If you were hoping Scott Peters would begin, in December, spending the next phase of his life lounging around his wife's mansion in his boxer shorts, you got some rude news on Monday, when the outgoing San Diego City Council president was picked by five of his colleagues to fill a seat on the Port of San Diego's Board of Commissioners. The port board is a plum place to be these days, with big decisions ahead that will determine the future of prime bayfront land from the Downtown cruise-ship terminal all the way south to Chula Vista.
Peters sat in the front row of the council chambers while members of the public weighed in on his never-in-doubt appointment. Two seats away from him sat labor leader Lorena Gonzalez, who must be fighting back giddy grins since her clout rose so dramatically on Election Day. Between them sat Steve Cushman, labor's main man on the port board and the incoming chair.
The fix was in on this one, charged Councilmember Donna Frye, who opposed the appointment of Peters, who was cast as her arch villain once Dick Murphy exited the stage. And, by extension, Frye once again opposed Gonzalez, her old friend—their relationship strained since Frye did an end-run around the attempt to ban those gargantuan labor-unfriendly Wal-Mart stores and amid Frye's refusal to go along with raises for city workers.
So Frye found herself grazing in a familiar pasture, this time accompanied by fellow renegade Tony Young, who called the decision to vote on the port board nominees before four new council members are seated next month “manipulative” and “pathetic.” The rest of the council didn't see it that way—Peters drew affirmative votes from fellow departing colleagues Toni Atkins, Brian Maienschein and Jim Madaffer and two of the members who will remain, Kevin Faulconer and Ben Hueso.
The thing about Peters—whose milquetoast campaign for city attorney collapsed in a heap back in June when he failed to collect more votes than the supreme geek Jan Goldsmith and the Tasmanian devil Mike Aguirre—is that he never really made a very convincing baddie. He's not like that fat fartbag county Supervisor Bill Horn, who everyone other than a bunch of North County lunatics hates. Peters is more nuanced and subtle and fairly adept at deflecting criticism. Labor loves him despite his vote against imposing a living wage on companies doing business with the city.
Environmentalists—at least the ones who wield any power—tolerate him despite his high-profile votes to evict seals from the beach and build a bridge over Rose Canyon. It would be one thing if his port nomination were ripped by the Environmental Health Coalition, which fights for poor Latinos when it comes to port decisions, but there was EHC executive director Diane Takvorian on Monday, throwing her weight behind Peters.
Peters, one of those politicians who'd prefer to dispense with time-consuming public meetings—damn the busybodies who passed those open-government laws!—has been served well by his ability to cut closed-door deals between battling interests. He's earned at least grudging loyalty from everyone other than noisy members of the public who argue that Peters is in it only for himself and the powerful interests who can help him.
So, after the first fight of this strange transitional period, Peters has landed on his feet, and Frye, who, after seven years on the fringe and hopes to lead the City Council in a liberal-populist direction, has stumbled out of the blocks—unable, again, to convince her mates to see something her way. The next skirmish begins on Nov. 18, when Peters will open the gates to discussion about the council's next president.
Frye, Maienschein and Faulconer (and presumably Young) want the decision delayed until after Sherri Lightner, Todd Gloria, Carl DeMaio and Marti Emerald take their seats. But would Frye get enough votes to take the reins even if the selection is delayed? Emerald and Gloria owe their elections, to varying degrees, to labor, which would much rather have Hueso running the show than Frye, who would need four votes, in addition to hers, from among Lightner, Faulconer, Gloria, Young, DeMaio and Emerald, none of whom are in Frye's bag.
It would appear that to get to where she wants to be, Frye would need to do the very thing that has helped Peters: strike a deal or two. And that, ironically and most unfortunately, would require her to violate her most cherished principle.