The lukewarm San Diego mayoral campaign boiled over into City Council chambers Tuesday when acting Mayor Ed Struiksma and Councilman Bill Cleator--formerly conservative cohorts, now opposing candidates--politically muscled each other on the issue of making appointments to city boards and commissions before a permanent mayor is elected.
When the vote was tallied, Cleator was the winner. The Point Loma councilman strung together five votes and blocked two appointments to the prestigious San Diego Stadium Authority while preventing Struiksma from acting any more mayoral by naming people to other city panels.
"I think this is absolutely nothing short of politics, politics all the way," Struiksma fumed after the meeting had adjourned. Accusing his opponent of taking his campaign "out of the streets and bringing it to City Hall," Struiksma said that Cleator "should have left politics out of the chamber."
Immediately after the vote, Struiksma's office issued a press release calling the vote "potentially illegal" because it holds up the city's appointment process. The release announced that the acting mayor had asked the city attorney to rule whether the action was valid. City Atty. John Witt told The Times the vote was not illegal.
Cleator showed little sympathy for Struiksma. When told by reporters that Struiksma was upset and disappointed with him, the animated councilman looked up and feigned concern. "Oooohhh. That's too bad," he said.
And was his purpose with Tuesday's vote to publicly and politically humiliate Struiksma? "There was no hardball message at all. . . . I think the objective is to take the politics out of the appointment process," said Cleator.
Cleator and other council members have been upset with Struiksma since he declared his candidacy after accepting the position of deputy mayor, normally a ceremonial post but one that now has greater significance with the resignation of Roger Hedgecock after his conviction on felony conspiracy and perjury charges. In Hedgecock's absence, Struiksma carries out all mayoral functions, including chairing council meetings.
Publicly and privately, Cleator and others have said that council members agreed to give Struiksma the post when he promised, either directly or indirectly, not to run for mayor. Struiksma said he made no such promise and has been tending to mayoral chores, such as delivering the State of the City Address, that are perceived to give him an advantage in the short race. The primary is scheduled for Feb. 25.
Word began to spread among council offices on the 10th Floor of City Hall that a fight was brewing when Struiksma indicated that, as acting mayor, he would push forward with appointments to boards and commissions. The first test was for three seats soon to open on the Stadium Authority, considered a plumb reward for ardent political supporters because of the free parking, food and sports tickets that go along with the four-year job.
The authority is an advisory board that meets once a month. It is one of the few panels that is filled through nominations from all the council members; the mayor makes nominations for most other boards and commissions, and the council is required simply to ratify or reject his choices.
Council members circulated memos with their stadium nominations.
Moments before those and other names were to come before the council Tuesday, Cleator was two floors below, soft-peddling the impending fight. He said he didn't expect a hassle over the Stadium Authority appointments, although he had other concerns about naming people to other boards.
But all that changed a few minutes later in the council chambers. Cleator, who took his place just in time for debate on the authority appointments, reminded his colleagues that he held back on filling board and commission slots when he was acting mayor in early 1983, after Pete Wilson was elected U.S. Senator.
He said he moved ahead with only three appointments to the county water authority board and city housing commission because the boards needed quorums to conduct business.
"I feel that we're in a similar situation now, and I don't think it is necessary at this time to push these forward," Cleator said. "I feel that the individuals that are in place can do the job until we have a full council."
Struiksma balked. He said there may not be a full council until June, and stressed that there are 20 vacancies on city boards and commissions. Terms for another 61 appointees have expired, and 56 more will expire by March 1 for groups such as the housing commission, library commission, women's advisory board, water authority, planning commission, and park and recreation board.
Alluding to Hedgecock's legal problems and their disruptive effect on council business, Struiksma told the council that to wait any more for the appointments would be "fostering an image out there that this council has, unfortunately by what proceeded us, put a lot of things on hold.