"If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he'll eat you last."- Ronald Reagan
Dear Port Commissioner-designate Lee Burdick,
Congratulations on convincing a majority of San Diego City Council members to select you as the newest member of the stodgy San Diego Unified Board of Port Commissioners.Now the hard work begins.
As you've said yourself, you are relatively new to the goldfish-bowl of notoriety that comes with taking such a public position of importance. You are no doubt equally aware that the spotlight will be on you to see how you fill the shoes of your scrappy predecessor, Laurie Black, as well as how your actions meet up with your words, which, frankly, to date seem murky and noncommittal.
You seem like a very nice person, and Lord knows the port hierarchy could use a woman's perspective-I mean, the way the Commissioner Boys behave sometimes, you'd think we were staring straight into the bloodshot eyes of some maritime version of the Taliban. Sure, women work at the port, but don't be fooled-testosterone dominates the place, from aft to stern.
Little wonder why they call port headquarters "The Rock."
And if you think the other port commissioners have a handle on what they're doing and don't need your input, think again. With so many grandiose plans on the table-from bay-front sprucing and convention-center expanding to cruise-ship coddling and the Navy Broadway mess-it's no wonder some port insiders view the future as a "cluster fuck" waiting to happen.
And yet, port employees can't help but notice their new president and CEO, retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles Wurster, heading out the door most days at precisely 5:01 p.m.-which says a lot about the dedication you'll find trickling down from the top.
You told Spin Cycle this week that you're busy poring over all sorts of reports, getting yourself up to speed on a variety of port topics and that you'll be joining self-anointed Commissioner Scott Peters on the commission's environmental committee, which, of course, is all good.
But at this point, you know just enough to be dangerous. You may have been a slim council majority's "compromise" candidate, but deep inside you're probably well aware that you weren't the most qualified candidate.
Councilmember Donna Frye made that abundantly clear when she asked a simple question during last week's council deliberations: How many port meetings had each candidate attended?
Your answer was "three," back in the day when you served as general counsel for Jimsair, a private-jet outfit that leased space at Lindbergh Field and was sold to a Texas company after years of legal wrangling with the port and then the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority after it assumed control of the airport.
Conversely, your main opponent for the port seat, Environmental Health Coalition Executive Director Diane Takvorian, had trouble counting the numerous times she has appeared before the port board-"Hundreds," she finally concluded.Does that necessarily mean Takvorian would have made a better commission choice? The answer is probably, only because of Spin Cycle's belief that to know the personalities and gamesmanship of an organization puts one in a better position to do battle on those things that mean the most to those affected by your decision-making.
To that end, it would behoove you greatly to extend an olive branch and seek the counsel of Takvorian-and not only her but also labor leaders who supported her nomination; port tenants who backed another competitor, economics-obsessed hotelier Bill Evans; and residents of Barrio Logan who have lived in the toxic shadow of the port for decades.
About Barrio Logan: I hope it disturbed you as much as it bugged Spin Cycle that two council members, President Ben Hueso and Tony Young, have invoked the name of iconic leader Rachael Ortiz of Barrio Station fame in their half-hearted explanations of why they opposed Takvorian's nomination.
Spin Cycle has respected the work Ortiz has done for her community for decades, and yet there were two men speaking for a usually opinionated woman who, for more than a week, refused to return a call to get her take on this whisper campaign.
The two council members acted like parrots, claiming Ortiz's opposition wasn't the reason for their opposition, but it sent a confusing message that seemed more political and ego-driven than anything else. And Ortiz going silent didn't help matters.
What it did was kick up speculation that Ortiz doesn't much care for "outside" organizations like the Environmental Health Coalition coming in to Barrio Logan and rallying residents to fight for their rights to a healthy community-even if everybody agrees it's a worthwhile battle.
This is a sad state of affairs, but one, as a resident of Hueso's council district, you must focus on. Not everyone has the political access you will now enjoy, and to ignore the impacts the port has on the region's poorest communities will be a legacy that you, with obvious future political ambitions, will find hard to shake.
Finally, a few words about your method of communication.
You're a lawyer, and lawyers sometimes have a tendency to parse words in a way that-how shall Spin put this-leave people scratching their heads. One labor leader put it this way: "She's driving people nuts with the way she talks."
As an example, let's look at your position on project labor agreements, which union folks love and developer chums despise. In its endorsement of you, a Union-Tribune editorial last week said you do not believe "the port commission should mandate" such agreements, "which would give a monopoly to labor unions and drive up the cost of public projects."
That day in front of council, you suggested that the U-T editorial had "misstated" your position on PLAs, then proceeded to muddy the water more by using such lawyerly terms as "not averse to project labor agreements as a whole" and how PLAs "could serve the public interest greatly."
And yet when Spin Cycle checked with Bill Osborne, the U-T's senior opinion editor, he said the editorial "accurately reflected what Lee Burdick told us in the editorial board meeting"-which, by the way, all four port nominees attended.
Takvorian, in fact, was so surprised by your comment that she jotted it down: "It's not the port's role to dictate PLAs."Since then, you've explained to Spin Cycle that your thoughts are more nuanced on the matter, differentiating between public and private projects and what the port can demand. Which is all well and good.
But you would do well to continue the legacy of your predecessor: Speak your mind, shake it up and let the consequences be damned. That's how you earn respect.
Best of luck,
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