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27 Sep 2015

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Mike Schaefer

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Mike Schaefer. Mike Schaefer.

Name: Mike Schaefer

Age: 77

Occupation: Former attorney, financial analyst, securities investigator, real estate manager and San Diego city councilman. Perennial candidate for offices in California and Nevada; he most recently came in 12th (of 14) in a Los Angeles City Council primary earlier this year

Interview: Phone

1. When you stand at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Road and Palm Canyon Drive, and look northwest, what comes to mind?

I’m at the (Welwood Murray) Library, and I might want to go in there and use computers, is my first thought. My second thought is: The stuff we’re debating that they’ve already got under construction, let’s finish it up! I’ve seen buildings that sit like skeletons for years, like the Fontainebleau on the Strip in Las Vegas. I want to see the stuff, whether we like it or not, developed. The people who spend a lot of time debating whether it should be there or not when the cranes are there, and they’ve got the approvals, and lots of money has been burned up in litigation—I don’t think that helps us at all.

2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?

I don’t really think our crime problem is as bad as people might think. First of all, the demographics of the valley, and the demographics of Palm Springs, don’t really include a lot of the people who are most essential with misbehavior—gangs, and things like that. Those are in larger urban areas. I once owned an apartment building in Los Angeles that had a couple of murders the last year I had it. We just don’t have that kind of stuff here. We do have some tragedies, and … police officers getting attacked, but overall, I think we’re doing pretty well. That’s not to say we don’t need more support of our police department. I go to Los Angeles every couple of weeks to run the Kiwanis Club in Hollywood, and I’ve become friends with Jim McDonnell, who (is) the sheriff of Orange County (Editor’s Note—he’s actually the sheriff of Los Angeles County), since Lee Baca. I have a personal rapport with him. He has 18,000 staff members, the largest police department maybe in the United States. I’d have no problem talking with him about our police problems and needs, and possibly get some of his officers who are shell-shocked with open crime and some of the things we don’t have out here—I’d get us a couple of officers to come out here to the desert. It would be a lot cheaper than getting paid in Los Angeles (because of the) intense tax they have there.

3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.

Out of the eight candidates for mayor, there’s only one who’s been a prosecuting attorney, and that’s me, and that’s another reason you need me at City Hall. Could I be more specific? I think (it is good) to give the councilmen a district. At large, they are not accountable to anybody. They have the same constituency as the mayor. If we had a council divided up into districts, and maybe a fifth or sixth or seventh councilman—we had seven councilmen back in 1938 and what were called wards; they each had their own territory—they would be able to have a strong constituency of their own, apart from the mayor. If Ginny Foat had had her own district, and she’d walked and knocked on everybody’s door, and hosted coffees and mixers and gone to graduations and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and all that kind of stuff, she would have a strong base of people within her district, and she could hold her own and not be so intimidated as she is by whoever’s mayor. I mean, I bet in five years of them both serving on the council, or how many ever years it’s been that Steve (Pougnet) was mayor, I don’t think she’s ever voted differently than he has on anything. That would not be the case if she’d had her own constituency, as a councilman should have. I was a councilman twice in San Diego, and I had my own constituency in District 8 … .

I’m going to appoint a charter-review commission that’s going to review all these things. … I want term limits. Let’s say you have no term limits. Well, the mayor can say, “Well, I’m going to be here forever, so you’d better do it my way.” 

4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?

The issue for the homeless is two-fold. One is to see that they have a little bit of assistance in figuring out what their rights are, (that they) don’t have legal council or certain entitlements under state law, or Riverside County—it’s more of a Riverside County problem, because the homeless here are also residents of Riverside County. We should explore that to reach the (Palm Springs homeless population of) 200 people, and as soon as that is done, I want to get them all a one-way bus ticket to Santa Monica, which is sort of the paradise for homeless in the state of California. They have more procedures and benefits and amenities, including a free lunch on Friday at City Hall. … I also want to give them a little bit of cash to motivate them to stay there and not return to Palm Springs. I think this is a win-win situation that will help the homeless and reduce our population of 200 homeless maybe down to a few dozen, because homeless are a great irritation to our tourist population, because (tourists) want to be in a little fantasy land without some of the problems of urban life, and I think we must be more sensitive to being tourist-friendly here.

