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Home / Articles / Opinion / Spin Cycle /  The Filner treatment
. . . .
Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013

The Filner treatment

It’s no accident that it’s called the ‘bully pulpit’

By John R. Lamb
spincycle Gloria gets the Filner Treatment.
- Photo illustration: Adam Vieyra

"Learn the wisdom of compromise, for it is better to bend a little than to break."

—Jane Wells

A bracing, wintery wind rolled through San Diego last week, but balmier days appear on the horizon.

Nooo, John Coleman hasn't hijacked Spin Cycle. This blast of arctic air came gift-wrapped for local media consumption via our newly anointed mayor, Bob Filner, the Sultan of Swat-downs, directed at our newly minted City Council ringmaster, Todd Gloria.

The public dispute over city appointments to local governmental agencies—most notably the money-flush San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)—occurred during last Tuesday's otherwise innocuous City Council meeting. Social media blew up over the proceedings, which were highlighted by the mayor urging fellow Democrat Gloria to bail from his presiding duties so they could meet privately to hash out a solution.

You read correctly—during the meeting.

Thing is, the kerfuffle didn't have to happen. As noted in a string of emails provided to Spin by Gloria's office, the council president reached out to Filner's staff as early as Dec. 12 with board recommendations for the mayor to consider.

In an interview this week, Gloria said responses to those drafts were limited to "acknowledgements of receipt and that they're working on it." The first time he saw Filner's own nominations—presenting a vastly reduced role for Gloria on outside agencies—was the Friday before last week's showdown.

Gloria said Filner's memo appeared "in reaction" to Gloria's own memo, which docketed the appointment agenda item and recommended much more robust duties for Gloria, including as a voting member of SANDAG's board, which oversees the regional transportation purse strings of the TransNet half-cent sales tax.

The evening after the public snit, Filner appeared before the Hillcrest Town Council, mesmerizing the packed house with tales of battles with code-violator-cum-publisher Doug Manchester, defying SDG&E's attempt to dine him and "hand me some checks for my debt" (the utility company declined comment) and riffing on his opposition to Irwin Jacobs' Plaza de Panama remodel, a La Jolla-seal-cam ("I'm told technically it's not difficult to do") and requiring all city contracts to bear his signature ("Everything!").

After the talk, Filner told Spin that he chose to reduce Gloria's appointments "because he's council president, and he's got enough to do." The mayor added that he tried to include all council members on the various boards, Republicans included, and that Gloria had shown that courtesy only to Lorie Zapf, with whom Gloria had shared "alternate" status on SANDAG.

"I think we ought to be sharing these responsibilities," Filner argued.

Asked why he chose the confrontational approach rather than the admittedly informal practice of past mayors and council presidents working out the picks jointly, Filner bristled. Gloria "had his memo before, and I couldn't agree to it," he said, leaning in. "But he wouldn't talk about what I wanted to do until I gave him my thing [memo], and he said, 'Iím going to do my thing.'"

Now, much of this can be blamed, presumably, on the relative freshness of this evolving relationship—"We're both new to our roles," Gloria noted—although the two are no strangers. Gloria even accompanied Filner to the mayor-to-be's voting precinct on Election Day.

"It's a classic case of a new mayor coming in, and he has staff who hasn't figured out how to work with this council," said Carl Luna, a Mesa College political-science professor who frequently opines on the local legislative landscape. (He noted that Filner may speak at the 2nd annual Conference on Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue that Luna will moderate in February at the University of San Diego.)

"It's not the same sort of partisan environment that you have on Capitol Hill," Luna added, a reference to Filner's feisty decades in Congress. "I mean, these guys are just down the hall from each other. And it's not 435 of them. So I think the mayor is learning some more of the people skills, and I think the transition has caused him a few snafus."

Asked if his Tuesday appearance was predicated by the previous day's council meeting in which Gloria sided with his Republican counterparts to fill two vacant seats on the influential San Diego Port Commission, the mayor smiled and wrapped his arm around Spin.

"You know how the votes came out? Four Republicans and Todd," Filner said. 

During the impromptu behind-doors meeting with Gloria last Tuesday, the mayor—in a style that conjured memories of the so-called "Johnson Treatment" (whereby Lyndon Johnson would literally lean into the face of those he sought to influence)—said he told Gloria, "Why are you allowing them to run the city? We had an election!"

Gloria, meantime, described the encounter as "uncomfortable" but nothing more. "Serving on additional boards and committees, it's not what I wake up yearning to do," he told Spin. "The office of the mayor is very important, but so is the office of the council president. We're co-equal branches of government. And a deviation from a process that in my mind would reduce the voice of the council president is nothing that I could support. That's why you see some of the tension."

Gloria also defended the port picks, chuckling, "A pro-worker Republican [Marshall Merrifield] and the president of the La Raza Lawyers Association [Rafael Castellanos]? It's a new day in San Diego!"

In the end, the council president, after meeting with Filner last Thursday, prevailed for the most part. Where Filner wanted Councilmember David Alvarez to join him on SANDAG, Gloria will take that seat. (Gloria even hinted at the possibility of chairing SANDAG's powerful Transportation Committee, a rare plum for local council members typically hampered from gaining seniority due to term limits.)

Alvarez, whose spokesperson said he was "good" with the changes, will join the Airport Authority and sit on SANDAG's Border Committee. At Monday's meeting, during which the council unanimously approved the picks, Filner seemed to soften, saying, "I want to thank you for the cooperative spirit, which I think was commanded by the council, that we present a unified state."

"Bob," Luna observed, "has to make sure he's not burning bridges before he's even learned how to cross them. Maybe the council can come up with something like the Mayor's Box, a little railed box, and he never gets to leave!"

Got a tip? Send it to johnl@sdcitybeat.com or follow John R. Lamb on Twitter @johnrlamb.




 
 
 
 
 
 
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