By Doug Porter
Depending on who you talk to, the City Council’s 7-2 vote yesterday to elect District One’s Democrat Sherri Lightner as President over Todd Gloria was either a victory for evil reactionaries or the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Looking at the two Councilpersons voting records prior to 2014, there doesn’t seem to be much of an ideological difference. The San Diego Labor Council declined to endorse both Gloria (rated by them at 60%) and Lightner (54%) in the 2012 election. So what’s the big deal?
Today we’ll take a look at the debate this decision by the council has spawned and my best guess as to what the consequences will be.
Credit NBC7 reporter Wendy Fry, who broke the story about a possible council shakeup on December 1st.
Most San Diegans know Todd Gloria as the young, energetic Council President who stepped in and eased a tumultuous period in the city’s history, taking over as Interim Mayor in the wake of Bob Filner’s resignation.
But now, the popular Council President, responsible for getting the gears of City Hall to turn again and for colorful, bureaucratic phrases like “sexy streets,” is facing removal from the top spot on the council, which gets to set the agenda for what comes before the legislative body.
Sources close to both Republicans and Democrats on the City Council and at City Hall say there is definitely a behind-the-scenes campaign to have Councilwoman Sherri Lightner take over the presiding position on the council.
Councilwoman Lightner refused to talk to the press prior to yesterday’s vote. Gloria issued a statement saying “he would be honored to continue in the post and make more progress for the city through his collaborative work ethic.”
A Call to Stand Down
City Beat thought this was bad news for progressives, editorializing that Lightner should “stand down” and end her quest for the top job at the council:
We’ll cut to the chase: This is not good news.
There are nine members of the City Council. Each December, they vote on a new president, whose power comes from being able to set the council’s legislative agenda, choose what issues get to be discussed and voted on at meetings and assign members to committees, where the committee chairs wield considerable influence. It takes five members to choose a winning candidate for president. Next Monday, the council will comprise five Democrats and four Republicans. So, while the Republicans don’t have enough votes to pick one of their own, they have enough to pick the least objectionable Democrat, provided that Democrat agrees to vote for himself or herself.
For the Republicans, Lightner makes sense. David Alvarez, Marti Emerald and Myrtle Cole are strident liberals. Although Lightner was all-in on the big progressive policy initiatives in 2014, she’s comparatively independent and has voted with conservatives on occasion, drawing serious grief in the past from environmentalists and labor leaders. She’s also termed out of office in 2016 and isn’t a likely candidate for mayor, so Republicans don’t have to worry about boosting her clout.
Not so fast, said Scott Lewis at Voice of San Diego in a commentary titled “Why Should Sherri Lightner Stand Down?”
Yes, this move is a stunner. Nobody made a bigger deal of getting Lightner through her re-election campaign than Gloria. And that was at a time when labor and others remained deeply frustrated with her lack of total commitment on controversial issues. Republicans and their allies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to oust her in favor of her rival, Ray Ellis.
That she would join forces with them is definitely a surprise.
But loyalty works both ways. She obviously has a different view of government and the city’s priorities than Gloria. Perhaps she wants to get different things done in the next two years than Gloria does.
Had Lightner Gone Over to the “Dark Side?”
LGBT Weekly publisher Stampp Corbin editorialized in support of Gloria:
As you pursue the reported “coup” of a beloved member of our community, Council President Todd Gloria, rest assured that we will let our voice be heard. Resoundingly credited with getting the city through one of its most challenging periods after the Filner debacle and derisively called a “closet Republican” by some progressives, Todd Gloria has exemplified what it means to compromise.
Some of you will read this as saying “the LGBT community just wants to keep a gay council president.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I am sure that you are aware that our community resoundingly rejected perennial gay candidate Carl DeMaio twice. The LGBT community represents educated voters who exercise their right to vote thoughtfully, and who do not support someone simply because he is gay. Just ask DeMaio.