5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?

That was my answer previously. I think it’s very important that we have a review of whether we should have four councilmen, or five, six or seven, as we had in 1938, when we were chartered as a smaller city. I think it’s very important that these councilmen have a district so they can develop their own political base. … If I have an issue over where I live, over by Vista Chino and Gene Autry, I don’t really have a councilman to go to. I have the mayor, or I have all of the councilmen, since they’re all elected city-wide. Once more, the councilmen don’t even have an office at City Hall, which is astounding. The first thing I’ll do as mayor is require each councilman to pick an hour a week that they’re going to be available, and my offices will become the council office.

6. If you were not running for this office, which of your opponents would get your vote? Why?

We have a number of really good opponents. I think I might vote for Mr. (Guy) Burrows, who’s a physician, and he’s had both a lot of good times and a lot of rough times in his life. I like Mr. (Rob) Moon, but I’m afraid of Mr. Moon, because he’s running for city manager, really. He vows he’s going to be here 30 days a month to run all the problems of the city, when really, we pay the city manager 300-and-some-odd-thousand dollars to do just that. … The mayor’s job is to get out of town a couple of times per month and bring home the bacon. The mayor has to go to where the convention decisions are being made, and in lockstep with our convention officials, make a plea and a pitch to see what we can do to host them. We have to go to the richer people who are doing development and let them know that this is a good place to invest. I’ve met with a lot of celebrities—you know, Canadians, movie stars; I got a street named once for Debbie Reynolds, so I know very well you’ve got to talk to these people about getting a second home in our city. Charlie Ferrell did a lot of that stuff, and so did Frank Bogert when they were mayor. That’s the kind of mayor I want to be—to be the chief cheerleader for the city, more than the mayor. The mayor’s a ceremonial job, to supervise our city manager and see that he does what we want, but we’re not the people who run the city.

7. A dear friend is in town for just one night, and asks you where to go for dinner. Where are you sending this dear friend?

I would take them to Melvyn’s. I would show them the wallpaper up there, which is pictures of all the famous people who Mel Haber has entertained over the years—President Gerald Ford, Bob Hope, you name it. They’re very good, very gracious; the food is outstanding. It’s one of many fine restaurants in our community. And I would tell them I wish they’d bring back the Chart House, which used to be (in Rancho Mirage) off Highway 111, which burned down. But until that happens, we’d have the one night there, and probably go to Elmer’s the next morning, or one of my favorites, Sherman’s.

8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).

I said in my interview that night at the American Legion: I’m going to try to get us a White Castle. … We can always use good restaurants. I guess I might pick some national chain that’s not here, maybe The Prime Rib steakhouse. I go to The Palm a lot, too; that’s another national chain. Maybe we have enough high-end business here that we could put in a bid for that. These are the things the mayor, as cheerleader for city … these are things on his agenda.

9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?

Hands down, it has to be Coachella Music Festival. I’m very biased, because my son, Derek Schaefer, has been a leader in that for many, many years. He’s been with AEG Live for about nine years, and he’s a principal at Goldenvoice, which has a lot of interests in the valley. He’s a real professional of music management.

10. If the FBI was about to raid your home or office, which personal item would you grab to make sure it didn't get broken?

I would have my cell phone, which doesn’t contain any secrets; that’s the first thing I would grab. I don’t know that I have anything else that they’d be interested in, except my laptop; these are the ways I communicate with the world as a citizen. I really have nothing to hide. … You’re looking at a little bit of humor. I want you to know before I decided to run for this job, I contacted my friend Shecky Greene, who’s 89, who’s a landmark comedian who made as much as $150,000 a week performing in Las Vegas. I said, “Shecky, you’ve got to come out of retirement and run for mayor.” We’ve had famous mayors before like Charles Farrell and Sonny Bono; I said, “We need Shecky Greene.” I said, “I’d even design your signs. … They’d say, ‘It isn’t easy being Greene,’” courtesy of Kermit the Frog.

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