Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 | After both Ben Hueso and Donna Frye had made their pitches for why each should be appointed San Diego City Council president, new Councilman Carl DeMaio proposed a new way of picking council president.

Noting that council members had praised both candidates, DeMaio sprung out of his seat, holding a coin in his hand.

“The one of you that wins the coin toss gets council president year one and the other gets council president year two,” he said.

No one else opted to go the coin-toss route. And ultimately, DeMaio was in the majority in a 6-2 vote to appoint Hueso as council president on Tuesday.

Only new Councilwoman Sherri Lightner joined Frye in supporting Frye for president, whom several audience members also praised for her hard work. “There is very strong support for Donna in the communities,” Lightner said. “They recognize a kindred spirit.”

New Councilwoman Marti Emerald said she voted for Hueso because they shared the same vision for the city and because of Hueso’s support during her campaign. “When people were writing our campaign off, Ben showed up in his walking shoes,” Emerald said.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said Hueso “can work well together with a wide variety of groups and organizations.”

New Councilman Todd Gloria, who nominated Hueso, said Hueso had the “experience and leadership to serve us well.”

Hueso thanked council members for their support and promised that as council president, he will make sure all council members’ issues are addressed. “We will work well together,” he said. “I will make sure your voices are heard and we will keep San Diego ‘America’s Finest City.’”

Hueso’s election as council president was unsurprising, as he had the support of many, including organized labor.

The unions’ preference for council president became an issue during the campaign, as District 3 candidate Stephen Whitburn’s campaign manager claimed he had lost the Labor Council’s endorsement to Gloria in the general election after Whitburn balked at supporting labor’s pick over Frye for council president. Labor has denied the Whitburn campaign’s characterization of the interview.

On Tuesday, Lorena Gonzalez, the secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, spoke on behalf of 124 unions who supported Hueso for council president.

“Ben’s commitment to people who work for a living is absolutely beyond reproach,” Gonzalez said.

After the meeting, Councilman Tony Young said Hueso’s election was “clearly a good thing for working people.”

“I think he’s a little bit more in touch than some folks with the people those unions represent,” said Young, who added that many workers live in Hueso’s district.

But Young said Hueso’s supporters were not limited to labor, noting that Hueso also drew the vote of DeMaio — hardly a friend of the unions.

Both DeMaio and Lightner said there was intense behind-the-scenes wrangling for the council president position that DeMaio said had lasted for months.

Lightner said while she didn’t mind talking about who will be president, she said she didn’t appreciate “veiled threats” about her future committee appointments, one of the major duties of council president.

Through a spokesman, Lightner declined to elaborate on those comments after the meeting. Hueso said he had not talked to Lightner about committee appointments or the council presidency.

In addition to nominating committee members, the council president also runs the meetings and sets the docket, or agenda.

John Kern, a Republican political consultant, believes the role of the unions is overstated in the new pick.

“In my opinion, the strongest factors here were probably the personalities of the candidates,” he said. “The thing they had to ask themselves is: Do you really want Donna Frye presiding? She votes no all the time. Do you really want someone who votes no all the time setting the agenda for the council?”

Hueso, by contrast, is viewed as a calmer, steadier presence who council members can work with, Kern said.

After being selected president, Hueso asked — and the council agreed — to delay council committee appointments until a special meeting next week. Hueso said he wanted all council members to fill out forms specifying what committees they were interested in.

The new council also gave final approval to cuts meant to address a $43 million budget gap. The previous council had given its OK to most of the proposals submitted by Mayor Jerry Sanders, but had refused to close certain libraries and recreation centers and cut two fire crews.

The measure, which had received initial approval from the old council, also reflected a compromise brokered by Frye and Sanders after the mayor’s veto. It will cut community service centers, but not until January, and cut the positions of three painters, but restore them in January.

DeMaio was the only one who voted against the measure, using a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate his opposition to using one-time funds to bridge the gap.

Gloria, however, said he agreed with Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin that the libraries and recreation centers should remain open while a fuller examination of the centers and libraries citywide is conducted.

“This purchase of time is well worth it to have the broader conversation we need to have,” Gloria said.

The council also voted unanimously to send a package of reform measures proposed by DeMaio and Frye to a council committee for further debate.

The first changes recommended by the council’s Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee are expected to go to the full council for a vote by March.

The proposals include allowing council members to more easily place items on the council’s agenda, holding evening meetings and increasing oversight of organizations such as the Centre City Development Corp. and the” target=”_blank”>Southeastern Economic Development Corp.

Council members did not discuss the proposals in detail, but some expressed general support for the proposals.

Gloria said “a lot of these are very sensible reforms that are necessary,” but said he wanted a chance to offer input, saying he felt “like I’ve been invited to the table, but the table’s already been set.”

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