San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s phone has been ringing a lot lately: the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, Fox, Vanity Fair and mayors from Los Angeles to Louisville.
Reed ran for mayor in 2006 with an unremarkable budget-balancing agenda for a city perhaps best known in song as a place you might not know the way to, even if it is the nation’s 10th largest.
Now his sweeping pension reform measure has put San Jose on the national map with its overwhelming voter approval this month, drawing interest from city officials across the country who see Reed as a leader in grappling with a national epidemic of employee retirement bills that outpace revenues.
“It’s being watched closely,” said Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky. He leads a U.S. Conference of Mayors committee looking at pension problems, and called going to voters for pension cuts that unions refused a bold but “realistic” move. “You’ve got to change something here or you’re going to go out of business,” he said.
National publications touted Reed’s measure, a similar one in San Diego and the failed recall of Wisconsin’s governor as signs of voter backlash against unions resisting cuts to generous government perks. A Vanity Fair piece featured Reed with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the fire chief in bankrupted Vallejo as leaders struggling with governments that promised more than they can now afford.
Reed, 63, with two and a half years left in office,
admits the eye-glazing matter of pension reform wasn’t his top choice for leaving a political mark. Politicians like to leave things for people to admire, like his predecessor who built the new City Hall with its landmark glass rotunda.
Reed opposed the new building over its high cost.
But when asked why he’s taking point on efforts to pare back public employee pensions, Reed hearkens back to his Vietnam War-era military career in the U.S. Air Force, something that has shaped his persona.
“Duty, honor, country,” Reed said in is top-floor office, where the Air Force theme resonates.
“I didn’t pick this as a reason to get involved in government,” Reed continued. “But it landed on my desk, and I have to deal with it. I want to hand off a City Hall that’s fiscally sound and solid to the next mayor.”
Reed’s critics include the city’s unionized workers, retirees and fellow Democrats who have long linked arms with organized labor and see Reed as a Republican in donkey drag. To current and retired city workers, he’s like the government leaders who broke treaties with tribal chiefs.
“It takes a certain mayor and City Council to say we’re just going to renege on what we promised people,” said Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. “They don’t have a whole lot of honor.” read more…