By Ken Stone
Sherman, the outgoing District 7 councilman, says he met with his District 1 counterpart a couple times before his announcement in late November.
Republican Sherman gleaned that Democrat Bry didn’t want him to run, but as his resolve not to run waned, “I let her know it was starting to fall back and there’s a chance,” he said in a recent interview.
Does he feel bad about essentially giving her a green light?
“Maybe a little,” Sherman said, interlacing and unlacing his fingers, “because it took me so long to get to the point where I decided to run.”
Now that Sherman is in the race — raising $140,000 in just two months — he’s campaigning as the candidate with “commonsense” cures to city ills.
Housing? Cut the costs of “middle-income” home construction. Short-term vacation rentals? Revive compromise efforts. Dockless scooters? “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Times of San Diego spent an hour Jan. 22 (see video) with Sherman at the downtown offices of his longtime strategist, Jason Roe.
The self-described Shermanator — actually “a name given to me by my fishing buddies” well before entering politics — expanded on an oft-told story on how he came to enter the race nearly a year after leading rivals Bry and Assemblyman Todd Gloria.
“All kinds of people” asked him to run, he said, including “the usual suspects” — party leaders and those seeing dollar signs — “consultants and pollsters, fundraisers.”
Sherman, 56, said he spurned appeals from county GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric right up until Thanksgiving.
Sherman and his wife, Norma Mouet, went camping.
On a desert trip Thanksgiving weekend, he said, they had a long chat about it, “and we both decided: ‘You know, I think we kind of have to do this. Or the things that I find important aren’t going to be discussed.'”
Public entreaties also played a role.
“For the last few months, every time my wife and I went out in public, literally [we’d] have two or three people come up to me and ask me to run,” said the Allied Gardens resident.
(One time, the Shermans were in Point Loma gassing up their 25-foot Harper’s sport fishing boat for a night on the bay when the captain of a sardine boat and a Harbor Police officer encouraged him to join the race.)
So out came the “common sense over nonsense” campaign — even though pundits said Sherman’s entry into the race (and potential to knock Bry out of a November runoff) — lacked strategic sense. It potentially greased the skids for Democrat Gloria to become the first openly gay mayor of left-leaning San Diego.
Although Sherman notes the race is nonpartisan, he welcomed the endorsement of the county GOP and business-boosting Lincoln Club (and their open wallets).
“I appeared before them and talked about why I was running,” he said of the Lincoln Club, populated with GOP heavyweights. “They decided to endorse me. They didn’t ask me for it.”
Sherman, a business owner for more than two decades (named local Insurance Agent of the Year in 2011), calls himself a fiscal conservative and social moderate who hasn’t considered leaving the Republican Party as Councilman Mark Kersey and District Attorney Summer Stephan have.
“I’d rather try to change the narrative from within instead of abandoning [the party],” he said. “I think there are some things that can be changed, but my core fiscal conservatism — that doesn’t change. That’s just who I am.”
When asked about Donald Trump, he treads carefully.
If President Trump flies into Miramar, would a Mayor Sherman greet him on the tarmac?
“I’ll have to make that decision at the time,” he said, then added: “I would probably do it because it’s protocol, no matter what [the] politics are.”
Asked whether Trump was guilty of any impeachable offenses, Sherman replied: “Those are the type of things that I think don’t need to be involved in city politics. … I look at myself more of the Ronald Reagan type model … more bang for the buck for the money you send to government.”
Siding with current Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Sherman called Trump’s five-hour border shutdown in November 2018 “a mistake. It cost us a lot of money for doing this.”
In fact, Sherman touts his understanding of border issues. He once traveled to Mexico City to lobby on behalf of American sport fishers — making it easier for them to get visas and permission to drop lines off the Coronado Islands in Mexican waters.
(“I’ve actually had the Mexican Navy stop me twice out of the Coronado islands fishing,” he said.)
