Goldsmith unseats Aguirre as S.D. City Attorney


Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith has toppled controversial San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre from office with a resounding victory at the end of a bitter race, final election returns showed today.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Goldsmith has 59.5 percent of the vote compared to Aguirre’s 40.5 percent.

Both candidates went home Tuesday night without conceding defeat or

declaring victory.

At an election party at the Westgate Hotel, Goldsmith said he ran “an honest campaign’’ and asserted that voters recognized there was “no blurring’’ of his views versus Aguirre’s.

The race was nonpartisan, although Goldsmith is a Republican and Aguirre is a Democrat, and the challenger said it appeared that many Democrats has crossed over to vote for him.

“The office is based upon the law, not politics or partisanship,’’ Goldsmith said.

Without declaring victory, he said that if he wins, his top priority would be to “earn credibility.’’

He also said he would meet with the city attorney’s lawyers and staffers two weeks before being sworn in.

“This is not a meat axe to destroy,’’ Goldsmith said. “This is a rebuilding process.’’

Aguirre held a news conference outside a downtown San Diego restaurant as the first ballot counts came in, but could not be found later in the evening.

He noted that it was shaping up as a good night in general for Democrats, with Barack Obama being elected president.

The city attorney’s race pitted an incumbent with a populist reputation against a judge who pledged to be less of an activist and to focus on the office’s core functions of advising and representing city officials.

Since taking office in 2004, Aguirre has launched numerous investigations and lawsuits, in the process alienating many city officials, including City Council members, the mayor, the police chief and union heads.

Goldsmith, on leave as a San Diego Superior Court judge, made returning the focus of the City Attorney’s Office to legal matters, not politics, a central theme of his campaign. He accused of Aguirre of pandering for headlines instead of following the letter of the law.

Goldsmith said some of Aguirre’s lawsuits were frivolous and charged that the city attorney spent tens of millions of dollars to hire outside attorneys.

Aguirre finished second in June’s primary election, garnering 29 percent of the vote to Goldsmith’s 32 percent. There were three other candidates vying for the office in the primary, and since no one won a majority, a runoff election was held.

The city attorney’s tenure has been storied.

Aguirre battled over the past four years to reverse pension deals he maintains were granted illegally and contributed to San Diego’s more than $1 billion retirement fund shortfall. Last year, a judge threw out Aguirre’s lawsuit. An appeal is pending.

Aguirre’s investigation into the construction of the Sunroad office tower adjacent to Montgomery Field deemed too tall by the Federal Aviation Administration led to the building’s height being reduced.

The contentious debate over the building prompted Aguirre to label some city officials, including Mayor Jerry Sanders, corrupt.

The city attorney sued major home lender like Countrywide and Washington Mutual in an attempt to halt the spread of foreclosures stemming from predatory lending practices in San Diego.

His office recovered more than $20 million in fees charged by consultants hired to help San Diego out of its fiscal problems. He also got a $150 million verdict against the city overturned in a lawsuit by South Bay developer Roque De La Fuente.

However, Mayor Sanders and police Chief William Lansdowne recently said Aguirre was “reckless’’ for suggesting that the entire city be evacuated during last year’s wildfires.

Sanders also said Aguirre exposed the city to lawsuits when he suggested municipal water lines were to blame for a landslide that damaged or destroyed nine homes and left a gapping hole on Mount Soledad.

Aguirre asked voters to let him continue his role as an “independent’’ city attorney.