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Friday, April 21, 2006 | A day or two can seem to pass now without even Mike Aguirre, the city attorney, convening the wearying media for a press conference.
Yet when any sense of calmness appears to descend over City Hall, any sudden absence of contention and dispute, we are spooked by the unfamiliarity of silence. Have all the old dissensions worn thin and blown away? Why was it we assumed these people we elected would be hassling interminably over city issues?
It’s not yet summer vacation time, is it? Are the usual combatants exhausted? Have we simply stopped listening? Is this phase civic maturity or disgust? Is it our overreaction to years of inner-sanctum decisions during which the public was too seldom heard?
The answer, we now begin to hope, is that our city has reopened under new management, one that anticipates dissension and deals with it as much as possible in advance. The “Chef Wanted” placard is gone from the window.
I have only the fondest memories of those afternoons when Mayor Maureen O’Connor would rise from her desk at City Hall and go off to see a movie. It was as human a measure of civic despair and disgust as one could imagine.
I recall with warm admiration the hours that Mayor Pete Wilson’s chief of staff Bob White would be left alone as the senior officer present at City Hall to tend Wilson’s calendar. Pete would often reappear in the next day or two after fruitful off-site diplomacy, such as his now historic clandestine meeting with San Diego’s general contractors, in which he warned them that if they expected to continue to receive City Hall approval of their profitable suburban housing developments, they must accept less-profitable project burdens for the redevelopment of downtown San Diego.
Of course it was blackmail, White conceded many years later, if that’s what one chose to call it. But what Pete Wilson knew it to be was blackmail on behalf of the people of San Diego, sometimes the highest service an elected officer can perform. It is more politely known in higher halls of government as “reaching an agreement.”
San Diego voters have seen a panoply of mayoral styles (remember the dirty jokes with which Frank Curran seemed inevitably to erupt when he stood before the public as mayor?). Often they have set the tone for a city administration. Few around Susan Golding knew what scheme (some great, some poor) she might be hatching at any moment.
Now, as mayor, we have a calm, quiet-spoken ex-police chief, Jerry Sanders. At his side is Ronne Froman, the former Navy mayor of San Diego, who was so fearless that in crisis she quietly went to Washington to lobby Pentagon and Congress and came away with 4,800 San Diego housing units for Navy enlisted men and their families. Now she talks self-deprecatingly of being busy “just doing the plumbing” for San Diego.
Not that any management should have to inherit the financial chaos that San Diego now presents. It is important to remember that it took New York City six years to return city government to normal operations after filing bankruptcy; a similar desert expanse of handicapped years followed bankruptcy in Orange County.
Some experts still believe that bankruptcy would be the swifter course to San Diego’s financial recovery, which is the base problem that confronts Sanders, Froman, and all the rest of us. Whichever choice this team comes to recommend, I will feel better about our civic prospects because I have faith in their judgments.
And that faith has been so lacking for so long that it now contributes, perhaps, to that propitious sense of civic calm. In such a mood, a city can best prepare to face the decision that will lead to San Diego regaining its reputation and its faith in itself.
Neil Morgan is senior editor for voiceofsandiego.org. Send a letter to the editor here or email him at