Nov. 21 2012 10:44 AM

Council member is the latest politician to grab the brass ring

Tony Young, back in 2009
Photo by Eric Wolff

"A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is the rain."

—Arabian Proverb

A year ago last September, longtime Encanto resident and community leader Bob Matthews took Spin Cycle to task for promulgating a rumor that San Diego City Council President Tony Young was poised to jump ship before his term ended for richer climes in the private sector, supposedly to SDG&E.

Matthews, at 82 the decades-long coordinator of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, chastised such "idle speculation"— spread, he said, by "a group that wants to have power"—as unworthy of "sound thinkers."

Spin Cycle even squirmed when Matthews was remindful that "rumor mills are unnecessary for those seeking the truth." He also expressed confidence that Young would complete his final term through 2014.

Young, as well, chided such gossip, telling Spin, "I don't know how these rumors get started. I plan on finishing my term. We have a lot to do."

So, when it came to light last week that Young would be leaving his council post two years early to take over the helm of the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross for a salary two-and-a-half times his $75,000 annual council pay, Spin had to find out what Matthews thought about the news.

He did not equivocate. "He has done what every good politician does," Matthews said. "He used his office to promote himself, which I don't disagree with, and he has promoted himself into a much better financial position than when he entered office. But all politicians—save for Duke Cunningham—do this.

"Isn't it interesting that most politicians, in my opinion, wind up richer leaving their office than when they began?" he continued. "My view is that most politicians create jobs—for themselves."

Young's not alone of late in the local sphere of politicians moving into higher tax brackets—although he is the only one who wasn't facing imminent unemployment.

Termed-out Assemblymember and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher recently announced that he's heading for a brighter financial future with local mega-company Qualcomm as director of corporate development, whatever that entails.

And outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders—despite previous doubts and quizzical looks expressed to Spin from the politerrati, including an aide who questioned hizzoner's desire to serve at the pleasure of a board of directors—will take the reins of the local Chamber of Commerce in early December at reportedly near triple his $110,000 annual mayoral salary.

Comments on local news sites have run the gamut about the lucrative deals, spanning from the congratulatory to the cynical.

For Young, readers at chimed in with equal parts "Good for you, Tony!" to "Take the money and run, Tony," to suggestions that he should donate his anticipated $190,000 salary to help pay for the special election that will be required to fill his vacant seat, most likely in mid-March with a possible May runoff. That's potentially five months of an empty District 4 council seat and an ongoing 4-4 partisan council deadlock. 

When contacted by Spin, Young said he, too, had heard the mix of comments from constituents. "People are really happy," he said. "They're excited about the fact that I'm going to be able to do something like this. Obviously, there's some of [the negative] you're talking about. But for the most part, I would say it's, ‘Congratulations. That's a great opportunity.'" 

What makes Young's decision troubling for some, however, is that just days before he confirmed the latest job rumor, an opinion piece he penned appeared in the Nov. 10 U-T San Diego under the heading, "Challenges abound for new leaders."

In it, Young eloquently heralded the coming political changing of the guard in a city that hasn't seen a Democratic mayor in 20 years. But he also fretted, "Whatever kind of honeymoon period these newly elected leaders might enjoy after the long campaign season will be quickly tested by a series of tough issues requiring immediate attention."

Those tough decisions—from what to do about a city workforce spread amongst a rickety City Hall and numerous Downtown office buildings whose leases will expire soon, to tackling educational, cultural and infrastructure challenges—will require incoming Mayor Bob Filner and the council to "hit the ground running and begin work immediately on these pressing issues."

Five days later, Young's decision to leave City Hall at year's end to take the Red Cross CEO post was official. Some City Hall observers noted with irony the moderate Democrat's excitement to deal with disaster preparedness at such a momentous time when the political pendulum in San Diego was about to swing left.

Speculation about the move was swift. Young—who in the past has bemoaned low councilmember pay—was simply cashing in as he's wanted to do for some time now, some said. Others wondered if Young, who's been known to pal around with those on the Republican side of the aisle, would be comfortable leading a progressive majority on the council. Still others felt his political career had hit a brick wall—particularly with Shirley Weber's election to the state Assembly, a term that potentially could run 12 years, and his reluctance to compete against close friend Ron Roberts for his seat on the County Board of Supervisors, where his political teeth were cut as a legislative aide to Leon Williams two decades ago.

Young said he understands that "people can be cynical" about his decision. "I can't do much about that," he added. But in his eyes, he has  served two full terms, including the portion of the term he filled when his good friend Charles Lewis died in 2004 while under federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges in the so-called Strippergate scandal.

"I'm sure the city will do well," Young said. "There will be some great candidates, and people will come up with some great, fresh ideas."

He added, "I never said that this was my life goal to be a council member, but I think I did a pretty good job at it. It's not a perfect situation and not an easy decision, but this was an opportunity that I would probably never be able to get again."

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