Sunday, May 30, 2010

Interview with Kim Tran - City Council Candidate District 6

I interviewed Kim Tran today at a local Starbucks, at her son's request. My endorsement of Lorie Zapf generated a little heat due to Ms. Zapf's issues with a delinquent second mortgage and Kim Tran supporters feel that she is not getting the "love" from the Republican establishment she deserves. I got some comments and a request to interview Kim Tran, I think in part because of my criticism for her not debating that I said that I did not understand Kim's positions, because she had not made them clear publicly. She brought her campaign manager Robert Sutton and her son AJ Sutton.*

Before starting the discussion, she re-iterated her reasons for not debating, referencing the way Sarah Palin was made to look bad by the way her interviews were edited during the 2008 campaign. She said that she was not invited to the very first candidate forum and felt that she was being deliberately frozen out. She discussed that she was elected to the Republican Central Committee, with about 11,000 votes, even though she was not on any slate of candidates. She also mentioned that she was still involved in charitable work this week, including cooking ethnic foods for nursing home patients.

We then got into the questions:

B-D: What do you intend to do about the pension issues for city workers? Do you think bankruptcy is an option?

Tran: This is the big huge issue. Chapter 9 bankruptcy won't allow us to discharge pension obligations in bankruptcy. To qualify, we would have to spend spend $100 million in lawyers fees, this is a very costly option. I don't promise people a rose garden.

The employees expect to be vested in their pension, but it is a fund where the both government and employee are contributing and the money invested. In good times, the excess in the pension fund was used to pay for other projects. Now that the stocks are down, there is a deficit in the funding. We should make it so that city employees are fully funding their contributions. There is not any one solution, we can't just say, this is it. The labor unions are very powerful, so we have to be diligent and analyze our options and talk to everyone involved, and bring in the city attorney. We must negotiate a solution with all cards on the table.

People are concerned over the $75 million deficit. I will become your voice, I know your concerns. I am not owned by any group, I am independent, I have no string on my nose. My strengths are my ethics and my honesty. [ed. note, Ms. Tran was really animated by this point.]

People ask about contracts bringing in private entities [to perform city services.] This must be done openly. I supported the initiative that allowed outsourcing, but it has been stopped by this city council. I will bring it out, to allow it go forward. People have to list everything and negotiate, all parties involved including the city employees.

B-D: Your website says that police and firefighters are your priorities, however, their pensions are as much of a problem as other city workers. What will you do to reduce the cost of police and fire protection?

Tran: Safety of people are my priority. There are a lot of prisoners out of prisons, we must protect public safety. I do not want to cut firefighting and police. However, their pensions are part of the same problem as the all the city, they are not separate. I would deal with their pensions as part of the overall city pension problem. But the budget priority is public safety and firefighting. We could see about citizen patrols and other volunteer activities to reduce the costs. But people are telling me that other priorities are potholes and trash collection.

B-D: What are your priorities for city government?

Balancing our budget is number 1, it is a big and huge problem. The current city council is working hard already, but more work needs to be done. I would use the Independent Budget Analysts program to look in depth at all city programs. I will analyze where we can save work with all parties to review the budget. Right now, we have plans to build a huge new city hall, but can we afford it. We have to consider balancing the budget first.

B-D: If you could ask Lorie Zapf one question in a debate, what would it be?

Does she think she can proclaim herself as someone with fiscal responsibility, with a city budget so big, how could she be responsible, but cannot balance her own personal check book? Even though she was a leader of CALA, she has sued or been sued several (seven?) times, why? [Robert chimed in that the definition of a serious lawsuit is one you file, a frivolous lawsuit is when someone sues you.] Also, is she suggesting that some people shouldn't sue, for example over an issue like handicap access?

