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Over the years, few things in local politics have entertained me more than the drama that ensues when local cities try to appoint representatives to the commission of the Unified Port of San Diego.

It looks like new Mayor Bob Filner will be taking it to a new level.  

Filner told the Port Tenants Association Wednesday — and has apparently told “everyone” —  that he would veto Gloria and the City Council’s recent appointments to the port.

This would be an escalation in the tensions between the mayor and City Council. Both are feeling out the edges of their respective powers after the first big turnover since the strong-mayor system was implemented in 2006.

The Port Act gives the power to appoint commissioners to the City Council. But Thursday, the city attorney issued an opinion that the mayor can veto anything the Council does.

State law clearly vests the Council with the authority to appoint Commissioners for the Port District. … The power of the appointment of Port Commissioners, however, must be distinguished from the power to veto. Thus, state law governing the appointment process must be harmonized with the City Charter’s requirement that the Mayor be provided the authority to veto.

For the last several years, port appointees have needed the mayor’s signature.

Until now, they’ve always gotten it.

Let’s rewind a bit:

No appointment is more coveted by insiders than the port. The port is the region’s most powerful landlord. It oversees our most valuable land and even has its own police force. (See: San Diego Explained: The Port.)

On Jan. 7, the San Diego City Council compromised on two new commissioners to the port, Rafael Castellanos and Marshall Merrifield.

The council currently has four Democrats and four Republicans.

So Gloria and Councilman Kevin Faulconer essentially decided that, rather than vote all night over and over again, the Republicans would get Merrifield and the Dems would get Castellanos.  

Done and done.

Some progressives had hoped Gloria would wait for the vacant seat in City Council District 4 to be filled. A Democrat is likely to take that seat and then Democrats, with a 5-4 majority, would not have to compromise with the Council’s Republicans to fill the port appointments.

We wrote in the Morning Report that labor was among the disappointed.  But Lorena Gonzalez, the CEO of the Labor Council, tweeted that she was not displeased with Merrified and Castellanos.

Both appointees supported the port’s focus on importing and exporting, which is a big deal to labor. Neither opposes project labor agreements either. Gonzalez said she didn’t get her top choice, but got her Nos. 2 and 3 and did not support a veto.

So will the mayor still do it?

Gloria’s spokeswoman said his office was waiting to see if Filner followed through with the veto. And while they believe that the City Council has the authority to appoint port commissioners, they weren’t going to challenge the city attorney’s opinion.

Gloria said in a statement he hoped the mayor wouldn’t veto the Council’s picks.

“Port issues are critical to our City and our region, as Mayor Filner said in his State of the City, and foregoing representation for several months is unnecessary when two qualified, intelligent people have stepped forward to serve,” he said.

Two windows provide a deeper look into what’s going on.

First, CityBeat got Filner to relay his account of an encounter between him and Gloria. Filner got in Gloria’s face, wanting to know why he was compromising with Republicans.

“Why are you allowing them to run the city? We had an election!” he said.

Second, Councilwoman Marti Emerald may have been relaying a message from the mayor, when during the meeting in question, she told her colleagues to not go forward with the appointments.

She advocated that the Council set up a process to identify the goals it had for the port. Then it could quiz port applicants on how they felt about those goals.

“The Council never has held a public discussion about the opportunities and impacts and goals that port operations would bring to our city,” she said. “This process I believe would be a turning point for how we fill appointments, putting the good of the city and its residents above of the practices of the past.”

Sounds like Emerald would support a veto. The question is, will her colleagues override it?

I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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