More than 40 years of civic involvement for one man is bound to include some measure of controversy. Well, controversy finally found Dave Potter when Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, filed a lawsuit last week that essentially alleges that Potter, along with two other members of the San Diego Redistricting Commission, are covert agents of the Democratic Party, bent on skewing San Diego in favor of liberals.
“Mild-mannered” and “soft-spoken” are over-used clichés, but they perfectly describe Potter, who worked for 21 years in the city of San Diego's Planning Department before launching his own environmental-planning consultancy in 1993. I know him as one of San Diego's leading citizen planning advisors; he's chaired the Clairemont Mesa Planning Committee, as well as the Community Planners Committee, an umbrella panel that represents citizen advisory groups from around the city. He's also served on volunteer task forces covering issues such as air and ground transportation, sewage, land-use and marijuana.
Despite all this civic activity, Potter says he's never before been the subject of a political brouhaha like this, and though it's not apparent in his low-key demeanor and his careful choice of words, he's not happy about it.
“I just want to be able to respond to all the incorrect statements that were made,” he tells me. “I want to correct the record publicly.”
A potential consequence of Krvaric's lawsuit is a loss of public trust in Potter's contributions to the redistricting process. “I think that just makes the job very difficult,” Potter says, “and I want them to trust me in what I'm doing.”
His reputation matters.
Krvaric's lawsuit—filed on behalf of himself and not the local Republican Party, targeting Potter and the other members of the Redistricting Commission, Mayor Jerry Sanders and each member of the City Council—seeks to reboot the process of drawing new City Council district boundaries that's been underway since late last year.
Krvaric claims that only two retired judges appointed people to the Redistricting Commission when it should have been a panel of three (one judge wasn't available the day the choices were made, and the City attorney's office concluded that two out of three was sufficient). He also claims that Potter and Theresa Quiroz, through a series of contributions to Democratic candidates in recent years, “have attempted to materially affect the partisan makeup of the City Council they are now redistricting….”
Krvaric cites Potter's donations to Democrats Stephen Whitburn, Steve Hadley and Howard Wayne. “Donating money to City Council candidates— all Democrats—demonstrates a clear partisan bias that should have automatically disqualified… Mr. Potter,” the lawsuit states. Krvaric also charges that Potter, through his registration as a decline-to-state voter, concealed his alignment with the Democratic Party from the appointing judges, who ultimately selected three Democrats, two Republicans and two decline-to-state voters to the seven-member commission.
Potter says he's never been a Democrat. In fact, he says, he was a Republican until President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974. Potter tells me that he wrote a letter to Ford, saying he could no longer be a member of the Republican Party, and switched his registration to decline-to-state. Yes, he has contributed to Democratic campaigns (Krvaric misstated some of the dates of Potter's donations), but he's also contributed to Republicans for City Council, including Mike Pallamary and John Seymour, both in 1995. And after Lorie Zapf was elected last year to the District 6 City Council seat, he gave her $100 to help retire her campaign debt. Not too many Democratic partisans help Republicans pay their bills.
Potter is also a longtime friend of county Supervisor Ron Roberts, a Republican, and actively campaigned for Roberts when he ran for supervisor in 2006 and 2010 (the latter against Whitburn) and when he ran for mayor of San Diego in 2004.
Lisa Ross managed Roberts' 2004 mayoral campaign. “When Donna Frye, a Democrat and the City Councilmember from his district, entered the race,” Ross recalls in an email, “Dave maintained his support for Ron without any hesitation. Hardly the behavior of a partisan Democrat.
“Never in our discussions regarding the endorsement did Dave mention partisan politics,” she continues. “His concerns had to do with good city planning and what is best for neighborhoods. In fact, in all the years I've known Dave as a community planner, I never knew his party affiliation.”
Frye agrees: “Dave is evenhanded, impartial and makes his decisions based upon facts, not partisan ideology,” she says. “His years of volunteer service to the San Diego community is well known; those who know him and have worked with him trust him to do what is in the best interest of all concerned.”
Jim Varnadore, a longtime neighborhood activist from City Heights, has for years watched Potter in action. “Potter is a centrist on governance and public policy,” Varnadore tells me in an email. “He's out of the same pragmatic mold as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. He looks for workable solutions to problems. He advocates for and tries to create good policy in government and public affairs.
“My impression of his contributions to the redistricting process,” Varnadore continues, “is that he's an issue-oriented, pragmatic centrist there, too.”
In a written response to the lawsuit, Potter takes issue with six of Krvaric's claims, including one in which the Republican operative states, “The Appointing Authority selected… David Potter based largely upon [his] status as Decline-to-State voters.”
Counters Potter: “My status as a Decline-to-State voter could not have been a consideration since political affiliation was not addressed in either the application or the interview. Therefore, it must be assumed that the Appointing Authority selected me solely upon my qualifications.”
I asked Potter to comment on Krvaric's true motives. He declined: “I'm going to leave that up to the public to judge what he's doing.”
I'm not as shy.
Months after the redistricting effort started, Krvaric and other Republicans orchestrated a TV-news campaign aimed at eroding public trust in the process. Then they tried to get one member, Carlos Marquez, unseated after following him to Los Angeles and spying on him. Then came Krvaric's lawsuit.
It all adds up to a political party throwing everything it can think of at the wall to see if anything sticks. It's a party that realized it wasn't going to be able to control the outcome of a process that will have enormous political consequences.
Krvaric's attempt to smear a dedicated public servant like Potter is a sure sign of panic—when it and the other tactics fail, the loser will be the local Republican Party.
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