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Selection Of San Diego City Council President Hinges On Party Unity

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Milan Kovacevic

San Diego council members David Alvarez and Myrtle Cole, 2014.

A new San Diego City Council will be inaugurated on Monday. Democrats have a 5-4 majority on the council. But if they can't agree on a preferred candidate, they'll likely leave the selection to Republicans.

Selection Of San Diego City Council President Hinges On Party Unity


Sherri Lightner, outgoing council president, City of San Diego


Three new San Diego City Council members and two incumbents will be sworn into office Monday morning. One of the new council's first actions will be to choose a council president. The looming decision has been dogged by rumors and speculation about who will get the job — and why.

The two most likely choices are Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez, the only two incumbent Democrats on the council. Democrats hold a 5-4 majority, and none is likely to support a Republican. City council offices are officially non-partisan under California law.

Outgoing Council President Pro Tem Marti Emerald, a Democrat, said as long as the Democrats' majority is limited to one vote, they won't be able to select their preferred candidate without voting together.

"The Republicans will probably vote as a block," she told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday. "As long as we have that 5-4, the decision really will be made by the four Republicans on the council on which Democrat will be their council pres."

The council president sets city council agendas, chairs meetings and appoints council members to committees and outside groups like the San Diego Association of Governments board of directors. Outgoing Council President Sherri Lightner said the job took patience and an ability to work collaboratively with many different departments and council offices.

"You do have to know how to run a meeting, you do have to be mature — you need to just keep things on track," she said. "You need someone who does their homework, too, so you know what's happening in the meeting."

Winning over Republicans

Current and incoming council members have been tight-lipped on whom they are supporting for the job, but Cole and Alvarez's records suggest Cole is more likely to win Republican support.

Alvarez has had a more combative relationship with Mayor Kevin Faulconer, epitomized by the campaigns they ran against each other in the special mayoral runoff election of 2014. They also fought each other on the Barrio Logan community plan update, which Alvarez and neighborhood residents supported but Faulconer opposed.

Cole has shown more willingness to work with Faulconer, who is a Republican. The mayor campaigned on promises to improve historically neglected neighborhoods like those in southeastern San Diego that Cole represents. The two appeared side-by-side at a press conference in May announcing the mayor's revised budget, which included $500,000 to design a senior center in Cole's district.

Photo caption:

Photo by Andrew Bowen

San Diego City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole and Mayor Kevin Faulconer smile at each other ahead of a press conference at Tooma Park in Cole's district, May 17, 2016.

Both Cole and Alvarez were easily re-elected in June 2014, winning enough votes to bypass a November run-off that year. But Alvarez won with a staggering 76 percent of the vote, compared to Cole's more modest 57 percent.

Cole has also faced an angry backlash from constituents who were upset by her comments on racial profiling earlier this year.

"There's more black-on-black shootings in our nation than ever before," Cole said at the July 26 City Council meeting. "Blacks are shooting blacks. So who do (the police) stop? They're not going to stop a white male. They're not going to stop a Hispanic male or Asian. They're going to stop an African-American. That's who they're going to stop, because those are the ones (who are) shooting."

Cole later apologized and said she condemns racial profiling and discrimination.


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Photo of Andrew Bowen

Andrew Bowen
Metro Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover local government — a broad beat that includes housing, homelessness and infrastructure. I'm especially interested in the intersections of land use, transportation and climate change.

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