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Monday, June 8, 2009 | An attorney touted as a consensus candidate, Lee Burdick, won the backing of the San Diego City Council on Monday for a seat on the influential Port Commission.

The 5-3 vote in favor of Burdick came after weeks of behind-the-scenes politicking and after none of the four candidates garnered a majority support in the first two ballots.

The final vote boiled down to Burdick and Diane Takvorian, the director of the Environmental Health Coalition and the pick of organized labor to replace Laurie Black, who resigned from the post because of her husband’s illness.

Burdick is a Democrat who briefly entered the race for city attorney last year. A partner at the law firm Higgs Fletcher & Mack, she has worked on environmental issues as an attorney and is involved with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

When Burdick was nominated for the port, she acknowledged that she was viewed as a compromise candidate between Takvorian and hotelier Bill Evans, a prominent Republican with a long history in local politics.

While Takvorian’s supporters touted her longtime work on environmental issues involving the port, Burdick was painted as someone who wouldn’t come to the port with an agenda.

Her nominators — an unlikely coalition of Council President Ben Hueso and Councilmen Carl DeMaio and Tony Young — have touted her consensus-building skills and open-minded attitude, themes repeated by those who spoke in support of Burdick on Monday.

Those sentiments were echoed by Councilwoman Marti Emerald, a key swing vote who switched to Burdick after the candidate she nominated, Evans, fell out of contention in the second round of voting. Emerald praised Takvorian’s expertise, but said she thought Burdick “brought the best balance” to the commission and praised her willingness to listen.

“Just understanding the system now as an advocate who came in, it is very important to see all sides,” Emerald said.

Former City Council candidate Marshall Merrifield fell out of the contest after garnering only the support of his former campaign opponent, Councilwoman Sherri Lightner. She then voted for Takvorian, eliminating Evans and prompting his supporters, Emerald and Councilman Kevin Faulconer, to vote for Burdick.

Takvorian said she was puzzled by why she didn’t gain the support of Emerald, Hueso and Young. She said while she wished Burdick the best, she’ll have to catch up to speed.

“She has never worked on these issues, she doesn’t understand these issues,” Takvorian said. “This was an opportunity for the community to have a voice and the council rejected that.”

Takvorian revealed that she had attended more than 100 Port Commission meetings, in response to questions from Councilwoman Donna Frye, who nominated Takvorian along with Councilman Todd Gloria. Burdick and Evans had been to three, while Merrifield had attended one.

Frye said the issue was being spun in a way suggesting it was ideal for a candidate to have had no prior views or opinions on the issues being considered by the port.

“I don’t agree with that,” she said. “I want to know when I appoint someone to a board or commission that they have some basic core beliefs and values.”

For Takvorian’s supporters in organized labor, Burdick was a clear second choice whom they vastly preferred over Evans. Evan McLaughlin, the political director of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, noted that Burdick had expressed her openness to project-labor agreements, especially on public projects.

“It’s pretty clear we’re going to have a supporter on the port,” McLaughlin said.

Burdick will be the only woman on the seven-member board, which includes two other representatives from San Diego, Steve Cushman and former Council President Scott Peters.

Their selections were also contentious: Peters was appointed in November by a council with three outgoing members, a decision many of the new council members criticized Monday. Cushman was last appointed in 2007 after a strange deadlock that eventually led the council to waive its rules to appoint him to a third term.

The position of port commissioner is considered a prime political post, in no small part because of the Unified Port of San Diego’s control over some of the region’s prime waterfront real estate.

The newest port commissioner will grapple with a host of issues that will affect the entire region. Among them are the potential expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, the development of the Navy Broadway Complex and the future of the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal.

San Diego’s representatives have received particular scrutiny, with Cushman — a local power-broker — receiving both praise and criticism for his involvement in port issues outside the city, including the development of Chula Vista’s bay front.

Another hot-button issue for San Diego’s representatives is the share of port money that goes to the city. DeMaio on Monday stressed the need for the city’s port commissioners to ensure a larger share is directed to the city of San Diego.

Please contact Rani Gupta directly at rani.gupta@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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