The writing on (and off) the wall: The audacity of Bill Walton (San Diego mayor, ’24)

Tom Hoffarth /

As a general rule, retired sports-folk who still have celebrity draw shouldn’t assume that makes them a qualified candidate to run for political offices.

Herschel Walker and his clumsy pursuit of Georgia’s U.S. senate seat running on the platform that he’s a former Georgia Heisman Trophy winner and has all the endorsement entrapments that come with it could end up as lasting teachable moment.

Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach and now senator in Alabama, has become a symbol of corruption and self-interest. He’s no Tom Osborne.

Bill Walton, on the other hand, could tap into his UCLA social justice roots and manage some major mayhem as the mayor of his own San Diego — and perhaps school others how this kind of thing can activate community support.

The Voice of San Diego – that’s a publication, not a new nickname for the Big Red Head — recently explained how Walton has been so upset with the homeless crisis in his neighborhood that he’s been sending missives to current San Diego mayor Todd Gloria.

He feels betrayed. He feels the mayor has failed the city, and himself.

An Instagram post shows a collection of those who appear homeless with the text: “@toddgloria please give us our park, our bike paths, our neighborhood, our community and our lives back …”

He has followed up: “Sadly, and with a broken heart, I can no longer say that my hometown of San Diego, is the greatest place in the world, I can no longer say that SD is a safe, healthy, clean, and beautiful place, I can no longer urge my family, friends, tourists, and businesses to come to SD to live, work, and play … I can no longer say that our neighborhood for the last 43 years is still my dream, I am brokenhearted, Mayor @toddgloria —clean up our city, and let us reclaim our lives, we must fix our homeless crisis, we need engagement, rehabilitation, and constant enforcement, and we need it now.”

The Voice of San Diego followed up after Gloria responded on Twitter with a long list of posts, claiming progress has been made “the last few days.”

The VOSD original story explains that when Bob Filner resigned as San Diego mayor under a scandal in 2013, there was an undercurrent that Walton might consider challenging for his seat. He instead supported Gloria, a third-generation San Diegan who eventually left his seat in the state assembly and became the city’s 37th mayor in 2020.

The latest San Diego homeless count has surpassed 1,600. It seems there was about that number of folks predictably responding on social media with claims Walton is showing NIMBY tendencies of the out-of-touch privileged elite.

They don’t know Bill Walton.

“It’s easy to say that Walton is wrong for devaluing the situation that homeless people are in,” writes Sean Keeley for The Comeback, “and it’s easy to say that Walton is right and that the homeless should be shipped out of town to … wherever. Somewhere in the middle is an honest and ongoing conversation that many major cities are having about what to do about this complicated issue.”

A conversation we’re sure Walton would be ready, willing and able to lead.

Those running for the current open office of Los Angeles face the same challenges in trying to amplify what plans they might use to address those living on the street. This isn’t an issue to be taken lightly. It affect so many cities in California. Gloria has been knee-deep in it.

“No one’s happy to have to do this,” Gloria said earlier this summer as he discussed ticketing people who refuse shelter. “We’re doing everything we can to provide people with better choices than the street.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s top homelessness adviser, Jason Elliott, told Politico it was “impossible to say” if the state had sufficient short-term shelter for everyone living outside and conceded that “we don’t have enough money to afford a home for every person who experiences homelessness.” But he argued the state could and should move swiftly on “the most unsafe” sites, calling it a first step to help people.

Walton comes from an historic UCLA athletic indoctrination of stepping up for social justice causes. Not just complaining, but taking action. During the pandemic, for one small example, he got on his virtual bike and rode to raise funds, calling it “an inter-galactic initiative.”

When he speaks — despite the opinions of those who become frustrated watching him on a televised college basketball game — there’s depth and context amidst the hyberbole. Our frequent attempts to dig deeper into his soul have led to meaningful discussions. Like here in 2013. Again in 2016. And here in 2018.

There’s a trickle down effect in his family. His kid once ran for California’s governor spot.

Nate Walton, the second of Bill’s four sons who played basketball at Princeton, was a first-year Stanford business school grad when the circus of a recall election came up in 2003. He became one of about 130 candidates because, why not?

Nate said he was working in New York city for a human rights group when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger announce on the Jay Leno show that he would run for the vacant Gray Davis seat. To be on the ballot, a candidate needed to secure 65 signatures of registered voters and pay a $3,500 fee (or, to avoid the fee, get at least 10,000 signatures). Bill Walton paid the fee so the then-25-year-old set out to collect the signatures.

“I couldn’t believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger could be governor of my state,” Walton told the Princeton Tiger website. “It shows how apathetic people are. I said I was 10 times smarter than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and my family told me to do something about it. .. To me, it’s an exercise in activism. I enjoy politics.” Walton, an Independent, got 1,697 votes to finish No. 47. It was about 20 spots below Angelyne, but well ahead of Richard Simmons. Schwarzenegger lapped the field. Perhaps we should not underestimate the power of a celebrity has sometimes.

If Bill Walton, a clear independent thinker, can be inspired enough to run, let alone walk in is orthopedic shoes, we’d love to be his campaign manager. Something must be working. His words have resonated already:

Walton is about as far opposite on the spectrum as Walker.

Or, Team Herschel as it says on his site, asking for money (click a button from $10 to the sublime $2,900 if you wish). Walker’s lower-the-expectations campaign on the idea that “I’m not that smart” may be his best strategy at this juncture.

That’s believable, and relatable to the constituents. At least he isn’t lying, and that’s a relief.

Walton is smart, reflective, sincere and — best of all to some — if this is a job he’ll take seriously and get behind full time, it could mean he’d have to give up doing ESPN or Pac 12 Network basketball games from November through March.

San Diego’s top job is open every four years – next up in 2024.

Feed the big man. Learn more about him. We won’t fail him.

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