I have very ethical behavior. I knew about her [Zapf's] default in Nevada a long time ago, but I did not bring it out. I thought, a lot of people in San Diego are in the same situation, I didn't want to inflict a wound. [In the context of the discussion, I thought she was also saying not inflicting a wound in the Republican party.]
Now she has another default and continues her mismanagement. It might be a scam action to take a loan with intention to default, if the intent is not to pay it back. Strategic default is a scam. In Nevada, there is an allegation of rent skimming, collecting rent, but not paying a mortgage. Maybe or maybe not if this is a crime in Nevada. The people of San Diego need to make a judgment.

At the end of the interview, she talked about how proud she is of her family, including AJ who was with us. She has a daughter flying F-18s and thinks about her this Memorial Day weekend. She tells her family the same thing that she tells people she meets campaigning, to always fight and never give up. If she can just get people to open their eyes, we can solve our problems.

At the end of the interview, Ms. Tran asked me what I thought the priorities should be. I was a little surprised but had a ready answer.

1. Solve the pension issue by reducing the numbers of city employees. Keep a very close watch on the actual count of employees and keep that down.
2. Initiate the outsourcing that the voters approved. I know from personal experience as a federal manager that outsourcing can lower costs.
3. Don't spend any money on big projects we can't afford, no new library, no new city hall, no spending for a stadium.

My overall impression, is that Ms. Tran's heart is in the right place. She brings incredible energy to San Diego politics and due regard for fair process. I have to admit that I found her accent to be difficult to understand at times and this is a real issue for any political leader, because communications are such a big part of the job.

Given the controversy surrounding Lorie Zapf, am I changing my endorsement? I find this challenging. Clearly the Republican establishment has put their money behind Zapf (maybe that should be a warning), and it takes money to win the election. Also Zapf seems to have the right personality to take on the key issues. But the ethics issues look serious, and she and her husband have yet to take action that would clear them up.

I asked Mr. Sutton to take a picture at the end, my official photographer was unavailable. If he was, it wouldn't have looked like this.

AJ Sutton, B-Daddy, Kim Tran after the interview.

*That is how Robert Sutton and Kim Tran were introduced to me, Google search seems to indicate that Sutton and Tran are husband and wife.


  1. Kim Tran cowardliness to make statements, some true and some false, but never appear in a debate or forum is despicable. She wants to be the voice of the people and represent us, then why does she avoid every public event? I don't remember any tv reporters at the Serra Mesa town council, she could have come without fear of being misrepresented (like she is doing to Zapt).

    This is just one more example of why we need to support independents, democrats are to busy raising our taxes and republicans are to busy lying about each other to get anything done.

  2. Hey B-daddy, Kim Tran had this to say about her accent:

    "At least my Accent is better than Governor Schwarzenegger's! And I can also spell 'potato,' unlike Dan Quayle in 1992!" =P

    As for the 'Anonymous' comment above, Kim Tran is the most independent candidate in this race, and she has been nothing but honest. I'd like to know what false statements you are referring to, because I don't know of any. And I've been working for Kim Tran's campaign for a while. =)

  3. B-Daddy, thanks for doing this.

  4. Kim Tran can and should be proud of her Vietnamese heritage.

    America, thank goodness, is still the world's "melting pot".

    It's strong, caring, and intelligent people like her that set an example for the rest of us. She's clearly an honest broker with no political or ethical baggage to slow her down.

    She is by far the best person to represent those of us who live in Clairemont and Linda Vista on the City Council.

    When you look around, you'll see that Asians as a group have a level-headed sensibility that we could all learn from -- and I'm speaking as a 66 year old native mid-western born American and 33 year resident of Clairemont.

    Many of the best students in our schools and colleges are Asians. Why is that, do you suppose?

    It's because Asians have the culture that we once did and seem to have lost: Work hard and play hard.

    Kim Tran would work hard, help keep the playing field level, and maybe re-ignite sensibility in our City government that has been lacking for a generation.

    So who cares about her accent? It has a nice sound to it, frankly.

    Having said that, I suppose in order to maximize her effectivness in public office, she might want to consider taking an accent-reduction class if she wins.