Inside the Mind of City Hall’s New Chief of Staff

Inside the Mind of City Hall’s New Chief of Staff

Courtesy photo

Vince Hall

 

It was one thing for left-leaning progressives and labor leaders in San Diego to absorb that Bob Filner was going to be mayor.

It has them getting poetic about the change.

“The election of Bob Filner is dawn of a new populist paradigm in San Diego,” tweeted Murtaza Baxamusa, the director of planning and development at San Diego Building Trades – Family Housing Corporation.

New progressive paradigm? Maybe.

You did get a sense of just how much things had changed, though, when Filner announced his chief of staff: a longtime driver of the left-of-center agenda in San Diego, Vince Hall.

He’s one of most well-spoken and best-known of people who might have gotten this job.

“He brings with him compassion and caring and understands that people need to work together and knows how to do that. I think he’s wonderful,” said former City Councilwoman Donna Frye, who said she’s also “thrilled” with how things are coming together in Filner’s administration.

No, conservatives will not be happy, necessarily. But conservatives lost this election.

To imagine Hall as chief of staff for a liberal mayor is still a bit startling. Things really have changed. I decided to take a minute and pull together some of Hall’s thinking and a short Q-and-A with him.

I first saw Hall when I tried to keep tabs on the 2004 Assembly race. Hall was in a tough three-way Democratic primary with Lori Saldaña and Heidi von Szeliski.

Saldaña shocked everyone when she managed to get through the primary ahead of the favored Hall and von Szeliski.

Hall, a lawyer who graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law, is leaving his post as vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.

His job will be to drive the mayor’s political and policy agenda and coordinate his staff. But it won’t necessarily be to run the city. Filner is retaining the city’s chief operating officer, Jay Goldstone, in that role for a little while.

In the past, the mayor’s chief of staff could simply be a political consultant on the payroll. Now, the mayor is the chief executive of the city.

Outgoing Mayor Jerry Sanders was the first strong mayor. He decided to campaign with Ronne Froman, the former Navy admiral and “Navy mayor” of the city. She became his chief operating officer but had a rival in his chief of staff, Kris Michell.

Michell lasted, of course, much longer than Froman did.

So there’s precedent now for a strong chief of staff and dutiful, competent chief operating officer.

Via email, I asked Hall about this.

What’s the role of the COS to you? What say over operations will it have?

Mayor-Elect Filner supports our “strong mayor” form of government, but believes that the daily operations of city government should be managed by a professional, veteran municipal manager. There is a distinction between operations and policy, and it defines the relationship between the chief of staff and the chief operating officer. The Chief of Staff has, as I see it, three main roles: effectively lead a large team of professionals in the Office of the Mayor, understand the “big picture” of the state of the city and how the mayor’s agenda is being accomplished, and be the mayor’s senior adviser on strategy, tactics and the creative process of envisioning solutions.

Filner doesn’t have the best reputation as a boss. He’s tough to work for and last a long time with. Is that deserved?

I am honored and excited to be a part of Mayor Filner’s administration. Having previously worked for Bob for nine years, I know he works hard and expects his staff to do the same. He has a vision of city government as an open, inclusive and responsive place where everyone is focused on getting the job done, and I am determined to help him achieve it.

You ready for this?

I have never shied away from challenging assignments. But having spent five years at City Hall, three years in state government, thee years in the federal government and seven years in non-profit work where I regularly engaged all three levels of government, I have the experience to understand the complex challenges we face. My experience as a district director, a gubernatorial staff director, running the gubernatorial transition and serving as vice president of a $60 million per year health care organization, have developed and honed my leadership skills.

To try to get a window into Hall’s perspective on public affairs, I scoured the web for interesting things Hall has said or tweeted. One of the best comments I found, however, came in one of our stories.

It was a response to one of Rob Davis’ best recent articles on water policy in San Diego. The Colorado River, you see, is our lifeline and there is no plan for what to do when the reality that its water has been overcommitted to thirst cultures across the American Southwest.

Here’s what Hall said.

As Rob Davis points out, even without considering the impacts of global warming, scientists have proven that Colorado River allocations were based on an unusual period of surplus flows. San Diego is particularly vulnerable because of MWD’s often hostile approach to our county. And even when we can independently purchase water from Imperial farmers, we have to negotiate with MWD to deliver it to us because we no conveyance system through the Lagunas. Most real solutions are going to take decades to negotiate, litigate and implement. It may not win anyone an election, but our political leaders have got to start dealing with this crisis now.

I wonder if he’ll have any influence on the mayor in this regard. How much patience will Filner have for long-term dilemmas like this? For problems whose solutions might not be felt until long after Filner’s left?

I asked Hall how he’d handle his politics in Filner’s world.

I have served and known Mayor-Elect Filner for over 25 years. I am hard-pressed to identify a single issue, vote, or position on which we have ever disagreed. But the mayor’s staff is not a collection of people with their own agendas, it is a collection of talented professionals united around a single agenda: the mayor’s agenda.

Ah, the mayor’s agenda. Can’t wait to see it!

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

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5 comments
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

Vince Hall will assist Mayor Bob Filner in all the ways Mike Aguirre so eloquently enumerates. The idea that a San Diego mayor might actually be "an instrument of the people" is still new to everyone, even Scott Lewis, who apparently is looking forward to learning the details of how that might work. Two things for sure: it will be different and an improvement over the past.

Michael Aguirre
Michael Aguirre subscriber

Vince Hall was a very good choice. Vince helped the Mayor-elect from early on and has broad exposure to many levels of government and business. He has been tirelessly devoted to equal rights for women and minorities while keeping a sympathetic ear to labor and business. He will bring much political know-how and a very good heart to the cause of making the Mayor truly an instrument of the people of this wonderful and caring city.

MichaelAguirre
MichaelAguirre

Vince Hall was a very good choice. Vince helped the Mayor-elect from early on and has broad exposure to many levels of government and business. He has been tirelessly devoted to equal rights for women and minorities while keeping a sympathetic ear to labor and business. He will bring much political know-how and a very good heart to the cause of making the Mayor truly an instrument of the people of this wonderful and caring city.

Sam Ward
Sam Ward subscribermember

Vince is profoundly talented and Mayor-Elect Filner's decision to hire him bodes well for the incoming administration.

Sam Ward
Sam Ward

Vince is profoundly talented and Mayor-Elect Filner's decision to hire him bodes well for the incoming administration.