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The Port of San Diego has long considered itself under Maritime Law, but at least one commissioner’s position is seemingly controlled more by Murphy’s law.

The city of San Diego gets to appoint three of the seven commissioners on the Board of Commissioners, of the San Diego Unified Port District. 

Most recently the press reported on one.

An elder commissioner, Steve Cushman, and his attempt to hold on to his past glories, by retaining his position for a third, not-allowed-under-city-policy term by trading on his past favors to people who influence and control board appointments.

To Commissioner Cushman’s credit, he and only he had already hung on to the seat for eight years.

Meanwhile, another city seat, during the same eight years, has had no less then seven San Diegans, involved with it.

Some of this because of Murphy’s law, and some simply because of Dick Murphy, San Diego’s former mayor.

The saga begins as Dick Murphy begins his first term as mayor.

Occupying the Port Commission seat is Susan Lew a well-respected member of the Asian community.

Susan has seemingly done a fine job at the port, making every trade mission and conference available. She ponders going for a third term, not allowed by council policy, and rumored to be opposed by none other than Commissioner Cushman.

But Murphy informs her that he has already promised the position to someone else. Promised, may be the wrong word, as promising a city position, while a candidate, is a  violation of law, although seldom prosecuted in our city.

In place of Lew, Murphy nominates John Carlson. John a strong Murphy supporter and fundraiser is delighted. But John has a reputation. A nice guy some of the time, Murphy’s friends tell him, John can be rude, crude and socially unacceptable at other times.

Murphy decides not to nominate Carlson and asks Carlson to withdraw. John refuses. Murphy withdraws his nomination. 

Murphy, seemingly has no successor lined up.

Enter Peter Janopaul …

Peter had worked the council for the appointment to the port.

But most council members were not going to buck the mayor and so gave Peter the

“I-only-wish-I-had-known-sooner” brush-off…

With the nomination again open, this longtime council response no longer worked, and Peter rounded up sufficient votes from the council, and Murphy was forced to issue a “me-too” press release, in support of the nomination, and Peter was sworn in.

In no time, Peter became controversial, part for his style of dress, considered too casual for Port business by some. Stories circulated: He once arrived for a port meeting barefooted. 

Janopaul also took controversial positions amongst a group who had long operated with the herd mentality of get along, by going along. 

In the middle of his term, Peter resigned stating he had tired of politics.  

This led to my appointment.

Murphy and I had run against each other in 2000 for mayor. We ended in a near tie which took weeks to decide . He won and went off to run in the general election and I was asked by Mayor Susan Golding to return to the Centre City Development Corp. to work on filling a financial hole that had developed in the city’s plan for the ballpark.

When Murphy took office, he let me and others involved, know that he was not going to support a ballpark, for at least several years, if ever.

I was disappointed, to say the least, having spent 20 years working on downtown redevelopment and feeling the ballpark was the anchor east village needed .

Others were also disappointed and they weighted in and pressured Murphy.  

CCDC was able to come up with more funds, relieving the city of some of its  financial obligation, and this and the pressure from others, contributed to Murphy eventually reaching  his comfort zone, and the ballpark went ahead.

I left CCDC and was asked by the mayor’s chief of staff, to fill Janopaul’s vacancy on the port commission.

The port and airport had recently split and there were concerns with the port’s financial viability.

I accepted, and found the job interesting, but differences with Murphy continued and when I decided to run again for mayor again, my time with the port was over.

Murphy’s first official action, of his second term, was to call on past opponents to come together, to “hold hands”.

Murphy second official action was to nominate my replacement .

Again a sufficient number of the council responded in lock step, and Murphy’s nominee Kourosh Hangafarin, was appointed.

Within a nanosecond, it seemed, Hangafarin was pictured in Cuba announcing he had entered into some form of agreement. If the port felt his predecessors had been mavericks, you can imagine their shock with this.

Eventually the concern reached Murphy who again had to seek the resignation of his nominee.

Next appointment: Murphy went for an old friend Victor Vilaplana.

For what ever reason Victor had a reputation of poor attendance on a previous board and this trend continued, as the Union-Tribune did a story on his poor attendance, and as I recall, mention his numerous abstentions from votes, when he was there, due to his then employer, representing a wide range of firms and individuals with business before the port.

Victor recently submitted his resignation, having served less then half a full term. 

Now, the odds-on favorite for appointment is Laurie Black. A person who has paid her dues and knows the issues.

This time there is no Murphy involved and one hopes no Murphy’s law at work, and that Laurie will have a term of service equal to Steve Cushman’s in length, but one which will prove more responsive to the people of the city that appointed her.

And so it goes: in a city where board appointments are more often based on who you know, then what you know!!

— PETER Q. DAVIS

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