Another reason for his Mexico cred: “My wife’s Hispanic. And her father migrated here from Sonora back in the day. I used to spend my summers when I was really young with my grandfather outside Rosarito. I understand a lot of those issues.”
But back to strategy. Sherman would need Democratic votes for the nation’s eighth-largest city to have back-to-back GOP mayors.
What’s his pitch to Dems?
“I don’t think common sense has a party affiliation,” he said. “I’ve had a history of working across the aisle, and when I think we can work together and make something happen — especially in the area of housing. [Former Councilman] David Alvarez and I were written up in The New York Times as the city’s odd couple because we were working together on housing issues.”
Sherman — despite facing a veto-proof Democratic supermajority if he becomes mayor — will continue his efforts to expand San Diego’s housing stock, saying: “It’s gotta be middle-income housing. We’re doing a lot on affordable and taxpayer-subsidized housing.”
He says 47% of the cost of building is government regulation and red tape.
“That makes developers build luxury units, and we have no place in the middle,” he said. “We have low-income density bonuses that work for affordable housing. Let’s do middle-income density bonuses.” (The city is starting.)
Referring to granny flats, he says: “If you look at all we did with accessory dwelling units, we just put in $800,000 to waive fees for people to actually build these things because it was taking more to [pay for permits] than it was to build them.”
He says applications for such build-ons went from zero in 2017 to 422 in 2019 as rules were eased.
“[Make] things incentives rather than mandates,” he said. “There’s a ton of things we can do to incentivize housing for that missing middle, so people can move up the economic ladder.”
Sherman disputes Bry’s argument that 16,000 housing units are off the market because they are being used for short-term vacation rentals.
Many are used as second homes, he said, and thus not for sale or long-term rental.
“They wouldn’t be available on the common market anyway. … Secondly, a lot of those homes she’s talking about … [are] in very, very expensive areas,” he said. “They’re not going to deal with our real problem, which is middle-market housing and affordable housing. This is luxury housing. It’s on the coast. … It’s not going to deal with our housing crisis.”
Declaring that “property rights are property rights,” he’s skeptical of limits on how many housing units someone can rent out. Sherman recounts a chat with someone he sees at a cigar shop.
“He owns three little vacation rentals (that) he’s owned forever,” Sherman said. “That’s his income. He and his wife are retired and they have no other income other than those little vacation rentals that they’ve had for decades.”
Amid the current standstill, Sherman says: “I think, eventually, if we can’t come up with a solution, … you’re going to have to have some kind of initiative to put on the ballot.”
In 2018, Sherman faced accusations that he stood to profit from short-term vacation rentals — since his father owns rental properties. But complaints to the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the city’s Ethics Commission were dismissed for lack of evidence of a conflict of interest.
“I have no investment in any of them,” he said in his first extended comments on the issue. “The assumption the people were making was: My dad has a couple of apartment buildings — and a lot of them they mentioned he didn’t even own. He may have a small interest in that type of thing, but he doesn’t actually own them.”
Sherman said critics assumed that if his dad died before him that he would have inherited the properties.
“But my dad always says: I’m spending it as fast I can,” he said.
Second, his accusers assumed he’d put in short-term vacation rentals in a piece of property he might someday own.
“If you use that same kind of logic, any council member who owns their own home — they’d have to recuse themselves because someday they may get a different house and open that one up to a short-term vacation rental,” he said. “It’s an absurd logic.”
By Sherman’s logic, dockless scooters also aren’t the menace Bry depicts.
“Give the regulations a chance to work before suddenly you start crying foul,” he says, noting that such no-emission devices help meet goals of the city’s Climate Action Plan.
“My staff uses them for quick trips … downtown,” he says, worried that a sector of the “innovation economy” the council backs “may be regulated out of being able to help.”
Sherman explains why he wasn’t part of the 8-0 vote enacting the climate plan: He was recovering from a total knee replacement.
