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They Say Nice Guys Finish Last; Welcome to the Game, Tobiah

By Fred Dickey

Originally published May 20, 2012.

An open letter to Tobiah Pettus:

Tobiah, now that you’re officially on the ballot for mayor of San Diego, joining the major candidates, there are some things I must tell you as a follow-up to our interview. For openers, there are four chairs at this table, and you’re left standing. That might seem hurtful, but I mean you no harm. Remember, you choose to walk onto this stage.

To your credit, you outpersevered eight other candidates who disappeared along the way, including a guy who calls himself “Rob Girly Girly Harter.” For selfish column-writing reasons, I’m only sorry that ol’ Girly Girly didn’t also make the cut.

Typically, in looking for a mayoralty candidate who has nada-zip-zero chance of winning, the writer seeks out the kook, the loser who provides a guffaw in the morning paper with a quixotic platform. That’s not you. You’re serious.

But on election night, June 5, your four competitors will be in spacious headquarters strewn with papier-mâché streamers, balloons and other campaign clichés. The winners will be celebrating with champagne, the losers will use it to dull the pain. You, on the other hand, will be at home in Tierrasanta eating pizza with your wife and watching an old movie. There are reasons for that, which I will attempt to explain as we go on.

It’s pointless to ask a deep-under dog if he thinks he can win. What’s he to say? Instead, I asked your wife, Holly, a friendly elementary school teacher. She hesitated, then declared, “I believe he could get a lot of votes if people knew what a good man he is.”

Tobiah, you’re getting a taste of political reality. “There are only five candidates now,” you complained, “and I haven’t been invited to any debates or campaign events. I’m excluded from everything. The media has paid no attention to me. That’s not right.”

Well, I think that’s a righteous beef, but you haven’t played the game. You haven’t recruited and organized supporters or raised one dollar in contributions outside your family. Money is the mother’s milk of politics, as the pros like to say.

My impression is you’re a bright, well-meaning chap of 37. Your devotion to your wife and newborn son is lavishly proclaimed on your website. You’re a construction superintendent with a good education. You have my admiration for those things. However, it’s my grim duty to tell you that some of your ideas need to go back to the drawing board. Don’t feel singled out by that; a lot of what your major opponents say doesn’t pass the giggle test.

You want to get the homeless off the streets; OK, but wishing won’t put them in a warm bed. You need concrete ideas.

You want to fix up the streets. That’s good, but, again, you need a blueprint.​

You believe in some fine things — rebuilding infrastructure, fighting litter, supporting police, keeping the Chargers in town, protecting city workers’ pensions and many other things, including a pledge that “I will be your cheerleader.”

You write boldly, in large type: “There is no crisis in San Diego!” You might have a tough sell on that one, Tobiah.

In fairness, you didn’t have job-seeking campaign consultants circling your house or policy researchers eager to dig into musty files for stump-speech talking points. No fat-cat money was dangled on its strings in front of you. No, it’s just been you and Google and a keyboard.

You’re a go-getter with a warm smile. You put together an Internet search engine,, that shows some inventiveness, though its commercial potential is not apparent. But at least it might annoy Yahoo by the play on the name.

Some people might laugh at you and your preordained last-place finish, but by golly, you didn’t shy from the arena. Chutzpah may not always win, but it earns a nod and a smile.

You are being ignored by your four opponents. That’s not a compliment, but on the other hand, were you a threat, they would slice, dice, hammer and nail you. There’s some comfort in knowing that they’ll only be doing that to each other, so just relax and enjoy the show.

Flaws you may have, Tobiah, but that doesn’t mean your opponents are from some Lincolnian pantheon. There is Bob Filner, who may have tipped off something he keeps hidden by publicly cussing out a quivering baggage clerk and who, I personally think, is running for mayor because he was elbowed out of his congressional seat; Carl DeMaio, hated by those who see him as a ham-fisted union-buster on a quest to undermine pensions for beleaguered city workers; Bonnie Dumanis, who’s put lots and lots of people in jail, and who will either take over City Hall or prosecute it, but will always have her big fat public pension to fall back on; or Nathan Fletcher, who loved the Republican Party until it didn’t love back, and who may start campaigning in Marine camouflage any day now.

What each of those opponents has done is spend time at the wheel behind a government engine that sputters, clangs and sometimes runs out of gas, but generally lurches forward. You, however, haven’t yet earned your political driver’s license.

You tell me you’ve never been arrested, never gone bankrupt, don’t do drugs, don’t keep mistresses, don’t even have overdue library books, and I’m not going to fact-check you. However, in this election, you’re destined to be an afterthought because you haven’t yet accepted that you don’t earn the playing field without first mastering the practice field.

Some of these words may burn your ears, Tobiah, but you seem a nice fellow, and I do wish you well, so I owe you some parting advice:

If you want success in politics, start by ringing doorbells for your party, practice grinning and nodding every time a big-shot glances your way, run for a minor office, cozy up to money-guys with manicures and tailored suits. Then, who knows, we might someday call you a “major.”

Yes, you’re chasing a rainbow with a pot at the end, but in politics, that’s often a chamber pot.

A final word, Tobiah: You’re going to finish fifth in the June primary, guaranteed. But I wouldn’t at all guarantee that any of the other four is a better person than you.

Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at

© Copyright 2012 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.

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