SAN DIEGO — Mayor Roger Hedgecock on Friday announced his resignation, effective Oct. 18, as a result of his conviction on charges that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in 1983.
Describing his intention as being "in the best interest of the city," the 39-year-old moderate Republican, once a rising star in statewide politics, said, "San Diego must move forward, developing again a consensus around a shared vision of the future."
At a two-minute City Hall news conference, San Diego's 30th mayor added: "I can no longer offer leadership for this task. It's time for the people of this city to elect someone else who can."
Flanked by his top aides, some of them misty eyed, a subdued Hedgecock added, "I believe now that it is most important that San Diegans refocus their attention on the issues and the real opportunities facing our city."
The one-week delay in the effective date of his resignation, Hedgecock explained, will "leave some time to wrap up" and plan for an orderly transition of power to Republican City Councilman Bill Mitchell, a 52-year-old San Diego native and two-term councilman.
Hedgecock then left without answering questions. His two trials--the first of which ended last January in a mistrial caused by a hung jury--dominated local news and diminished his leadership at City Hall for the last year.
Mel Buxbaum, Hedgecock's press secretary, said that at Mitchell's request, Hedgecock's staff has agreed to stay on "as long as necessary . . . to ensure a smooth transition," after Mitchell becomes acting mayor.
Mitchell will become acting mayor of California's second-largest city by virtue of holding the largely ceremonial post of deputy mayor.
City Atty. John W. Witt has said Hedgecock faced automatic ouster from office on Nov. 6, when he will be sentenced by Judge William L. Todd Jr. on his conviction by a Superior Court jury of conspiracy and 12 felony perjury counts.
Hedgecock could face a maximum of eight years' imprisonment and loss of his law license.
Some lawyers have said Hedgecock could have challenged on constitutional grounds any effort to force him from office before his appeals were exhausted. However, the mayor decided, in the words of one confidante, not "to hang on when there's nothing to hang on to."
Hedgecock, a former two-term county supervisor, was elected mayor in a special May, 1983, race after former Mayor Pete Wilson's election to the U.S. Senate.
Under city law, the council must decide within 30 days after Hedgecock's resignation whether to fill the vacancy through an appointment or, in an option considered more likely, schedule a special election to select a successor to serve the remainder of Hedgecock's term, which expires in December, 1988.
Hedgecock's conviction has touched off political maneuvering by potential candidates, including Police Chief William Kolender; Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego); Maureen F. O'Connor, the former councilwoman whom Hedgecock narrowly defeated in the 1983 mayoral race, and at least four current council members: Mitchell, Bill Cleator, Ed Struiksma and Mike Gotch.
If an election is scheduled, the winner must be sworn into office within 150 days, a timetable under which Hedgecock's successor would take office no later than mid-April, 1986, according to Jack Fishkin, an assistant city elections officer. However, to reduce the costs of a special election, some council members have suggested that the city law be amended to permit the mayoral race to coincide with next June's statewide primary.
Hedgecock, noted as much for his abrasiveness as for his achievements, brought a strong record as an environmentalist and the rallying cry of "Avoid Los Angelezation!" to City Hall 29 months ago.
His first months in office, which were highlighted by successful fights to build a downtown convention center and expand the San Diego Trolley, raised his public approval ratings to such heights that his reelection in 1984 appeared to be a virtual \o7 fait accompli.\f7
However, Hedgecock's popularity plummeted after he revealed in early 1984 that he had received a $130,000 loan to renovate his house from Nancy Hoover, a former principal in the now-bankrupt La Jolla investment firm of J. David & Co. Later, it was learned that Hoover and J. David founder, J. David (Jerry) Dominelli, had invested more than $360,000 in Tom Shepard & Associates, the political consulting firm that ran Hedgecock's 1983 and 1984 campaigns.
While Hedgecock characterized the two former J. David executives' investments in Shepard's firm as "a routine business deal," he, along with Hoover, Dominelli and Shepard, were indicted in September, 1984, on charges that they used Shepard's firm to funnel illegal donations to Hedgecock's 1983 campaign.
The controversy drew former television newscaster and La Jolla millionaire Dick Carlson into the 1984 mayoral race, in which he said repeatedly that Hedgecock needed to be ousted from City Hall, because he had given San Diego "a black eye."
Hedgecock countered with a Trumanesque "give-'em-hell" campaign, arguing that voters had "nothing to lose" by reelecting him, because if he were convicted, he would be removed from office and a new election held.
Hedgecock was reelected by a 58%-42% margin last November, only seven weeks after his indictment. The victory prompted even his detractors to label him a political Houdini.
"One down and one to go!" Hedgecock said confidently after his reelection.
The jury's verdict Wednesday, however, blocked Hedgecock from completing the second half of that equation.