By Ron Donoho / Photos by Rob Hammer
Likeable San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders spent 20 years as a cop, but during the bulk of his professional career he has seemingly been putting out fires.
Sanders retired as chief of the SDPD in 1999 to head up the troubled San Diego chapter of the United Way. In 2002, when the local Red Cross chapter got in fiscal hot water, he took over as chairman of the board. Three years later, San Diego’s mayor resigned mid-term, and voters picked Sanders to put things back on track.
Stick a fork in this guy’s political career. He’s counting the days until his term expires; talks to us candidly about city politics; and muses about his favorite restaurants and craft breweries, alt-rock bands and a not-soon-enough vacation to Italy.
How will you spend your last day in office?
It’s December 3. The new mayor will be inaugurated at 10 a.m. I will declare the rest of the day a vacation day and probably have a beer before 5 p.m.
Will you put your stuff in a cardboard box?
You’re going on vacation in Italy with your wife [Rana Sampson]. When and for how long?
We’ll go for three months starting in January. We’ll go wherever we feel like. We’ll start in Rome and go down to Sicily. We don’t have anything booked. We don’t know how long we’ll want to stay in any place.
Any job offers yet?
I am going to go back to work. Nothing in politics - I learned my lesson. Politics is enjoyable to some people, not to others.
What was your most difficult decision to make as mayor?
A six-percent compensation cut for city employees was something I really deliberated about...The gay marriage issue was a tough one. [Sanders’ daughter is gay, and in 2010 he tearfully and publicly reversed his stance on a state gay marriage ban.]
What prompted your “bulls#it” comment at a press conference when talking about mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio?
Well, I’ve been known for my language for quite some time. I did say, “Fu#k you, [Steve] Francis,” at a debate. I’m a cop. I’m not ashamed of my language. I try not to use it in public, and I think I’m pretty even-tempered about 99 percent of the time. Every once in a while I cut loose.
Why did you then endorse DeMaio for mayor?
I actually think he would be the best mayor, between him and that other guy [Bob Filner]. Carl is on the same page I am for fiscal reform and pension reform. I just think the other guy doesn’t have a clue as to what he is going to do.
You lost 96 pounds while you were mayor. Have the pounds stayed off?
Yes. I keep saying I’m trying to lose more. Once you decide you’re where you want to be, then you start gaining it back. So for me, I have to continue to keep trying to lose it.
What is your favorite local restaurant and meal?
We’re seeing a resurgence of neighborhood restaurants like Brooklyn Girl [in Mission Hills]. In Kensington, we go to Bleu Bohème and the Kensington Grill. I like the hamburger at the Ken Grill, and the beef stew at Bleu Bohème...I also like The Prado.
What’s your favorite local brewery, and beer?
I like them all. But I like Stone Brewing Company’s smoked porter a lot. I like all of Ballast Point’s beers. Green Flash is really good. I like to go to all the small breweries and try new beers.
We know you like Pink Floyd; do you have other favorite bands?
I listen to the same CDs I have in my truck, or I put together playlists on my iPod. And I have Bose speakers I hook up to my computer at home and play music in my backyard. I like alt-rock - Angels & Airwaves, Okkervil River. I like The Shins’ new CD. I mix that up with Yes and Pink Floyd and Rush. It drives my wife nuts.
What does she listen to?
She likes rap. And hip-hop. She listens to Eminem and some of those, and it makes me crazy... My own new favorite, though, is LMFAO. They are just a hoot. Have you seen that “Wiggle” video?
Are you Gangnam Style?
My wife just played that for me the other day. She said we have to learn how to do that Gangnam dance. And I said, “Oh, yeah, right.”
What advice do you have for the next mayor?
Don’t take yourself too seriously. And hire good staff.
A Walk in the Park
Mayor Jerry Sanders was included in a music video called “Jackin’ It in San Diego” on an episode of “South Park” that spoofed the nude, ranting, masturbatory meltdown of the co-founder of San Diego-based charity Invisible Children . (Look for it on YouTube.)
“When it came out, I didn’t know about it,” says Sanders, who now has a framed screen shot of his animated depiction sitting on a shelf in his office. “I went into Starbucks, and the kid at the counter says, ‘You’re a star now. You were on ‘South Park.’ I came down to the office, and somebody showed it to me. It was hilarious. My daughter said, ‘Dad you need to get out of politics right now. You’re never going to top today.’”
And this bird you cannot change
Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd - the long-hairs responsible for the 1973 rock mega-hit “Free Bird” - released their 13th studio album, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” in August.
PacificSD’s hope for America’s Finest: that the straight-shootin’, soon-to-retire Jerry Sanders (pictured here with one bird free) isn’t the last of his kind, and that the next mayor of San Diego can fill at least one of his shoes.
Hats off, Mr. Sanders. You’re as free as a bird now...or at least you will be December 3. Hope you don’t catch too much flack for this one at the office in the meantime.
If I leave here tomorrow,
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now,
‘Cause there’s too many places
I’ve got to see.
But, if I stayed here with you, girl,
Things just couldn’t be the same.
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you cannot change.