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OK, I know I left you hanging a bit earlier, but I had to do a little work. (Thanks to Molly, our news assistant, for helping me transcribe some things in the meantime.)
There’s a quick rundown of what happened at City Council here and I’m sure our news team will be diving into it. But my jaw dropped watching the City Council meeting today as it tried to decide who to nominate to the Port Commission.
We knew it was going to be close. Nobody seemed to have a clear idea which members of the City Council would support giving Steve Cushman a third term on the commission or which would support replacing him with consultant Laurie Black.
This race had turned into a remarkable political drama. Both Black and Cushman and their allies worked hard to earn the support of the City Council. By this week, it was clear that Cushman had two definite votes — Donna Frye and Brian Maienschein — and Black had two definite votes — Scott Peters and Jim Madaffer.
The others, as far as I knew, were still trying to decide.
The public weighed in on the matter. So it came down to the City Council.
Actually, Councilwoman Toni Atkins surprised at least me when she announced that — despite her respect and admiration for Jerry Butkiewicz, the labor leader who fought hard for Cushman — she would be supporting Laurie Black.
Let’s just take a look at a long snippet of her speech. It’s worth the read:
I don’t think I can speak more highly for Steve Cushman than the people here on both sides have done today. I just can’t. He has done an incredible job for this city again and again and again. I will always be thankful for the work that Mr. Cushman has done for the workers. For the living wage: He was the person that helped turn the tide on that issue. He stood up and he has been courageous and for I have a feeling that he has taken a lot of flak over the years. And for that I want to thank him, he is an incredible person.
So the arguments on both sides have been very powerful. I wish I had a philosophical bent on term limits that was as strong as some. I don’t. I think it depends. And I think today, if I thought we didn’t have other good candidates that could serve in this position, I would absolutely be supporting waiving term limits because I think Mr. Cushman has done an incredible job. And if anyone is worthy of serving more than the allotted terms, it is Mr. Cushman.
Today, I will just say that I am not going to support the waiving of term limits. And I feel like I’m in church and I’m having to testify or witness or admit to making mistakes and I have to be publicly flogged. And I apologize to Mr. Cushman because I committed very early to support him. And in the time that has ensued between then and now, I have been confronted with issues that have been incredible and I think the points again on both sides have been valid. There is no right or wrong here, I believe. So I will stand up and witness and testify and apologize to Mr. Cushman for offering support early. It is just a reminder to us as elected officials that you can’t make — you can’t always make — you may know exactly what you’re doing and you may very much believe it, but there are many times when you are proven that something is not quite so simple and you need to withhold your support of something until you feel you are 100 percent sure.
With that, she announced her support for Black.
So that will be my position on the waiver. And then if, uh, you know, I think Laurie’s’ an incredible person. I’m happy someone called her young today I mean. Somebody called her young and I know she doesn’t look it but I think she may be older than me. So thank you, Mr. Maienschein. It’s a youth thing (laughs).
I think, much like Mr. Cushman she has passion, commitment — she is a civic leader. She cares and I will support her nomination today.
So the council then had to vote on whether to waive the policy that limited port commissioners to serving only two terms.
Atkins voted against waiving the policy and the motion failed in a tied 4-4 vote. So, Black was the only eligible candidate for the appointment. But then the council again tied 4-4 in approving her appointment. That meant, of course, it failed.
City Attorney Mike Aguirre then informed the council that if it wanted, it could redo the vote on the waiver of term limits. All they needed, he said, was to have someone who voted against the waiver make a motion to reconsider.
Atkins decided she wanted to be that person.
So, they reconsidered the vote. Atkins did a 180 and decided to vote in favor of the waiver of term limits. The vote came down 5-3, paving the way to allow Cushman to serve another term if he’s appointed. But Black had already been considered and rejected. So Donna Frye, in the spirit of allowing a balloting of the two candidates, decided to support a reconsideration of the vote to reject Black. The council abided and we were set for the final decision.
After all of her hand-wringing, Atkins decided that she supports Cushman and changed her vote. It ended up 5-3 — Cushman was appointed to the Port Commission for another four years.
Atkins hasn’t said a word about her decision, apparently.
But, in the end, the more I think about it, it was somewhat rational. I say somewhat, because if she didn’t mind waiving term limits, she should have just voted to waive them. But forget that strange detour from logic for a moment.
She had made it clear in her speech that she supported both candidates but preferred Black. After the first two votes, it appeared that both candidates would be rejected in favor of more delay as we waited for a new person.
If she found that alternative distasteful, it makes sense she would decide to end the discussion and go with the lesser of her two apparent favorites.
But it was, indeed, a bizarre way to get there.