Activist (and SDFP contributor) Linda Perine joined the fray with an op-ed at LGBT Weekly:
Unless Lightner has gone even further to the “dark side,” the fact that Republicans are going to vote for her, for whatever nefarious purposes they may have, in itself isn’t particularly damning. All three Republicans voted for Ed Harris for interim District 2 councilmember, and he has been great.
As [City Beat editor David] Rolland points out, the presidency offers Gloria a platform from which to pursue his presumed campaign for Mayor in 2016. But then every decision, every move as Council president will be portrayed as driven by his personal political ambition, and there will be truth in that perception. It is a legitimate topic of concern that this focus on personal ambition may not be the best priority for a president of the City Council.
I don’t think Rolland was being intentionally sexist. But VOSD also thought the article “brings up uncomfortable questions about her having to defer to the current leader, a man who’s had a turn…”
…To be clear, I don’t have a dog in this fight. That this battle is between the two most conservative Democrats on the Council raises other, more serious questions. But that discussion is a much longer one. My concern here is the patronizing and entitled nature of the attacks against Lightner. The 2016 election in Council District 1 will determine the partisan balance of the Council. Calling down the wrath of the gays on the current Democratic, female councilmember from District 1 because she challenges the current LGBT president is just not strategically sound. Nor are patronizing admonitions that she stand down for the man.
The Show Begins…
At the council chambers the story played out as predicted. From KPBS:
Alvarez nominated Gloria first, saying he was disappointed with the expected result.
“The political thing for me would be to not stand with Todd and say, ‘Sorry, looks like you aren’t going to take this, I’m going with someone else,'” Alvarez said. “But that’s not who I am.”
Republican Councilman Scott Sherman said Gloria had done a great job, but it was someone else’s turn. He said he was praised as being nonpartisan when he voted for Gloria as president last time.
“Am I going to be partisan if I vote for a different Democrat this time?” Sherman asked.
Some in the crowd called out, “yes.”
From City News Service, via 10News:
That followed nearly 90 minutes of public comment in which everyone supported Gloria and praised him for moving the city past the scandals of former Mayor Bob Filner.
Councilman Scott Sherman said Gloria was the right guy at the right time, but on most boards, the job of president rotates routinely.
“There’s limits on your time in the presidency — there just is,” Sherman said.
The council voted 5-4 to reject Gloria’s candidacy, with Councilwoman Lightner joining Republicans.
Then Lightner was nominated by Councilwoman Marti Emerald. Democratic Councilwoman Cole joined her in the 7-2 vote. Gloria and Alvarez opposed.
Todd Gloria became the first council president not to be re-elected before leaving office. Sherri Lightner became the first woman to hold the position.
The new president was first elected in 2008, She was the council president pro tem, or Gloria’s second-in-command. Both she and Gloria are termed out in 2016.
The position wields considerable power over setting meeting agendas, committee assignments and involves appearing with the mayor at public events.
“Pop” Goes the Press Release
Within minutes of the council vote, a statement from Mayor Kevin Faulconer popped up in my inbox. Clearly this was a done in advance deal.
“I want to congratulate Sherri Lightner on being elected City Council President for 2015. We already have a great working relationship and I look forward to working together to create more opportunities for all San Diegans. I would also like to commend Councilmember Todd Gloria for his leadership over the past two years and for working collaboratively with me to get the City back on track.”
Gloria issued a longer statement, saying (in part) :
“Today’s decision was based on politics, not performance. While, of course, I am disappointed by the outcome, San Diegans know that I’ve never needed a title to accomplish important things for our city. I’ve always asked people to just call me Todd.
He also talked with NBC7:
“And as unfortunate as the outcome is, as disappointed as I am about the outcome, I’m really heartened by this testimony that was given today by people from all corners of this city who are very happy with the job that I’m doing,” said Gloria.
However, some in city leadership have expressed anger with Gloria’s minimum wage proposal. And as the Democratic-controlled council’s top leader, Gloria would likely have been in a position to go up against the mayor on certain issues.
Republicans on the council and in the mayor’s office decided they would rather battle it out against Lightner instead of the outspoken Gloria.
