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Friday, Nov. 9, 2007 | City Councilman Scott Peters is the odds-on favorite to retain the responsibilities of San Diego’s council president for the third straight year.
But, unlike the first two years the president position has existed, he’s got competition. This time around, more council members than just Peters are posturing for the job leading up to next Tuesday’s selection of a leader.
Councilman Tony Young said he wants the job. Sources close to the behind-the-scenes talks said Councilman Jim Madaffer has been fishing for support as well.
However, a quiet effort has been undertaken by some council members to ask Peters to run for a third term despite earlier indications that he would hand off the presidential duties at the end of 2007.
On Thursday, Peters went to pains to say he wasn’t actively campaigning for a third term as the city’s legislative leader. But he said he wouldn’t turn down the job if he was reelected by a council majority next week.
“I would be willing to serve again if my colleagues asked me to,” Peters said at his weekly media briefing.
For the past two years, Peters has enjoyed an elevated role as council president. The press sessions are one of the responsibilities Peters has undertaken. He has served as the chief spokesman for the city’s legislative body since the mayor was removed from the council to manage the city’s operations in 2006 when the city switched to a strong-mayor form of government.
The president is also in charge of setting the city’s legislative agenda, running council meetings, and assigning council members to committees.
Now, Young and Madaffer want their turn. But sources close to the talks say they don’t expect either of the two to garner enough support to win the leadership post.
“There’s no question Madaffer wants it, but he knows where the votes are,” said a local political adviser who was near the talks. “Tony Young doesn’t have a chance.”
There are questions about Madaffer’s ability to juggle the duties of council president with his new side job as the president of the League of California Cities. Peters, for example, resigned from the California Coastal Commission to focus on being council president.
As a Republican, Madaffer also faced challenges from the local Democratic Party, which lobbied Democratic council members, who hold a 5-3 majority, to keep the post within their ranks.
“Jim Madaffer has recently been closer to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, but it’s not about Jim Madaffer,” said San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Jess Durfee, referring to Madaffer’s endorsement of gay marriage, homeless rights and water recycling. “If the Democratic Party holds a majority of the seats, the party should be reflected in its leadership.”
Young is a Democrat, but individuals close to the discussion doubted he could round up enough council members who believe he and his staff have the requisite expertise. January will mark the beginning of his fourth year on council. He has never been the chairman of a council committee. Instead he has served as the president pro tem, a largely ceremonial position, except in the few occasions when he fills in for Peters in his absence.
Sources say Peters’ agreement to resume the council presidency for another year will likely tip the balance in his favor.
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think Scott Peters isn’t suited to do that job,” said a council staffer.
Peters said he has been encouraged by some council members to continue on in the position after he said in April he would step down at the end of the year, but he would not name names. He also would not say whether Sanders asked him to stay on, but he remarked that mayoral officials “have wisely stayed out” of a debate he thinks should be confined to the council.
Sources who work for or near the council said Peters can often build consensus among his colleagues. He’s a moderate Democrat who frequently supports builders over environmentalists in development issues. He enjoys allies in both the labor and business communities. Although he is constantly at odds with Aguirre, Peters’ relationship with Mayor Jerry Sanders is often collegial despite policy disagreements.
Peters coyly suggested he was the right official for the job. With experience as a lawyer, he was uniquely suited to challenge City Attorney Mike Aguirre on the contentious legal issues the city deals with, he said. His staff’s experience of shouldering the position’s burden as well as the regular neighborhood issues that every council office deals is valuable, he said.
“I think there’s some benefit to stability,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into what goes on the docket. There’s a lot of negotiating.”
Should he be reelected, Peters said he wants council members with less leadership experience to gain some next year through committee chairmanships.
Because four of the eight council members — Peters, Madaffer, Toni Atkins and Brian Maienschein — have only one year remaining before they depart because of term limits, Peters said the newer wave of council members will need to learn the ropes.
“I think everyone needs to have chaired a committee by the end of the year. That’s a really important thing,” Peters said. “If that means some the old-timers don’t get to do everything they want, that’s OK too.”
Besides Young, only Councilman Ben Hueso has not headed a council panel yet.
Young agrees junior council members need a stepped-up role, which is why he wants to be council president.
“As the council moves forward and transitions to whole new council, this is way to create a culture on that floor that’s inclusive,” he said. “That would be my goal.”
Young remains unfazed. He said he hasn’t tried to lobby behind the scenes for the post because he wants to instill an openness on the council. He wouldn’t go as far as to say those characteristics have been missing under Peters’ leadership.
Attempts to reach Madaffer for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.