Feb. 19 2014 11:04 AM

Folks are lining up for temporary City Council gig

From left: Don Mullen, Howard Wayne, Ed Harris and Gretchen Kinney Newsom

"Whatever your advice, make it brief."


The time for licking wounds is over, San Diego Democrats. Your hat was handed to you in last week's mayoral election. Learn from it and move on.

One bright spot for Democrats—unless they mess this up, too—is the coming San Diego City Council decision on who'll fill the remainder of Mayor-Elect Kevin Faulconer's District 2 council term, which runs through early December. With Faulconer's ascension next month to the 11th floor and a Democratic council majority poised to pick his replacement, it shouldn't be surprising that interest in the eight-month temporary job is growing.

Rumors about who wants the council post have run from the intriguing to the absurd, including a suggestion that former Councilmember Donna Frye might be among those interested, despite the pesky requirement that applicants must live within the old District 2 boundaries where Faulconer was elected. Frye is a longtime District 6 resident.

So, who's ready to jump into the fishbowl? Spin Cycle ran down several rumored applicants to gauge their interest, and let's just say the City Council will have a tough decision to make.

The early favorite seems to be Don Mullen, the City Hall veteran who last served as chief of staff to Councilmember Marti Emerald. Mullen would seem a natural, given his knowledge of City Hall operations and quirks culled from a 10-year career serving in three City Council offices (two Democrats, Emerald and Michael Zucchet, and a Republican, Jim Madaffer).

Before leaving City Hall in January 2013, Mullen had served as chief of policy for all three councilmembers. In addition to his chief-of-staff duties with Emerald, he also served as a consultant to the city's Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee, which Emerald chairs.

A 30-plus-year resident of District 2, the Pacific Beach resident said he'd be ready to hit the ground running, compared with those who might need the eight months in office just to figure out how City Hall functions.

Mullen, 58, said his experience in city government, coupled with his business background, would serve district constituents well. He currently operates a consulting firm called Common Ground San Diego and owned a beach-equipment rental shop called Best at the Beach for more than 15 years until 2000. He also served as executive director of the College Area Economic Development Corp. from 1999 through 2000.

"My motto over the years has been, ‘Have some fun, make some money, do some good,'" Mullen told Spin. "It's how I look at community service. It's not about ramming a political agenda down people's throats. It's building organizations and empowering people to take ownership of their own communities and neighborhoods."

Also showing interest in the position is former Democratic state Assemblymember Howard Wayne, who lost the 2010 election to replace the termed-out Frye in District 6 to Republican Lorie Zapf. Under 2010 redistricting, Zapf found her Bay Ho home moved to District 2, where she is seeking reelection this year.

Wayne, 65, said he moved to Pacific Beach from Bay Park to qualify for the upcoming council appointment in anticipation of last week's mayoral results, although he said he worked hard to help elect Councilmember David Alvarez to that post.

"I knew it was a 50/50 proposition, and I knew the issue would be there if David didn't win," Wayne said. He still owns the Bay Park home, but he said a recent "water disaster" has made it unmarketable.

A state deputy attorney general since 1973—save for his stint in the Assembly from 1996 to 2002—Wayne said it's important the council have an attorney among its members. "Right now in closed sessions, it's just [City Attorney] Jan Goldsmith and nine non-lawyers," he argued, "and there are so many issues where being a lawyer would be helpful."

He said he views Council President Todd Gloria's stint as interim mayor as "a model of how much we can accomplish in a relatively short period of time." Wayne dismissed suggestions that he'd use the temporary position as a launching pad to run for city attorney in 2016.

"No, there are big environmental issues coming, like the Climate Action Plan, runoff issues and the like," he said. "The dynamics of the council are going to change, and I want to be a part of that change."

City lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris, who dropped out of the official District 2 race and endorsed Democrat Sarah Boot, confirmed he's interested in the temporary post. The 48-year-old Orange County native has served as a lifeguard in San Diego since exiting the Marine Corps in 1989.

"I want to be what's been missing in District 2—an advocate for the coastline," Harris, a Loma Portal resident, told Spin. "I'm concerned about public safety, obviously, but also about overdevelopment. I also want to make for a smooth transition for Sarah."

Also showing interest is Gretchen Kinney Newsom, a relative newcomer to the district but someone who's making an impression rapidly. A resident of Ocean Beach since 2011, Newsom already serves as president of the Ocean Beach Town Council. She's also director of communications and legislative affairs for LeSar Development Consultants, a Bankers Hill-based firm focused on affordable housing and sustainable communities. Its president, Jennifer LeSar, is married to Toni Atkins, the state Assembly member tapped recently to become the Assembly's next speaker.

Newsom, 33, said she's not looking at this temporary job as a stepping stone. "I'm giving this opportunity a lot of hard thought and consideration, but at this point I'm definitely not angling for another position down the line," she said. Her main focus, she added, would be assuring that "District 2 constituents and concerns are heard" and that projects there "don't get stuck in this period of flux."

No doubt others will throw their hats into the temporary ring— Bruce Coons, a longtime Point Loma resident, recent mayoral candidate and head of Save Our Heritage Organisation, said he's thinking about applying. "I'm a child of the district," he said.

Should be yet another interesting council decision, particularly how the council Republican minority responds. Spin's guess: Whomever labor's backing should watch out for the knives.

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.


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