressive list of endorsements from the Democratic Party including Congressman Bob Filner, Donna Fry, Dolores Huerta, Gracia Molina de Pick to name a few and is viewed more as outside of the good old boy circle and who has shown a penchant to question the motives of the establishment types.

Both candidates are young. Both candidates are well versed on the issues. Both are enthusiastic. Both candidates have a broad section of support. Both are Gay candidates. But it was only Stephen Whit-burn who requested an interview with La Prensa San Diego.

Whitburn, who is 44 years old, was born and raised in College Station, Texas. He attended the University of Wisconsin where he majored and received a double degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish Language.

We asked Whitburn, where his inspiration to serve comes from?

My dad (a college professor) was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and as you can imagine College Station, Texas, a conservative place, the ACLU was not the most popular organization. I was really proud of him for standing up for what he believed in and for standing up for everybody’s rights. I came away with that, you stand up for what you really believe, even if it is not popular.

How did you end in up San Diego?

After college I went on to a career in journalism. I covered city government in Albany, New York and in Madison, Wisconsin. I did news for 18 years. After covering city government and elected officials, I felt that number one, I wanted to have an opinion because I had very strong beliefs and I felt restrained from expressing them as a news caster. And number two I had seen government work well and I had seen government work poorly and I really felt like I had something to contribute.

I decided I wanted to change careers and as much as I liked Madison, I knew I didn’t want to live there the rest of my life. I did a lot of research and San Diego just came out on top.

I came out here in 1998, stayed in San Ysidro and visited the communities of San Diego and fell in love with San Diego. I moved to San Diego permanently in 2000.

Once in San DiegoWhitburn quickly engrained himself into the community. He went to work with the Red Cross in Public Affairs. He joined the San Diego Democratic Club, became its president and was reelected twice to that position. He is in his second term as part of the North Park Planning Committee.

What finally motivated you to run for office?

I have been involved with the local political scene in my eight years. But it was the condo conversion issue and the hardships it brought about that got me involved. I went down to city hall and testified about the challenges people face. About a week later I was in Albert-sons and a woman there says to me ‘I saw you on TV’. I am thinking, were did she see me on TV at. She told me that I was on the city council station on cable and she starts to tell me her problem with her condo conversion.

While she is talking with me it is pretty clear that English was her second language so I ask her if she preferred talking in Spanish and her face lights up.

She told me her story about being forced out of her home and how she is going to have to move in with her mother in North California. But she says she is one of the lucky ones. There is another woman who has lived in that building for 30 years and is afraid she is going to end up homeless, out on the streets, she doesn’t know what she is going to do!

That so moved me about the real impacts that some of these situations have on people. And, I wouldn’t have had that conversation if I wasn’t able to communicate with her in a way she felt comfortable. That is one of the reasons I feel suited for District 3. The district is majority Latino many of which may speak no English or little English I can communicate with them and I will have council office that people can relate to both in form and in substance.

What are the issues of the district?

When I talk with folks in City Heights public safety is a huge issue, in particular the gang problem.

There are a lot of moms who are desperate to keep their kids out of gangs and that goes hand in hand with the school system. I am a strong believer that the city should partner with the school district and develop long term plans. Stronger neighborhoods and good public schools go hand in hand which in turn addresses the gang issue.

In solving the issue of gangs you have offered a wide array of programs that the city should provide. The problem is that the city does not and will not have the money to fund these programs and in fact will be looking to cut back expenses such as the after school programs and the hours at the community pools. How do you propose to fund these and other programs?

The city is in big trouble because it has not prioritized its quality of life issues. Let me give you an example. CCDC (Centre City Development Corp.) is sitting on millions of dollars that they want to keep in-house. The city council can do something about that. I will be an advocate for insisting that CCDC take over the convention center bonds for the downtown ballpark, funds which would then free up city monies to fund these quality of life programs.

I have called for the CCDC and SEDC (South East Development Corporation) to be dissolved and folded into the city’s redevelopment agency. Those two agencies were setup outside the city’s normal process for review and accountability and when you set up structures like that, without proper oversight, you invite corruption. There are people that say all you need to do is tinker with the agencies and put better people in there, but there is a structural flaw and that is an area where my opponent and I differ. He feels that we can leave those two institutions in place and make changes that will make them better. I disagree. I believe it is a fundamental structural flaw and that we need to improve the accountability.

There are other areas that we can find the funding for quality of life choices. Take NTC (Naval Training Center) site. We essentially gave away that land. If you take the money we could have gotten from a fair sale of the land, do you know how many youth programs and neighborhood libraries that would have paid for? That is the kind of thing we need to stop in this city so that our tax dollars are being used on the programs that will improve the quality of life for the people of this city and that is why I am running!

I take an enormous amount of pride in the fact that my campaign has been funded by neighborhood activist, by pro-gressives, by retirees and by teachers. By people who genuinely want to change city hall. In contrast my opponent in the latest financial report five members of the McMillin family (who received the NTC land through what is considered a sweet heart deal) contributed to my opponent; four members of the CCDC have contributed to my opponent. People give money, especially developers; they are giving money for a reason. There was a story a while back that my opponent received more money from registered lobbyist than any other candidate in any race. So when I am elected I will be free to vote my conscience and stand up for what I believe in.

Standing up for what he believes in, win or lose Stephens’ father will be proud that his son knows what is important in life -- believing in ones’ self and one’s principals.

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