Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Selection Of San Diego City Council President Hinges On Party Unity

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

Selection Of San Diego City Council President Hinges On Party Unity
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
Selection Of San Diego City Council President Hinges On Party Unity GUEST: Sherri Lightner, outgoing council president, City of San Diego

There is a changing of the guard at the San Diego city Council today. Three newly elected council members Dr. official places on the Council this morning and this afternoon the Council will decide on its next president for the city lawmakers leaving office where in attendance for the swearing-in including outgoing San Diego -- Sherry Lightner. Maureen Cavanaugh spoke with white about her two terms in office and about her advice for the new council members. When you see these new council members take the oath of office what you want to tell about their to job? Make most of really collaborate with your colleagues and be respectful of your colleagues and also each other's districts. Very important. Did you learn about other districts will you run the Council? Absolutely. Where district 2 wars with other members and actually started getting acquainted folks, go out to lunch with them or have a coffee with them. Do it informally and only one on one. Council members are people too and you relate to them as people and respect them as individuals. One of the things still be doing is electing a new Council president. That is Monday afternoon. Seems the two leading candidates are Myrtle Cole and David Alvarez perfume would you like to see become the new Council president? My personal preferences Myrtle Cole. I have a lot of reasons for that having been the Council president in knowing what the job actually entails. You do have to show up and pay attention you need to do your homework and be respectful of others. It is something where a little bit of practice helps as well. You do not think David Alvarez has those particular qualities? I do not say that at all. I just think that Myrtle is better qualified. It was Republican votes that which you, a Democrat in the position of city Council President. I baked to differ because there was Democratic votes as well that put me in the position and if you recollect the boat at the time there was a vote taken to reelect someone in that failed work that I did get two of the Democrat votes in addition to my own. Do you think, Totzke thinks he lost the position of Council President because he pushed too hard on progressive issues. Two years ago why did you feel that you could do the better job? I had an agenda that I wanted to bring forward. I thought it was very important to celebrate STEM, steam, several of the two tech efforts that I have been working on. Very important as a role model when it is something that I have done all my life is to be a role model for young women. Especially for disenfranchised students, just to explain to them how important engineering and a science and technical education can be to their future and their family's future. Going back to what you said about a Council President that can get a long with all of the members of the Council, do you think that it is important to get those Republican votes, to have those numbers on your side if you're going to be an effective Council President? I think it is. I think the collaboration is key. Under my presidency, first time in 10 years we had a unanimous approval of the budget. That is a considerable effort to get all folks lined up to go with that. Your background is in engineering. Have you ever gotten comfortable in the role of politician? Politician is hard because it is a great wheeler dealer thing. With engineering it is definitely black and white cricket is something where you have expected outcomes, occasionally did not get the outcome you anticipate and that it is up to to figure out why you did not get that outcome. In a way supposed politics is a little bit like that but it is different but I'm not troubled by my role either. -- The last taxes to bring forward an organization with have severely restricted air B&B rentals in San Diego. That ordinance was defeated in some on the Council or not happy with the way you put that on the agenda. Why did you make that one of your last stance? This was an effort with been working on for over a year. My community had worked on it for over two years and the bottom line was, San Diego municipal code is a permissive zoning code. It only allows that which is actually permitted so we were trying to clarify for the record whether or not a short-term vacation rental are permitted use. If they are not a permitted use then, they are illegal. The only way in which we saw that they weren't permitted was by having them called out as visitor accommodations. I still believe that is the case. Zoning is what makes our quality of life here. It makes for the avoidance of incompatible uses and it is something that we will see more of going forward but it was on the record and get it moving because it had been stalled in a never never land in action needed to be taken. Is seen that was one where you violated your own role of collaboration. That it was something that we worked with the office within my community. Besides which you cannot get a collective concurrence before the meeting. The idea was to actually that it into the input of a number of people and to have this out in the open, this discussion as to why aren't you enforcing and why can't it be enforced and this is a misinterpretation of the code? I believe the -- I believe it is can the 2017 memo went on and on about how it was not regulated, it was not prohibited but that is not what the municipal code is about the question is, is it permitted and if so how is it permitted. What is next for you? What are your plans for the future? In this capacity as a councilman I've been made aware of so many opportunities out there for, not really mischief but areas that are so much to be -- that are so much fun to be involved with. I do not know at this point in time. I know my husband wants me back at Leitner engineering. I have ideas for a business and I will have a good time. That was outgoing San Diego percent Sherri Lightner speaking with Maureen Cavanaugh. Tomorrow we will hear about who was elected the new Council President.

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.

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.
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.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.