Monday, July 4, 2011

The size of the Mayor's clout

For my July 4th commentary I planned on doing some philosophizing about the nature of government and why government activities should be kept at arm’s distance from the activities of business/trade/commerce (my Roget’s Thesaurus lists “copulation” under the category of commerce -- I don't think I'll go there).

But the philosophizing can wait.  Instead, I want to return to an item highlighted in my June commentary (Connecting the dots).  I ask you to scan down to where it says 4) the Republican Party lawsuit.

To recap: Our city is currently engaged in REDISTRICTING -- drawing new boundary lines for City Council districts that will more or less equalize the number of San Diegans in each district.  This task is in the hands of a 7-member Redistricting Commission, which also has the added responsibility of carving out a new (9th) Council district. 
Keep in mind: the driving force behind the increase in the number of Council seats is not, as one might expect, about better representation for our communities.  No, it is strictly about the size of the Mayor’s clout.  Here's a situation where size does count. 

San Diego’s political operatives and heavyweights have been waiting impatiently for the opportunity to redraw neighborhood boundaries in a way that increases the likelihood that a super-majority of Council districts (at least 6 out of 9) will fall securely into the Republican camp. This would, of course, make the Mayor -- should he/she be a Republican -- king/queen of the hill.

But what happens if the next San Diego Mayor is a Democrat?  No problem. The same 2/3 super-majority on the City Council could simply and decisively overrule and override a renegade Mayor, causing this hapless Mayor's clout to shrivel up, fast. 
You can see how high the redistricting stakes are. As any veteran of nominally "nonpartisan" local politics knows, redistricting is a heavily-mined, take-no-prisoners battleground.  In the offing are political fortune, influence, and power. 
Of course the Democrats know it and are pushing for a redistricting map that, at the very least, would provide the potential for most Council districts to swing either way.

To prevent that from happening, San Diego Republicans are lashing out.  Their holy grail has always been a stronger (Republican) Mayor and there’s no way they'll permit a decade’s worth of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to sneak up from behind and bite them in the rear.
  • Hence the Republican Party lawsuit;  
  • Hence the targeting, intimidation, and unrelenting public attacks on the personal integrity and ethics of Redistricting Commissioners -- ordinary citizens (could have been you or me, had we applied for the job), poorly prepared to withstand the heat of relentless harassment;
  • Hence the pressure (ultimately successful) to install a controversial, politically-tilted mapping consultant to assist the Redistricting Commission;
  • Hence the stalling and prolongation of the mapping process, in spite of promises to the public for a speedy public process and despite early deadlines set down by the Registrar of Voters;
  • Hence the squeeze (unfortunately successful) on San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, forcing him to renege at the eleventh hour on a contract agreement with a Sacramento law firm already selected to legally advise the Redistricting Commission.  Were there too many labor unions among this law firm's lengthy client list?
As for the aforementioned Republican Party lawsuit against the city and Redistricting Commission – the judge threw it out (frivolous, intimidating, distracting, menacing, disruptive, pugnacious, devious, and thuggish are adjectives that come readily to mind).  But don’t relax yet.  There's another groundless lawsuit waiting in the wings.