My Meeting with Sam Abed

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Most people in Escondido are not required to meet with the mayor. I had to and was outraged. The following account is all from one meeting with Sam Abed. It gives you a good idea of who he is and what drives his policies.

As the local arts agency representative, my task was to present data about cultural tourism in Escondido and North County.

At the start of my meeting with Mayor Abed, he told me right off…My first priority as mayor is my personal finances.

I could not believe he said that out loud. The mayor’s priority was his own personal finances… Is he serious? Our tax dollars go to serve him?

A Vacant Building on Grand

Prior to this meeting, when I was operating the city’s art gallery, a fellow came in who said he was a friend of Councilmember Abed. He said Abed told him a hotel was coming to downtown Escondido, so he was going to buy the building where the city gallery was located, then triple the rent…so he could make a lot of money. Well, it turns out the city gallery, the gallery that belongs to all the citizens of Escondido, couldn’t pay the high rent Abed’s friend wanted, so it was forced out.

It turns out no one else could pay his rent either (three times the market rate). Thus, the building still sits vacant, as it has for the past eight years. This vacant building on Grand Avenue was brought to you by the man who is all about his own personal finances.

Does not believe in public education or public libraries

More shocking statements from the meeting: Abed said, I don’t believe the government should sponsor public education or libraries.

Again, I was shocked by what I was hearing. Whoa…he doesn’t believe in public education? The government should not fund public education? Why? Isn’t this a really fundamental thing and a basic tenet of American democracy? In what century is this guy living? Does he only want certain people to have education or access to education?

It seems Abed’s philosophy is in direct conflict with what Horace Mann, the father of public education believed, and what most Americans believe: Mann hoped that by bringing all children of all classes together, they could have a common learning experience. This would also give an opportunity to the less fortunate to advance in the social scale and education would “equalize the conditions of men.” Moreover, it was viewed also as a road to social advancement by the early labor movement and as a goal of having common schools.

Luckily, as mayor of Escondido, Sam Abed has not been able to close our public schools, but the library in an economically depressed part of town was permanently closed.
(Editor’s note: This piece was written before the Escondido Library was privatized.)

Opposed to Women in the Workplace

Another quote from Abed…I don’t think women should work.

I could not believe it. He had just been elected mayor and seemed almost high on power. I don’t know why he chose to tell me that. Was I supposed to be intimidated? It was not a surprise to me (after this meeting) when the mayor took office and got rid of the two high-ranking females at the City. He also immediately cut funding for female run non-profits in the city providing services to the community.

Despite Abed’s opinion, it has been illegal to discriminate against a person because of their gender for several years now. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

As an aside, if you have been the subject of discrimination by people like Abed you might be interested in reading a speech by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard which raised the issues of “sexism and misogyny” in a government. She also started the Global Partnership for Education Institute, which offers advice on how women and girls can overcome discrimination based on Gillard’s own experiences of gender discrimination. Gillard was the first and, to date, only woman to hold the positions of Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister, and leader of a major party in Australia.

Open Space and “Nature” are not a priority

During this first meeting, Abed continued to talk about his dislike of “open space.” If you see him, please ask Mayor Abed about “nature” or “open space.” It will be an eye opener, especially in North County where we love our vistas, vegetables, farming, lagoons and trails. He also rambled on about federal programs that he doesn’t have any say over, but he wants a say.

In case you were wondering where all the funds from these cuts would go…he didn’t mention returning money to taxpayers for all of the services he wanted to cut or has cut. In fact, he gave himself a raise soon after this meeting.

What “spending on the arts” really means

Before I moved away from Escondido, I heard Abed tell a large group of people that he spent more money on the arts than any other mayor in North County. Just to clarify: the city is required to maintain the Center for the Arts, meaning they must fix the plumbing and pay the utility bills and such. He views this as “art support.”

On the contrary, this is just a contract Mayor Abed cannot legally break. This is not “support” for the arts but merely building upkeep. Among his arts funding offenses, Abed refused to match National Endowment for the Arts funding for arts programs and artists in the city as well as cutting all funding for the Local Arts Agency and Municipal Gallery.

As mayor of Escondido Sam Abed has additionally reduced funding having to do with preserving the history of our region, arts and culture, job resource programs for high school students, as well as community services and education programs for children and seniors.

I think and “feel”(as he likes to say) that he is a terrible representative of anyone but himself.

Wendy Wilson is the past Director of the Escondido Arts Partnership, Escondido Municipal Gallery. She is the past curator of Niki de Saint Phalle, Mythical California and Contemporary Constructions, Matthew & Iris Strauss Family Foundation.