Wear-ing out his welcome
In the end, one longtime political observer noted, San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear's ignominious departure from public office later this month simply falls under the adage, “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.”
Oh sure, for a while the sky won't be so blue for a man who, his detractors would say, never met a set of blueprints he didn't like. The growing sentiment among these folks is that Wear has been all ears and pockets when it comes to developers and their wishes-oftentimes at the expense of some of San Diego's oldest neighborhoods, many of which sit in the outgoing councilman's District 2.
“From day one in office, Wear tried to bulldoze public lands,” said frequent Wear critic Scott Andrews of the coastal-protection group Save Everyone's Access. “His major contributors were developers. He will not be missed.”
Some folks definitely will miss him. The mayor, for one. At a City of Villages presentation in Point Loma a while back, Mayor Dick Murphy described Wear as “one of my best friends” over the last 20 years. Wear's travails during the last week must have been particularly devastating for the mayor, whose trusted circle of friends was already limited. Much has been made of Murphy's last prime-time appointment gaffe, that of his close friend and fundraiser John Carlson to the Port Commission last year. Murphy pulled Carlson's nomination after allegations of excessive drinking and abusive language toward women emerged.
Even in disgrace, Wear, at least on paper, walked in lockstep with the mayor publicly, despite some intense choreography behind the scenes prior to their joint announcement last week of Wear's jettisoned nomination as an executive with the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, a job that would have doubled Wear's current salary to nearly $140,000 a year. The new agency will have the politically messy job of finding a new location for San Diego's commercial airport and selling the idea to neighboring interests.
“Unfortunately, the investigation by the Ethics Commission, whatever its outcome, will detract from the important work of the Authority,” Wear said in last Wednesday's statement. “I am unwilling to put any cloud over that work. Therefore, I think it is in the best interests of the Authority and the citizens of the region that my nomination be withdrawn. The future economic prosperity of San Diego County is far more important than any one individual.”
In the statement, the mayor defended Wear's qualifications for the post (he sits on the interim airport board and a commission studying regional governance), but lamented, “I believe this decision is in the best interests of San Diego.”
The next day, the Ethics Commission netted its first council member. In an even more highly choreographed announcement, the commission issued a statement revealing that Wear had agreed to pay a $2,000 fine for violating the city's campaign ordinance during his unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2000. Wear admitted to carrying campaign debt beyond the allowed 90-day period and settled a vendor debt for substantially less than the original contract price, which the commission determined to be an illegal campaign contribution.
Neither Wear nor his attorney, John Wertz, attended the commission meeting, leading to speculation that a deal had been worked out days ahead. Wear spokesman Peter Bryan, left in the unenviable position of defending his no-show boss, said Wear was busy packing for a brief family trip to the Colorado River. Wear did have the time, however, to attend the North Embarcadero Alliance meeting earlier that day.
For Wear, the job prospects seem obvious-joining the endless parade of lobbyists, whose ranks seem to grow larger by the minute-probably one of the down sides of term limits. With his land-use experience, no doubt the money will come. “He'll be back,” Bryan said. “It'll just be on the other side of the dais.”
As for the Airport Authority executive board, Sheriff Bill Kolender has put his choice on the table-wealthy Rancho Santa Fe entrepreneur William D. Lynch. Lynch is described as a consensus builder and huge advocate of literacy programs for children. Politically, he leans strongly to the right, contributing at least $28,000 since 1992 to a variety of GOP causes and candidates, from ex-Rep. Brian Bilbray and all the current local Republican congressmen to the Lincoln Club of San Diego County and local Republic Central Committee. He is considered a shoe-in for approval by county supervisors.
Murphy may be leaning toward one of San Diego's old Republican guards, retired state Sen. Jim Ellis, for his replacement pick for the executive board. Gov. Gray Davis is rumored to be leaning on the mayor to pick someone with military pilot experience-could come in handy when locating a new airport, the thinking goes.
Don't be surprised to see a retired Coronado admiral as Davis's choice, quite possibly Robert J. “Rocky” Spane, the current admiral-in-residence on the Port Commission. Although his Vanguard Airlines went bankrupt recently, the retired vice admiral is long on flight experience (he commanded the Navy's air force for the U.S. Pacific Fleet) and the politics of airports. Stay tuned.
City of mayors
There's certainly no shortage of speculation about what last week's general election results mean for the future direction of the San Diego City Council.
In one corner, you have the GOPs, otherwise known as the Grand Ol' Paranoids. With the victory of union-backed Michael Zucchet to replace termed-out developer-pal Councilman Byron Wear in the politically persuasive District 2, the city will go bankrupt paying ever-increasing wages to city employees-or at least our streets will continue to crumble.
In the other corner, you have Big Labor (well, at least, Bigger Labor), whose sound bites on last Tuesday's results focused on the growing influence of working families in San Diego's political evolution. If other big towns, like San Francisco, Chicago and New York, can survive with influential labor unions, why not San Diego, a town they believe has been led around by corporate fat cats for too long?
To some political observers, however, Tuesday officially signaled the coming of age for San Diego's district-only council elections, which voters demanded back in 1988. In essence, these observers suggest, the council will no longer behave like before, as eight council members looking to the mayor for guidance. As one onlooker said, “This is now a city of nine mayors.”
There's even talk privately that the real winner in all this is Jerry Buckiewicz, head of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a coalition of labor unions that is speaking with a much more unified voice than in years past. “Some are going so far as to say that Jerry will have more control over the council agenda than the mayor will,” one political insider said.
Buckiewicz did not return a CityBeat phone call, but it is believed he is planning to aim high in seeking concessions from the city, including project labor agreements for a hotel and parking structure in the ballpark district (Padres owner John Moores is said to be dead set against such labor-only pacts and has threatened to “walk away” under such conditions).
Observers also note it will be fun to watch for any voting blocs to form on the council. Insiders say Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr. has been making overtures about such coalition building, although he is thought to be quite indebted to the mayor for Murphy's support in shifting the proposed San Ysidro library site from the center of town to an Inzunza campaign contributor's mega-shopping mall on the border.
Any way you slice it, things certainly won't get easier for Mayor Dick “10 Goals” Murphy. His patience, a hallmark from his days sitting on a Superior Court bench, could be tested. Some observers even go as far as saying it may have him rethinking a run for re-election in 2004, as well for perennial mayoral candidate Ron Roberts, now a county supervisor whose political future may be in the hands of the Ethics Commission, fresh off its settlement with Wear.