Dissension: The GOP Code Word for Economic Justice
UT-San Diego’s news coverage included a quote that I thought summed up the reality of the situation:
Her ascension could temper dissension, said Republican political consultant John Dadian.
“In the past couple years we’ve seen three issues that have either gone to the ballot or almost gone to the ballot by referendum,” Dadian said. “Those issues would possibly be solved and stopped at the City Council under Sherri Lightner.”
He was referring to the minimum wage, Barrio Logan zoning changes and affordable housing fees paid by developers.
And there was even an editorial:
…Councilwoman Sherri Lightner takes over as president, having won the post without ever acknowledging publicly that she even wanted it, on a 7-2 vote after Gloria’s nomination for another term failed, with Lightner and the council’s four Republicans voting against him.
It must have been embarrassing for her to sit through Wednesday’s hearing, at which no one from the public favored her for the president’s job and speaker after speaker heaped praise on Gloria for his fairness, his sense of ethics and his performance as interim mayor following the resignation of Bob Filner. She will now have to win those people over, as well as her fellow Democrats on the council who all initially supported Gloria.
Lightner may have the skill and temperament. But she has a tough act to follow.
What Lightner’s Ascension Means
Todd Gloria isn’t running for Mayor in 2016 at this point, and I don’t think he’s even interested in the job. That analysis is based on what the councilman has said in various public settings.
So the real message being sent yesterday at the City Council was a big middle finger being waved at the city’s low wage earners, those who are priced out of the housing market, and the community of Barrio Logan for daring to dream to believe they could determine their future.
Those were all constituencies who would have benefited from legislation advocated by Councilman Gloria. His presence at the center of the struggle to raise the minimum wage was meaningful, even if symbolic, for people who are struggling to get by in this city.
The other big loser would be organized labor, and that’s a much more complicated story for another day.
And, of course, there’s all the rest issues (like infrastructure) facing San Diego which get sidetracked during a display of “business as usual.” I’d almost prefer it if they just yelled “squirrel” instead of giving us all the drama.
Gloria was wrong in joining with the SANDAG board in voting to appeal on behalf of the sad excuse of a
climate action regional transportation plan. But I don’t believe Lightner’s ascension will change anything there. It just proves he’s not as “progressive” as many would like to believe he is.
You can take it to the bank that there won’t be any of that “dissension” stuff (as the GOP consultant called it) coming before the City Council.
Suffice it to say, drinks were “on the house” at whatever gathering the Chamber/Lincoln Club/GOP types held last night.
And in other news…
Bullshit TV “News” Story of the Week
Pigs were seen flying right after Fox5 San Diego aired this story last night:
Sunday could be the last day a Charger game is played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Currently, no one from the Chargers organization has guaranteed that the team will be staying in San Diego next season.
“I think we are getting pretty close to losing them,” said Bob Chandler, a long-time sports broadcaster and former voice of the Padres. “Los Angeles is trying to get two teams. The first is the Rams, and then it will be between the Raiders and the Chargers.”
The Chargers’ attorney Mark Fabiani reports that 30 percent of the Chargers’ revenue comes from Orange County and Los Angeles. Fabiani said the loss in profits would be crippling.
“If the team leaves it will have to be in the middle of the night…because when fans find out they would be very angry,” said Jim Russell, a producer at Fox Sports Radio. “The Spanos family could never show their faces in San Diego again.”
On This Day: 1886- A small group of black farmers organized the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union in Houston County, Texas. They had been barred from membership in the all-white Southern Farmers’ Alliance. Through intensive organizing, along with merging with another black farmers group, the renamed Colored Alliance by 1891 claimed a membership of 1.2 million 1972 – James Brown was arrested after a show in Knoxville, TN, and charged with “disorderly conduct” after being accused of trying to incite a riot. The charges were dropped when Brown threatens to sue for $1 million. 1998 – The Mars Climate Orbiter blasted off on a nine-month journey to the Red Planet. However, the probe disappeared in September of 1999, apparently destroyed because scientists had failed to convert English measures to metric values.
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