After six weeks of deadlocked ballots and bitter debate, the San Diego City Council finally reached a compromise Monday and selected contractor Daniel Larsen to represent the city on the San Diego Unified Port District commission.
The end came swiftly. Shortly after 2 p.m. City Clerk Charles Abdelnauer passed out paper ballots and Mayor Roger Hedgecock suggested that the council "try a round of balloting." In less than five minutes, with no discussion, the council voted 5-3 for the Point Loma contractor.
But if the final voting seemed calm enough, it came after some behind-the-scenes fireworks when a last-minute deal, in which Hedgecock sought to swing the tide from Larsen to restaurateur Ralph Pesqueira, fell through.
It also came with a measure of pain. To break the protracted deadlock, Councilman Uvaldo Martinez abandoned his own nominee, Pesqueira--and the Latino community's hope of seeing the first Latino in city history serve on the powerful port commission.
The vote was also a defeat for Hedgecock, who, with Councilmen Mike Gotch and Bill Mitchell, held out to the end for Pesqueira, owner of the successful El Indio Tortilla Shop.
The winners were the members of the council's conservative bloc --Councilman Bill Cleator, who nominated Larsen, and council members Gloria McColl, Ed Struiksma and Dick Murphy. They never wavered from Larsen, a Point Loma Republican who runs the family contracting business and who, Cleator argued, has the technical know-how for monitoring such major port projects as the new $130-million convention center.
Absent for the vote, because he walked out of the meeting several moments before the balloting began, was Councilman William Jones, who had failed to win support for his own candidate, businessman Al Kercheval.
Hedgecock said after the meeting that he was disappointed by the loss. But he called the lengthy appointment process for one of three San Diego members on the seven-member port commission fair and open.
"People find it an unusual one, one of honest debate, honest brokering between council members," Hedgecock said later.
But according to several council members and aides, the process that finally shifted the votes to Larsen involved agreements made, and broken, during a closed meeting and then in whispered conversation during Monday's council meeting.
According to several council sources, Jones met Monday morning with Martinez and Hedgecock and agreed to shift his vote from his candidate, Kercheval, to Pesqueira. The price, the sources said, was a promise that Hedgecock, Martinez and Gotch would agree to vote for four of Jones' nominees to other city boards and commissions.
Jones and the mayor could not be reached for comment on the alleged deal late Monday. But, according to Martinez and other City Hall sources, Jones, the mayor, Martinez and Gotch believed they had reached an agreement by noon Monday.
They would vote for Jones' four nominees--two to the Planning Commission, one to the Housing Commission and one to the Centre City Development Corp.--if Jones would vote for Pesqueira.
However, moments before the port commission vote, Jones "upped the ante." Instead of four names, the list passed to the mayor and the Pesqueira backers contained 13 names of people Jones wanted appointed to city positions, the sources said.
One city official said he passed a message to Hedgecock that "William wanted more. And Roger said, 'I won't be manipulated.' I knew the deal was off when Roger said, 'No, we've reached the end of it.' "
Martinez said he had been happy to meet with Jones privately Monday morning with "the mayor acting as a broker between the two of us." They agreed on four names, Martinez said.
With the deal off, the voting for a port commissioner could have continued to deadlock 4-4 between Larsen and Pesqueira. But Martinez said he thought it was time that the port commission had its next commissioner. (Commissioner Maureen O'Connor, whose term ended Jan. 2 and who is disliked by some council members, remained in the post until a new commissioner was named.)
Jones' assistant, Rich Juarez, had a different perspective on the broken deal. He said he had not attended the morning meeting but he believed Jones, Hedgecock and Martinez had reached agreement initially on five names, not four, that Pesqueira backers would support for other offices.
Juarez said that when he made up the list for council members to look at, he added eight names of people already serving on city boards whom Jones was supporting for re-nomination.
Juarez said he went over the additional names with the mayor's chief assistant, J. Michael McDade. McDade had no problem with "the extra names," Juarez said, but McDade did have a problem with the name of Fil Chavez, a former planning commissioner whom Jones was proposing to serve on the Centre City Development Corp. board. McDade could not be reached for comment late Monday.
At the afternoon council meeting, Juarez, McDade and Jones discussed the list of 13 names.
McDade came to Jones "and said under no conditions would the mayor agree to support Fil Chavez for CCDC. William said that was his agreement this morning with the two of them," Juarez recounted.
When it was clear that the mayor would not support Jones' full list, including Chavez, the agreement was off, Juarez said. It was also clear that Martinez would end the deadlock by switching from Pesqueira to Larsen, Juarez said, so Jones walked out of the meeting.