Calling many of the claims of his opponent Paul McNamara “lies” and accusing him of running down the city, Mayor Sam Abed sat down with this reporter after Tuesday’s candidate forum for a no-holds barred take-down.
And if what he had to say during that forum (see our complete report on that meeting later this week online and in next week’s print edition) was scathing, his remarks as we sat at a table at the California Center while the staff cleaned up after the event, were enough to scald the hairs off a hog’s carcass.
The mayor was fighting mad as he ticked off everything that he said McNamara has said that are, he said “demonstrably” false. His opponent is painting Escondido as a failure, when it is a resounding success, he says.
First, he tackled the claim that the jobs the city has generated are nothing but “street fair jobs.” “These are new businesses. These are biotech jobs,” he said. “You have some street fair jobs but in the main we are talking about real jobs. Most of the new jobs are in the tech sector. We have recruited 2,200 new businesses created a total of 3,000 jobs. We have cut regulations to attract business. Our commercial and industry vacancy rates is one of the lowest in the County, 3-4 percent. We are a business-friendly city. ”
He ticks off some of the businesses that have located here under his watch, including Stone Brewery, headquartered in Escondido; 24-Hour Fitness, One Stop Systems, and Baker Electric, both of whose headquarters are in Escondido.
The city recently hired a study that showed it had improved in job creation. “The business parks are at the lowest level of vacancy,” says Abed.
Reacting to criticism that the city is too welcoming to development, the mayor argues that “home availability is a big issue.” If we can’t bring that down it’s going to become a crisis.” Escondido has one of the lowest average rents, but it’s still $2,000, he says. “We have attracted $2 billion in new investments to building affordable housing in the urban core. We are a desirable city and people want to move here. Everything Paul has said about this is false!”
Abed points out that he is a very mobile mayor. “We are a business-friendly city. I am the most engaged mayor this city has ever seen,” says Abed. “I go to almost all the events. I’m there. I’m very engaged!”
He addresses McNamara’s criticism that bragging about balancing the budget is moot since state law requires a balanced budget. “We don’t just balance the budget, we do it without draining our reserves,” he says. “We have structured the budget so that we spend what we make. There is a big difference when you do it without tapping your reserves.”
Abed has raised $225,000 in donations compared to McNamara’s $90,685. “I’m going to spend a big part of it. If you are in public affairs you need to raise money all the time,” he says.
He says McNamara’s criticisms of his donations ignore the fact that his challenger has taken eight donations of more than $2,000. “He criticizes the fact that our campaign limits are $4,200, but he takes advantage of them. Our limit is the state limit. If he has a problem with the limits why does he take larger donations? And a lot of his are from developers/landlords. They include Las Vegas Developments, Charles Runer Ventures, Florida Construction. All developers.”
Other donors Abed criticizes McNamara for include a donation and endorsement from former Mayor Jerry Harmon, whose good wishes he produced with a flourish. It reads: “Good luck to you and you have my undying support.”
Harmon, says Abed sneeringly, “is the mayor who put the city’s prosperity on hold for twenty-five years. That was why we went from the hub of North County to where we are now, while the cities around us prospered.”
Abed continues, “Paul took money from the ACLU and from donors in San Francisco, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Utah.”
Abed produces another endorsement. This one is by the Union -Tribune editorial board, which writes, “when he [Abed] talks of a ‘big transformation’ for Escondido, it’s tough to argue.”
The mayor is especially irritated by an article that appeared in the online publication Alianza North County, which is published by McNamara’s campaign manager, Nina Deerfield. The article was written three years ago by Wendy Wilson, who at the time the article was written was Director of the Escondido Municipal Gallery and Director of the Escondido Arts Partnership.
The article: “My Meeting with Sam Abed,” includes an inflammatory quote that Wilson claims Abed said: “When asked about his priority as mayor, Abed said his ‘personal finances.’” This quote is being used on election mailers sent out by the McNamara campaign.
Abed both denies ever meeting with Wilson and definitely denies the quote. “I never met her and I never said that.” He adds, “Wendy doesn’t live here. Why is she getting involved in our election?”
When contacted by the TA, Deerfield responded: “I was sent this article in 2015 and I have date-stamped emails from that time. I have also spoken with contemporaneous witnesses to whom Wendy spoke right after the meeting with Abed describing what was said.”
She added, “Perhaps Abed could look at his mayoral calendar for the months right after he was elected and find the appointment with Wendy. As Director of the Municipal Gallery she was required to meet with Abed.”
Continuing with his monologue on McNamara, Abed says, “He says he wants to bring about change. What does he want to change? Our success? I have never seen him at a Chamber of Commerce meeting once. He’s not involved with our business community.”
He continues, “We invested millions of dollars to create safer neighborhoods and a vibrant downtown. We paved 276 lanes of streets, 2.5 miles of sidewalks and completed a seven mile bike path. Would he like us to put it back?”
The mayor also pushes back at McNamara and critics who have attacked the sale of Parking Lot #1 to Touchstone. “We are not going to lose parking spaces. We are going to regain the parking spaces that we will lose there. Every project is required to provide parking spaces.”
He adds, “We need condos and the people they will bring to create the nightlife we need.” He scoffs at the claim that the city discourages businesses from staying open late. He says the city has granted a number of waivers to businesses on Grand to operate later.
The library’s outsourcing was bitterly opposed by many people. McNamara still criticizes how it was done. Abed declares, “Yet we will save $10 million over ten years. Of our 30 employees, twenty-nine stayed. All of our volunteers stayed. Now the library is more vibrant than ever before. The foundation board and board of directors are all with us because we are making the library a better library. McNamara opposed it because he’s a big union guy. His policies are Jerry Harmon’s policies that would make Escondido one of the worst cities ever. He would spend money we don’t have.”
He concludes, “The city is on the right track. McNamara is for sanctuary cities. I’m against them. It’s very disheartening to see Paul McNamara tearing down the city to become mayor. He’s a divider. I’m a unifier. I am returning the city to the rule of law. He puts the city down. I lift our community up. He’s a pessimist. I’m optimistic about our bright future.”