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What the new mayor’s new hires mean and the winner of the Elections Contest.
Mayor-elect Todd Gloria announced his first significant staffing decisions Friday, naming Paola Avila, the vice president of business affairs at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, as his chief of staff.
That makes Avila the hammer of his administration, with a significant role both making strategic decisions on his agenda and implementing those decisions by ensuring they win City Council approval and are enacted by city staff.
Avila’s role at the Chamber in recent years took on a higher profile, as President Donald Trump’s immigration and trade agendas inevitably crossed paths with her job managing binational business issues for the country’s largest border city. She was critical of the president’s rhetoric, and vocal about the importance of maintaining an open and efficient border with strong ties between two economies that she has called “completely tied” together.
She lobbied senators to get their support for an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement and was a constant presence in conversations about what led to the United States Mexico Canada Agreement.
It will be worth watching how her binational experience plays in the mayor’s office. City Hall has often discussed fostering closer ties with Tijuana, but it’s always amounted to something of an afterthought. In his announcement, Gloria touted her work on border pollution in the Tijuana River Valley.
Avila has experience in City Hall, too, though. She spent five years working for former Mayor Dick Murphy, a Republican, in his administration. She then spent nearly three years working for state Sen. Ben Hueso, a Democrat and former councilman, in Sacramento.
Gloria also named Nick Serrano, his longtime aide and manager of his mayoral campaign, as his deputy chief of staff. Serrano worked in Gloria’s Council and Assembly offices, and Gloria said he’d be in charge of the administration’s media and communications efforts.
The new mayor’s office: Gloria’s first hires send a signal consistent with his campaign’s message of him representing a changing city. Avila is a Latina, and Serrano is both Latino and LGBTQ. They’re representative of a diverse city, with more hires to come.
But there’s another throughline in Gloria’s first two hires. Avila didn’t just work for one former Republican mayor in Murphy, she also worked for former Mayor Jerry Sanders at the Chamber of Commerce – whose connections to the mayor’s office never seemed threatened during Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s term (Faulconer, too, hired a chief of staff from a high-ranking position in the Chamber).
But Avila isn’t the only new hire who was a recent deputy for Sanders. He also announced Friday that …
Gloria communicated a lot of things when he announced that he was bringing back Jay Goldstone as interim chief operating officer for the city of San Diego.
One thing he was saying with Goldstone’s hiring, without really saying it, was that he’s going to need to tell a lot of people that they aren’t getting the money/raise/job/program that they may want. Because that is one thing Goldstone is good at. He is good at telling people there’s no money.
Goldstone was the chief financial officer for Sanders, where his job was to convince people the city both didn’t have money but also did not need to file for bankruptcy. Sanders had taken over the city as the first mayor under the new strong mayor form of governance. The city had a ballooning annual payment to its pension system and had failed to persuade taxpayers to raise hotel taxes and a regional fire tax.
And then the global economy collapsed along with city revenues. One day the mayor was like, “Goldstone, you’re the chief operating officer now too.”
Goldstone just nodded and kept working.
“His strength is his ability to communicate well and build relationships even when he’s giving bad news. We had really good relationship with him even though nothing good was happening,” said Michael Zucchet, the general manager of the Municipal Employees’ Association, the largest union of city employees.
(Zucchet himself had been rumored to be in consideration for the position and others in Gloria’s administration, but he will not be joining the team.)
Zucchet said Goldstone is going to have a tough job. Employee morale is low, big vacancies in many departments are hampering productivity. Deficits are just going to be harder.
He said the city’s “boring stuff” is being neglected — maintenance of its vast fleet of vehicles, for example.
“The challenge for the next COO is to do the boring stuff better. You have to do that when you’re challenged for resources; when your human capital is not in good health,” Zucchet said.
Goldstone lasted as COO into the first few months of former Mayor Bob Filner’s short term in 2014.
Gloria’s appointment of a vice president of the Chamber of Commerce as chief of staff and then of the former Republican mayor’s chief operating officer, known for managing austerity, is a sign that he values not only that boring stuff but also his support from business leaders in town.
He didn’t want to go too far there, though. Gloria made sure to also communicate that Goldstone’s appointment was just temporary.
“Upon being sworn in as the 37th Mayor of the City of San Diego, Gloria intends to conduct a national search in order to find a permanent Chief Operating Officer for the City,” read the press release his office sent out.
Every mayor comes into office with a list of promises and ambitions articulated throughout the preceding campaign. But the business of the city of San Diego doesn’t start and stop on four-year increments, and there’s a handful of issues that have been before city leaders in recent days, weeks, months or years are going to be waiting for Gloria on Day One.
Every election season, we run the over/under contest. For this general election, it was a long one. It was a difficult one. We lost some good people along the way. But we had 52 entries. The one with the most correct answers won lunch with both of us and Sara Libby. But since that’s not really allowed (unless you’re a governor or a newly elected member of Congress?) most of the reward right now is just bragging rights.
