Monday, June 5, 2006 | I’ll never forget the first time I saw now-Councilman Tony Young speak to the media in an impromptu press conference. He was bewildered, scared and non-committal – and understandably so. He was speaking as the chief of staff for Councilman Charles Lewis, who had died suddenly in the middle of what was becoming a historical period of strife, controversy and scandal at City Hall.
Young was distraught and distracted. The questions kept coming, but each of them was basically a reworded request for the same thing: a stance from Young on whether he was going to run in the special election for his boss’ seat.
He wouldn’t say because he didn’t know.
He did end up running and he ended up winning. It was a surprising victory. He faced down the Rev. George Stevens, the popular former representative of District 4 – and all the behind-closed-doors machinations that made it possible for Stevens to even run for the post – and came out a winner.
Now Young is a different person. He no longer appears bewildered. It frustrates me that he hasn’t become somebody who forces this city to face down its many problems and that he instead joined the chorus of those who want to squeeze from it what he can to benefit his district and his political future. But at least – at times – he’s had some courage to talk about raising taxes and other revenues to pay for what he wants rather than pretend, as many of his colleagues do, that the city can do everything he wants it to do without sacrificing for it.
As one of the city’s representatives on the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, Young has taken on an outspoken role and doesn’t mind talking down to military leaders who question the airport authority’s focus. Monday, Young will most likely vote with a majority determined to focus on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as the site for a new airport.
And Tuesday, Young is set to become the next institutional politician for District 4, a San Diego neighborhood where minorities are the vast majority.
Tuesday’s local elections may have snuck up on us and they may only draw a handful of voters – a baby’s handful at that – but they don’t lack significance. Assuming he wins tomorrow, Young could conceivably be the District 4 representative for nearly 10 years total. As hard as it is to defeat an incumbent councilman, he almost assuredly will fill the seat until term limits force him out. With that sort of stretch comes legacy.
Same goes for Kevin Faulconer, he’s in and he could be for a long long time. Because of this exaggerated fear of incumbents, Faulconer is running unopposed. His name will surely be around for most of the decade.
And if Ben Hueso squeezes out Remy Bermudez on Tuesday, it will soon be difficult if not impossible to dethrone the councilman from District 8.
Donna Frye may be entering her final term, but she would have to try to lose Tuesday’s election. With the tacit endorsements – no kidding – of both The San Diego “we-don’t-mind-seriously-contradicting-ourselves-on-a-regular-basis” Union-Tribune and Jerry “I-only-question-her-integrity-when-it-serves-my-personal-goals” Sanders, Frye must have done something to scare off the much-rumored Republican juggernaut that was forming to push her out of District 6 after her vulnerabilities were supposedly exposed in the race for mayor last November.
What we may not have noticed happen in the city, in the chaos of the last two years, was the ascendancy of a new generation of City Councilmembers. Sure, some of the savviest of the group – Scott Peters, Jim Madaffer, Brian Maienschein and Toni Atkins – are requesting applications for lame-duck status.
But if you hope for leadership and reform and you put your hopes on them, you’ll be disappointed. I don’t blame them. What do they get out of reform or new, major initiatives? Nothing but a big headache and only limited recognition after strife and angry debate.
They’d only have the personal satisfaction that comes from following an idea and giving it your best shot – of doing something good based on only the best of intentions. And only the dim hope that a columnist like me will thank them for it a year or two after they leave.
No, those four are done doing anything big – if they ever started. It’s management time.
The other four, on the other hand – the ones looking for four more years from voters tomorrow – will be around for a long time yet. They will have to answer for the things they do or don’t do right now.
If they each earn the mandate they’re expected to Tuesday from voters, they each have the responsibility and opportunity to do something great with it – to rejuvenate City Hall and to electrify us with bright new ideas and hopes. If they want to keep the city government from going bankrupt, they should come up with revenue-generating plans and/or massive service cuts.
Brian Maienschein once came up with an idea to completely eliminate the city’s retirement system. He talked about it a little bit and then walked away never to bring it up again – never to fight for it. Whether it was the right idea or not, he certainly believed it was. As such, he should have stuck with it and fought for it: He should have assured himself that the idea failed because it didn’t have merit and not left open the question that it really only failed because he didn’t fight for it enough.
Politicians like Young and Maienschein must stop meekly trotting out proposals with the passive-aggressive hope that they’ll catch fire from somebody else’s match. And the others must stop thinking their job is merely to manage and not lead. We pay people to manage.
We elect others to tell them what to manage.