When you talk to San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye's detractors—and even some of her friends—you hear a broken record: All she does is vote against things; she grandstands in public by asking questions to which she already knows the answers; she doesn't know how to build consensus. These are reasons, they say, why she would have made a lousy council president.
Actually, Frye votes against only the policies with which she disagrees. She asks questions to which she knows the answers so that the public can also know the answers. And “building consensus” is often code for “behind-the-scenes deal-making”—call us crazy (or naïve, if you must), but we're not convinced that should be high on the list of qualifications for a leader. Leaders should be inspiring, intelligent, principled and passionate and possess the ability to convince others to follow them. If there's a reason Frye shouldn't have been named council president, it would be that last quality—because, truth be told, she doesn't have a good record of convincing her colleagues to vote her way.
Perhaps it's because they don't like being lobbied in public. Or maybe it's because she brings crappy gifts to the Secret Santa exchanges at City Hall. Who knows.
We wanted her to get the chance to lead after seven years as the council's cranky oppositional figure, but what's done is done—and Ben Hueso is the council president now. So, onward we move.
It's no secret that we haven't been impressed with Hueso. When we watched him campaign for his council seat in 2005, he appeared arrogant, as if he was entitled to the seat thanks to his political connections. His stint in office has been marked by little more than his rambling, confusing and sometimes sedative-like oratory on the dais. We'd like to say we're inspired by his strong, compelling, progressive leadership, but all we can really do is express languid appreciation for his reliably progressive votes. Sometimes, that is—there he was a couple of weeks ago, pining for a return to the days when the police were handing out illegal-lodging tickets to the homeless like so many treats at Christmastime.
So, excited about Hueso's ascension and full of hope for the possibilities it carries, we're not.
That said, we'll vow to give him a fair shake and a chance to prove his mettle. For the sake of the city and its residents, we hope he makes his decisions with the interest of average San Diegans in mind, rather than whatever he believes is best for his own political future. Our view of Hueso will brighten if he shows us he's capable of opposing the labor unions—not because we're against the unions, but because we want to know that he's not utterly beholden to them. We agree with labor on most things, but what's best for the unions isn't always what's best for the general public, and we don't want our elected officials controlled by the unions any more than we want them controlled by developers.
As cool was we are to Hueso, there are reasons to celebrate his rise to the head of the legislative body of the eighth largest city in the United States. He is a Latino in a city where Latinos have been underrepresented politically, and he represents a lower-income district that has long been neglected by city leaders—a welcome change from a council president representing La Jolla. As it happens, Hueso's first public appearance as president was in Otay Mesa. If he regularly lures TV cameras into the city's southern neighborhood, his election will have been a good thing. If he inspires young Latinos to get more involved in their communities—as activists, volunteers or politicians—then it will have been a very good thing, and if he affects positive change in the working-class communities he represents, it will have been a very, very good thing.