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Politics Report: Gloria Goes Business With New Team

Assemblyman Todd Gloria speaks at a San Diego Labor Council rally. Gloria is running for San Diego mayor. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

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.

Paola Avila / Courtesy of Paola Avila

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, [1] hired a chief of staff from a high-ranking position in the Chamber [1]).

But Avila isn’t the only new hire who was a recent deputy for Sanders. He also announced Friday that …

… Jay Goldstone Is Back

Former city of San Diego Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone, who is now the future, interim chief operating officer. / Photo by Sam Hodgson.

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.

Four Early Issues for Gloria

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.

  1. Franchise Fee: It looked like Faulconer would wrap up the city’s new franchise agreement, whereby utilities pay the city millions of dollars to have access to the public right of way, so they can deliver energy to city residents, before he left office. But Council President Georgette Gómez wants to greenlight a one-year extension with SDG&E so the new mayor and Council can re-start negotiations with the utility, or to solicit more bids from other parties. (SDG&E and the Chamber of Commerce both say this is unacceptable.) Between unions, environmentalists and the Chamber, Gloria will need to navigate an issue on which some of his vocal supporters disagree.
  2. Sports Arena redevelopment: Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure to remove the coastal height limit in the Midway district. And before they did, Faulconer selected developers to rebuild the area surrounding the Sports Arena into homes, businesses and parks, while renovating the old arena. But the city hasn’t inked a lease or development agreement with that team yet, and Gloria during the campaign hadn’t committed to Faulconer’s decision. He said he’d go into negotiations seeking to ensure sufficient low-income housing in the project. Those negotiations are in his hands now, but he could always break them off and put the project out to bid again (that would count as a big of a surprise).
  3. 101 Ash St.: Chances are good we hear a lot less about this civic disaster, now that campaign season is over. But there’s still a lot of unanswered questions [2] about how the city got into such a bad deal, and how it’ll proceed from here (and what it’ll use as a long-term home for the city workers who were supposed to be stationed there already). We need answers on the city’s other disastrous deal [3], for an industrial facility near Convoy Street meant to be a maintenance yard needs, too!
  4. 5 Big Moves: Politically, SANDAG Director Hasan Ikhrata has everything he needs to get his plan to revamp public transportation through a board that just took a sudden turn to the left, and Gloria’s a big part of that. But that’s the easy part. The region doesn’t have enough money to build out its current, ho-hum transportation vision. It’ll need a lot of new revenue to build even a chunk of Ikhrata’s vision. Work to get a revenue measure on the 2022 ballot is likely to start right away, with Gloria playing a central role. But keep your eye out for the measure starting as a citizens initiative, rather than one originating from SANDAG itself, to give it a shot to pass at a mere 50 percent threshold, instead of needing two-thirds voter approval.
  5. Complete Communities: The City Council after the election approved two-thirds of Faulconer’s so-called Complete Communities plan, creating a new incentive program for developers in certain areas and changing the way it regulates the environmental effects of new development. But the Council bucked a mayoral proposal on how to fund park improvements through new developments, arguing it had been rushed and needed more work. Does Gloria pick it up, or start from scratch?

Election Contest Winner

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 [4] or a newly elected member of Congress [5]?) 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 [6] 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)):

  1. San Diego Mayor: Choose OVER or UNDER: Todd Gloria, 53 percent.
    1. OVER
  2. San Diego City Attorney: Choose OVER or UNDER: Mara Elliott, 55.5 percent.
    1. OVER
  3. San Diego County, District 1: Choose OVER or UNDER: Ben Hueso, 53 percent.
    1. UNDER
  4. San Diego County, District 2: Choose OVER or UNDER: Steve Vaus, 50.5 percent.
    1. UNDER
  5. San Diego County, District 3: Choose OVER or UNDER: Kristin Gaspar, 43 percent.
    1. UNDER
  6. San Diego City Council, District 1: Choose OVER or UNDER: Joe LaCava, 51.5 percent.
    1. OVER
  7. San Diego City Council, District 3: Choose OVER or UNDER: Stephen Whitburn, 57.5 percent.
    1. OVER
  8. San Diego City Council, District 5: Choose OVER or UNDER: Joe Leventhal, 51 percent.
    1. UNDER
  9. San Diego City Council, District 7: Choose OVER or UNDER: Noli Zosa, 48 percent.
    1. UNDER
  10. San Diego City Council, District 9: Choose OVER or UNDER: Kelvin Barrios, 43.5 percent.
    1. UNDER
  11. 50th Congressional District: Choose OVER or UNDER: Darrell Issa, 53 percent.
    1. OVER
  12. 53rd Congressional District: Choose OVER or UNDER: Sara Jacobs, 56 percent.
    1. OVER
  13. San Diego Measure A: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 53 percent.
    1. OVER
  14. San Diego Measure B: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 55 percent.
    1. OVER
  15. San Diego Measure E: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 49.5 percent.
    1. OVER
  16. State Proposition 15: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 47 percent.
    1. OVER
  17. State Proposition 16: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 46 percent.
    1. UNDER
  18. State Proposition 22: Choose OVER or UNDER: Yes, 51.5 percent.
    1. OVER
  19. Oceanside Mayoral Race: YES or NO. Does the winner receive more than 20 percent of the vote?
    1. YES

As a tiebreaker, try to name the winner of the Oceanside mayoral race.

Well, that would be Esther Sanchez [7].

How a White Supremacist Won a Primary

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 [8], 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 [9].” 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 [10] 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 [11]. 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 [12]. “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 [13].

If you have any ideas or feedback for the Politics Report send it to scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org.