Laurie Black is incredulous about how her husband's been dragged into the whisper campaign shadowing her quest to become San Diego's next representative on the Port District's Board of Commissioners. Black says she's heard second-hand that forces opposing her nomination are saying that her husband, developer Bob Lawrence, is a conservative Republican. That Lawrence comes up at all is troubling enough for Black; but he's also a Democrat, and, to boot, he's supporting Barack Obama for president.
Families of candidates for elected office know that becoming soap-opera characters is part of the game. The office Black seeks isn't elected, but the Lawrence anecdote, insofar as it's true, is indicative of an uncommonly high-pressure appointment process.
The City Council will soon vote on two nominees to fill a spot on the port board'Black and two-term incumbent Steve Cushman. Black was nominated by City Council President Scott Peters and Councilmember Jim Madaffer. Cushman's being backed—forcefully—by politically powerful labor honcho Jerry Butkiewicz, and local environmentalists have lined up behind him. Councilmember Brian Maienschein nominated Cushman. Councilmembers Donna Frye and Tony Young have expressed support for retaining the incumbent. One insider told CityBeat that Councilmembers Toni Atkins and Ben Hueso are also in Cushman's camp. But Black believes Atkins is in her corner, along with Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, and she thinks Hueso and Young are also in play. Indeed, it's a tangled web freighted with political intrigue.
Complicating the matter is Council Policy No. 000-13. Enacted in the 1980s, it limits members of city boards and commissions to two terms or eight years. Cushman's term is up. However, his supporters have suggested that because the Port District is a state-mandated agency, it's not subject to city ordinance. City Attorney Mike Aguirre noted that argument in a written opinion but ultimately determined that the City Council would have to waive its term-limits policy in order to return Cushman to the port board. The policy has been waived three times in the past. Cushman supporters also say that the policy is flexible and that waiving it is warranted.
To us, the policy's intent and spirit is clear: The two-term limit is aimed at fostering the involvement of more members of the community in civic affairs and refreshing boards and commissions with new voices and perspectives. Waiver of the policy would require compelling, overriding circumstances, which, in our view, don't exist in this case.
CityBeat is not enamored of term limits in general, and we'd be happy to join a debate over repealing the policy, but the worst time to have the debate is when politics is hanging in the balance. Our interest in engendering good-government practices prevents us from supporting Cushman. We urge the City Council to name Laurie Black to the port board. We strongly urge those council members whose votes for Cushman are not fully hardened to reconsider.
To be fair, Black is no new face on the scene. She'd like to think she's not an insider, but she's been steeped in San Diego politics for years. She's a regular donor to political campaigns. She's a former president of the Downtown Partnership. She was once a member of the Regional Water Quality Control Board and was chief-of-staff for Lynn Schenk during the Democrat's one and only term in the House of Representatives. Black was also school board member Katherine Nakamura's appointment to the San Diego City School District's redistricting panel several years ago. Black got her start in politics three decades ago advocating for women's rights in Washington, D.C., and was active in John Kerry's failed bid for the presidency. A neophyte she is not. An outsider? Not in the slightest.
But that doesn't make her unfit for the port gig. We're confident that she'd represent San Diego well. Our ideal commissioner would cast votes that improve the quality of water in San Diego Bay and the air in the neighborhoods near port industry, add to the inventory of well-paying middle-class jobs and wouldn't turn the waterfront into Disneyland South. Black is a supporter of living-wage laws, but she acknowledges that she wouldn't be a knee-jerk union advocate. That's fine with us. She assures us she's an ardent environmentalist, and we have no reason to doubt her.
Her passion seems rooted in developing the waterfront in a coherent, holistic manner—for the good of the citizens of San Diego. More than anything, she wants the embarcadero that features a large public space anchored by an open-air performing-arts venue. A longtime friend of Steve Peace, she could be expected to support the former state senator's recently articulated vision of the waterfront. Encouragingly, she dislikes the piecemeal plans for the Navy Broadway Complex and Lane Field.
Normally, we'd be inclined to support candidates favored by our good friends in the labor and environmental communities. Not this time.