And the winner of those this time is Michael Zucchet. Yes, the guy we just wrote about above. He always does really well in this and we had to take him to lunch once before. The Municipal Employees’ Association that he leads did not make it into the “winners” column of last week’s Winners and Losers special edition of the Politics Report. It probably deserved to considering every race it invested in came out a winner.
Hopefully, Zucchet can take this glory as a worthy replacement. For review, here were the lines we set and how they came out (Zucchet missed only two: He thought Steve Vaus would win in the county supervisor race (No. 4) and he thought Proposition 22 would do worse than it did (No. 18)):
As a tiebreaker, try to name the winner of the Oceanside mayoral race.
Well, that would be Esther Sanchez.
A dispatch from Randy Dotinga: In 1980, white supremacist Tom Metzger won a race to become the Democratic nominee for a North County congressional seat. One local congressman called his victory the beginning of “the low point in my career, the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life.” A Democratic activist said it was predictable and preventable if only party officials had bothered to listen to her warnings. And Tip O’Neill, speaker of the House of Representatives, thought it was worthy of a congratulatory form letter. Oops.
Metzger, a Fallbrook television repairman who’d served as the California grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, didn’t win the general election. But the candidacy of Metzger, who died this month at the age of 82, still stands as a grim example of what can happen when racism is on the ballot.
Metzger’s victory in the 43rd Congressional District’s Democratic primary against two opponents was a stunner that made national news. Party activists had tried to raise the alarm about Metzger but the local Democratic brass didn’t care, the Washington Post reported. “The big leaders told us to wait until after the primary. They wouldn’t take Metzger seriously,” said Sarah Lowery, coordinator of the local Carter for President Campaign.
Metzger wouldn’t have had a chance in the Republican primary for the 43rd District, which encompassed southern Orange County, Imperial County, and a big chunk of North County from Oceanside and Carlsbad to Escondido and Valley Center. Then as now, the region is a GOP stronghold, and the incumbent – Clair Burgener – was popular. But the Democratic primary was wide open, so Metzger switched parties.
What did voters know and when did they know it? George Condon, a White House correspondent for the National Journal who covered the races as a reporter for the San Diego Union, reviewed his old articles when I contacted him this week. He said it’s clear that the local media paid attention to Metzger’s primary race even if the Democratic Party didn’t. “Voters did know what they were doing,” Condon said.
At the time, one of the candidates vanquished by Metzger agreed with that perspective, saying voters showed that they’d “rather have violence or the threat of violence” than other solutions to problems. According to an election week report, Metzger won the primary by 318 votes.
Both parties united to stop Metzger from winning in November, with the national Democratic chair calling his primary victory “an acute embarrassment.” In another embarrassment for the party, the speaker of the House reportedly sent Metzger a congratulatory form letter.
Burgener, a Republican mainstay with an independent streak, was deeply appalled by the white supremacist’s victory. He went on to win in November with 86 percent of the vote. It was reportedly the highest margin of victory in congressional history.
Condon, the Union reporter, would go on win a Pulitzer Prize for his Union-Tribune articles exposing the corruption of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, another North County congressman. He remembers being struck by “how open [Metzger] was about using the campaign to promote his brand. He never denied it was a racist brand. He was proud of that during the campaign.”
Condon also recalls a visit to Metzger’s Fallbrook home, where he ran his TV repair shop. “He was an electrician and had made a cross with lightbulbs so when lit up it would simulate a burning cross. It was in a very prominent place in the room. I also remember seeing a swastika or two.”
Metzger was “always affable and professional with reporters, which took a little getting used to since we were well aware of the hate he carried and the violence we believed he was capable of,” Condon said. “The thing that was toughest for me to take was to see him indoctrinating his kids. His son John was just 12, I think, during the campaign. I couldn’t shake the thought when I was at his house that John and the other kids didn’t have a chance. They were fed hatred every day by their father. And if he was affable to reporters, I can imagine he was loving to his kids, making it even harder to resist the hatred.”
Metzger would go on to form the White Aryan Resistance organization.
Both Tom and John Metzger went on trial in 1990 in Oregon, facing a wrongful-death suit over the murder of a African immigrant by skinheads. The Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League accused them of inspiring the killing.
Both men (John Metzger was then 22) represented themselves in court. Tom Metzger led with this introduction: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I’m Tom Metzger, evil one.” The jury believed him: They socked the Metzgers with a $12.5 million settlement. The elder Metzger “lost his San Diego-area home [it was sold to a Latino family], his television repair business and other assets,” the AP reported. “Although left penniless, Metzger continued to produce a racist newsletter for years and operated a racist hotline, taking calls personally.”
A San Diego attorney named James McElroy adopted the then 7-year-old son of the man who was murdered in Portland, the AP reported. He’s now in his 30s, married and working as an airline pilot, McElroy told the AP.
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