By Norma Damashek / NumbersRunner
Act I: the State of the City Address
San Diegans are about to witness a full-dress reenactment of our town’s annual civic ritual known as the State of the City Address. Article XV of the City Charter lays it out: On or before the 15th day of January of each year, the Mayor shall communicate by message to the City Council a statement of the conditions and affairs of the City, and make recommendations on such matters as he or she may deem expedient and proper.
You can catch a live performance at 6pm this Wednesday, January 15th at downtown’s historic Balboa Theatre. Alternatively, you can kick back in the comfort of your own living room and watch it on City-TV.
Like most political rituals it’s an occasion for platitudes and cheerleading. San Diego mayors traditionally use the opportunity to bring in the color guard… special lighting… ministers… pomp and circumstance… to showcase their recent accomplishments and bright plans for the city’s future.
It’s a feel-good event — rarely the time for blunt assessments of the true state of the city’s fiscal, environmental, social, or economic health and well-being. It’s the time for lofty sentiments, optimistic forecasts, and a touch of political preening. Afterwards, there’s cookies and punch in the lobby.
What sets this State of the City Address apart from all others is that the official master of ceremonies of this year’s event will be a substitute, a stand-in, a person who doesn’t happen to be the mayor.
At this Wednesday’s big event the role of mayor will be played by the presiding officer of the City Council, Todd Gloria. He’s been filling in as the designated seat warmer pending next month’s runoff election to replace former mayor Bob Filner, who resigned from office this past summer.
You will remember that barely a year ago the freshly-elected mayor Bob Filner stepped onto the stage of the Balboa Theatre to deliver his first (and last) State of the City Address. In an ironic twist to a yet-untold complex and sordid tale, Filner was ruefully introduced as the “real mayor” by his political rival and inimitable scene stealer, Nathan Fletcher. To refresh your memory of that ill-omened event click here.
You’ll notice that smiling stonily (ominously? cynically? conspiratorially?) upstaged in the shadows sat Councilman Todd Gloria and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith – practiced political actors already working in tandem alongside other disgruntled bigwig players to ring down the curtain ASAP on this problematic, confrontational, threatening, politically liberal change-agent new mayor. Seven months later, sooner than they could have dreamed, they got their wish.
Act II: the “strong mayor” strikes home
It’s been almost a decade since the city of San Diego converted from a “city manager” form of government to a “strong mayor” system. The jury isn’t yet in on whether the switch was overall positive or negative, at least from the public perspective.
But one thing’s for sure – city government now operates within a denser, darker, sweatier, more testosterone-driven political framework than ever before. The full story about Bob Filner’s demise will one day attest to that. Meantime, the immediate aftermath of Filner’s rapidly-executed stoning gives us a tantalizing glimpse of what’s awaiting us in our adopted “strong mayor” world of cutthroat politics.
For starters, take a look at the City Charter “strong mayor” section regarding how to handle a vacancy in mayor’s seat:
During the period of time when an appointment or election is pending to fill a vacancy in the Office of Mayor, the presiding officer of the Council shall be vested with the authority to supervise the staff remaining employed in the Office of the Mayor, to direct and exercise control over the City Manager in managing the affairs of the City under the purview of the Mayor and to exercise other power and authority vested in the Office of the Mayor when the exercise of such power and authority is required by law. This limited authority would include circumstances where the expeditious approval of a legislative action is necessary to meet a legal requirement imposed by a court or another governmental agency. Such limited authority would not include the exercise of the power of veto or any other discretionary privilege which is enjoyed by a person appointed or elected to the Office of Mayor.
Now consider that over the past five months the presiding officer of the Council – Councilman Todd Gloria – artfully draped himself in the robes of the mayoralty to strut his stuff and mark his territory, ignoring with impunity the intent and limitations spelled out in the City Charter.
With a wink and a nod from the City Attorney, the District 3 representative crowned himself mayor and embarked on reorganizing city government in his own image. He hired, fired, rearranged, proclaimed, undid, reversed, and erased all traces of ex-mayor Filner’s popular reforms and political direction in an illegitimate exercise of “discretionary privilege.”
Our soon-to-be-voter-approved-next “strong mayor” will find himself saddled with a slew of officials, appointees, directors, restructured lines of authority, policies, decisions, and hidden alliances that will prove difficult to undo, modify, or control. Here’s a piece of advice that might prove useful upfront: be sure to check your new office for stray bugs.
Meantime, the Councilman who recently saw fit to tweet to the world “I look amazing in animal prints” will be flashing his dazzling smile onstage this Wednesday and using the State of the City event to cement his credentials as an oh-so-flexible politician destined to go places. We’ve had more than our share of quisling political opportunists in San Diego, so here’s another piece of advice that might prove useful: Todd Gloria, just fuggedaboudit.
Act III: our next best chance
In one year from now San Diegans will be watching a duly-elected mayor — either David Alvarez or Kevin Faulconer — on the stage of the Balboa Theatre deliver the State of the City Address with a message to the people about what the city’s been up to and where we ought to be headed.
Their messages would be vastly different from one another.
Why? because the masters of political strangleholds who have traditionally straight-jacketed our city are throwing their considerable weight in support of Kevin Faulconer.
And the proponents of good government and progressive change — having had a taste of what our city could and should be like — are flexing their newly-developed muscles in support of David Alvarez.
The political machinations in our city have become murky and devious but the best choice for the majority of San Diego voters is crystal clear: next year it must be David Alvarez on the Balboa Theatre stage in the spotlight delivering his State of the City Address.