(“I had four surgeries before that. Broke it playing football, and 20 years of martial arts did its damage. (Now) it’s wonderful. Best thing I ever did,” he says. “Six months after surgery, I was playing Over The Line.”)
He says he would have made it a 9-0 vote.
“My chief [of staff] was still trying to get me to council to cast my vote” that day in December 2015. “He wanted me to come in a wheelchair. I said nah, I think they’ll understand.”
His stance on whether climate change is human-driven requires some thought, however.
“I think it’s a combination of both — natural cycles and man’s intrusion on it,” he said.
Sherman has doubts about predictions that humanity has 10 years to dial back carbon dioxide emissions before major calamity.
“I don’t know if the 10 years prediction is absolutely set in stone because I remember many predictions during my 56 years on this planet that it was going to end in X amount of time,” he said. “But we do need to prepare for it.”
What would he tell young people wanting to know if he was he was doing the most to move the climate-change needle?
“I think that’s what the Climate Action Plan is for,” he said. “Here’s what we are doing. Here’s what you can do to help achieve those goals.”
Sherman and Bry, along with Faulconer, now see eye-to-eye on how to deal with the homeless issue.
Sherman says the city has spent a “ton of money on the compassion side of the homelessness issue” — on shelters, affordable housing and permanent supportive housing.
“But we’ve never really done a lot on the law-enforcement side of things — which can compel people to get help” for drug-abuse or mental health issues.
He takes credit for introducing homeless military veteran “Brian” to the mayor, whose story was mentioned in the 2020 State of the City Address.
“I introduced Brian to the mayor because he’s from the project down in the Zephyr project in Grantville,” Sherman said. “Brian came up to me and said: ‘Hey, thank you for breaking up the tents. … I was in those tents every day shooting meth in my veins. … If it wasn’t for you guys … forcing me to got to the shelter,'” he wouldn’t have found a caseworker and “benefits he didn’t know he has.”
Thanks to a sobriety program, Brian is “11 months clean and sober,” Sherman said.
Recently, Sherman and aides were dealing with an MTS issue behind the Zephyr project for homeless veterans.
“We looked over, and there’s a guy cleaning up trash on the edge of the river,” he said. “And [my staff was] asking him about it, and it turns out it was Brian. He (said) he was just giving back still. He’s well on his way to becoming a productive member again.”
But do enough drug and mental services exist to handle the need?
“That’s the issue we’re dealing with the county right now,” Sherman said. “It’s a jurisdictional thing and the county has been holding onto a bunch of money in those areas. That’s why I was very glad to hear about the mayor and Nathan Fletcher working on something to help free up some of those county dollars to provide those services.”
Another longterm issue looms: How can the city afford its employee pension debts?
With Proposition B and its 401K fix invalidated, Sherman was asked: Would you like to see a son of Prop. B?
“That may be the actual fix to live up to what the intention of the voters was,” he said. “Maybe it needs to go back to the voters with some clarity and a more defensible position in court.”
But first, if he becomes mayor, Sherman says he wants to learn the status of contract talks with municipal employee unions.
“If there can’t be a commonsense solution within the negotiation process,” he said, he’ll “go back to the public to fix it” with another ballot measure.
Before Prop. B, Sherman vowed during a City Council race he wouldn’t take a city pension. But now he’s in the 401K program.
And what if his chalkboard “countdown” clock to the end of his council term also spells finis to his political career?
Sherman says he’d join his wife and return to selling insurance — even though he sold his company, Fifth Avenue Insurance, to a “friendly competitor,” Snapp and Associates, 3 1/2 years ago.
“I have my own personal book of business — my clients I had way before, which I still get income as a commission” from, he said.
But he stays positive: “I think if people concentrate on what I’ve done and what I’m working forward to … I think there’s a very good opportunity to pull this thing off.”
Second in a series on leading mayoral candidates. Barbara Bry was profiled earlier. Todd Gloria has yet to respond to requests for an in-person interview.
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