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Politically Speaking

We talk with Gene Cubbison
Politically Speaking

Gene Cubbison illustrations

Gene Cubbison

He’s covered seven mayors over the course of his 40-plus years in journalism, the last 30 at NBC 7. With a special election approaching, Cubby talks about the shifting electorate, bad mayors, and Twitter.

Has San Diego had more than its fair share of “bad mayors” in the last 20 years? Four of San Diego’s last eight mayors were, in some way, tied to scandal or ineptitude—and another gambled her way into scandal long after leaving office. The Los Angeles Times recently awarded only one of our last 10 mayors an “A” grade: Pete Wilson.

Do Twitter and Instagram feeds help us learn more about candidates or distract from the issues? On the upside, they allow for rapid, deep-drill research and timely communication with sources. On the downside, there’s demands to slog through swamps of campaign spin and speculation. Information (or pseudo-information) now comes at the speed of light. Wisdom takes its own sweet time.

Twitter: hate it or love it? Twitter has become an inviting outlet for people to say impulsive, rude things in a digital “public square” that they wouldn’t dare say to your face. Twitter’s finest hours are when it transmits vital information in times of crisis. I’ll probably get flamed by indignant Tweeps for saying this.

Is it different covering the city’s electorate today than it was 20 or 30 years ago? No question, it’s different. The numbers show San Diego is becoming more “Blue State” in orientation. The percentage of voters registering as independents is on an upward trajectory. Demographers tell us that over the next few decades, the “transplant” dynamic of the region will give way to a “born-here” trend.

How do the leaders and power players of today compare with those of the past? To the extent that it’s a relatively educated electorate, there’s a healthy degree of engagement—although in this “chill” Margaritaville social climate, the masses sometimes need special galvanizing. When it comes to power players, cracking the lineup now seems to be a more fluid process. Power these days looks as though it’s getting more widely dispersed.

What’s something most people don’t realize about your job? How radically labor-intensive and stressful it is. There’s a premium on “performance values” in addition to basic, solid journalism. It’s one thing to newsgather via phone and digital platforms. Getting people to go on camera, and give up their anonymity, can be iffy. Live on-location, we’re often left to just start our mouths moving and hope our brains catch up.

How much time do you spend out on assignment? Since “Politically Speaking” launched in 2008, I’m most likely to wind up at places such as City Hall, County Admin, and the courts, where the plotlines of that beat play out. But a lot of stories take me to unexpected, far-flung places. It’s a rare day that I don’t get out of the building for at least a couple of hours. A bag with [fireproof] Nomex turnouts is under my desk, and a full rain suit and boots are in a loft closet. Both sets of gear have been put to use this year.

There’s a palpable respect for your wisdom on air, despite your nickname, “Cubby.” What do you attribute that to? I also acquired the handle “Cub Daddy” when I would bring my two boys (now grown men) to the office on weekends while I went about catch-up work. Whatever my colleagues call me, I take seriously the idea that my work is both helpful to—and informed by—their work. As for “wise?” Please, don’t put that on me. The only wisdom I can pretend to is that I’m finally getting a clue about how little I really know—how much more there is to grasp about the stuff I cover and the world at large.

Does your family talk politics around the dinner table? My wife and I have been empty-nesters for a few years now, but when our sons come home from time to time and join us for dinner, politics will enter the conversation. Fortunately, our discussions involving politics have always been respectful and manageable. Even when forceful.

You have been reporting in San Diego since 1972. Any thoughts on retiring? I can’t imagine not working, if there’s some capacity out there where my skill set would be useful. Just don’t want to work myself to death, as did one of my mentors—the late, great Harold Keen. As the Joe Walsh song goes, “Life’s been good to me so far.” I’ve never quite grown up, so I’ve never grown old.

A  special election for San Diego’s next mayor will be held on November 19.

Visit to find your polling place. And catch Gene Cubbison’s “Politically Speaking” program Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on NBC 7.

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