Kostrinsky says council members should mediate disputes

Mat Kostrinsky's campaign shirt outlines the silhouette of Cowles Mountain

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO–A city council candidate learned the ins and outs of government for eight years serving on the staff of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.  He also worked for the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and later for the Service Employees International Union.

As a result, Mat Kostrinsky, 41, says he has seen from a variety of perspectives many of the problems with which the city must grapple.  The key to being a good officeholder, he says, is a lesson he credits Sen. Feinstein with teaching him:  try to bring opposing sides together in a fair, workable compromise that is a win-win for them and is good for the rest of the people as well.

Kostrinsky, son and stepson of Cynthia and Arthur Birnbaum,  graduated from Patrick Henry High School and continued on to San Diego State University, where he initially thought he would train for a European-based career in international relations. However, during his senior year, he was selected to be an intern in the Washington, D.C. office of Sen. Feinstein, an opportunity that led to a full-time job working on constituent affairs., first in Washington, and later in the San Francisco and San Diego offices.

U.S. Senators must work on a great number of issues, so staff members are assigned to various specialties.  For Kostrinsky, those were military matters, particularly the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, from which San Diego emerged with a net gain of personnel; veterans affairs, and the U.S.-Mexico border.

A fond moment for Kostrinsky  came when Sen. Feinstein was expecting a phone call at her office from the Premier of China.  As Kostrinsy had phone duty that day, she rehearsed him with a few words he could say in Chinese as he transferred the call to her.

Another came when he was trying to decide what synagogue to attend in the Washington D.C. area for High Holiday services.  Feinstein said she would “talk to Joe,” meaning U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., who was the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president.  Trouble was , Lieberman is Orthodox and Kostrinsky grew up in a Conservative congregation, and now is a member of a Reform one.  He eventually found a synagogue in the national capital on his own.

As a boy, Kostrinsky was a member of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego, and later, after his marriage to the former Jennifer Simkin, they became members of Temple Emanu-El.  His two sons,  Hank and David, both attended Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School, and Kostrinsky has been active in the Jewish community in a number of other ways.  For example, he was involved in the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee, particularly its Latino-Jewish Coalition; was social chair for the Young Leadership Division of Jewish Federation; served on the board of Jewish Family Service, and was involved with the local AIPAC chapter.

He also has been active on the Navajo Community  Planners, and says he has utilized skills he learned as a staff member to Sen. Feinstein to help various groups in San Diego to attain their goals.

San Carlos, Del Cerro, Allied Gardens and Tierrasanta comprise a portion of San Diego’s 7th Council District for which Kostrinsky is one of four candidates in the June 5 primary.  Although the race is technically non-partisan, he is the only Democrat in a district with a razor-thin Democratic edge and a large number of independent voters.  Other candidates are Scott Sherman, Rik Hauptfeld and Nathan E. Johnson.   The seat became open following councilmanic redistricting which led to the incumbent, Marti Emerald, deciding to run in the new 9th Council District

One mitzvah project often leads to another, Kostrinsky indicated as he recently discussed in an interview how his involvement in community projects has increased in the years since he has returned to San Diego.

On one occasion, people who were with the Crusader Soccer League told him at a Navajo Community Planners meeting that they would like to be able to use the Patrick Henry High School football field when it’s not in use.  Kostrinsky said he made a phone call to Patricia Crowder, the principal of the school, set up a meeting, and soon an agreement was worked out.

In passing, he said, the principal mentioned the high school’s desire to have a center for the performing arts built on campus, and he volunteered to help in that.  Former school board member Katherine Nakamura was a leader in that effort, but there was no love lost between her and a current school board member, Sheila Jackson.   According to Kostrinksy, many people felt that Jackson would automatically oppose the effort, but he said he was able to serve as a bridge to her.

Eventually, the school board, with Jackson voting in the affirmative, okayed an arrangement in which feeder elementary schools and junior high schools could donate part of their bond funds to Patrick Henry for the arts center, which they could use as well.

Another project which Kostrinsky hopes will come to fruition in the summer is a new playground on Murray Park Drive, for which he said he has helped to build a community consensus.  Next, he said, he wants to tackle finding a good location for a dog park–some place where people can have fun with their pets and which nearby residents will support.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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