To San Diego City Councilman Bill Cleator, City Hall is essentially a $600-million business, with the City Council serving as the board of directors for 7,000-plus employees. The mayor, in Cleator's eyes, is the city's chairman of the board--a position for which the Point Loma businessman feels he is well equipped.
"I don't know a darn thing about how to make a door lock or an office chair, but I know how to find people to do the job," Cleator said. "And that's basically what the mayor does--identify the goal and then motivate people to reach it."
To some, Cleator's emphasis of his business background appears to be a reprise of a strategy that failed miserably in the 1983 mayoral race, when he finished third behind Roger Hedgecock and Maureen F. O'Connor, and that barely got him through this year's primary. Cleator, though, insists that his nearly 35 years of business experience are "just what's needed to pick this city up and get it moving."
"Remember that Bill Cleator was in business most of his life," the 58-year-old Cleator says in his standard stump speech. "Maureen O'Connor has been in public office most of hers.
"A politician is only responsible every four years. But in business, you're responsible every payroll and you get a report card every month. That pushes your adrenaline to a higher level."
Cleator, who succeeded O'Connor in the council's 2nd District in 1979 when she retired after two terms, also argues that there is a major difference between the two mayoral candidates' public experience. That distinction is attributable, Cleator says, to the fact that most of O'Connor's experience in elective office predated Proposition 13, passed in 1978, while his council service came afterward.
"The biggest difference between our experience at City Hall is that when Maureen was on the council, all you had to do was pass a budget and send out the bill to taxpayers," Cleator contends. "Now, Prop. 13 doesn't allow us to do that. She doesn't understand what fiscal restraint really means. The whole time I've been here, we've had to squeeze as much as we could out of every dollar."
In his campaign speeches, Cleator proudly points out that his office budget has consistently been the lowest on the council--evidence, he says, that "I practice what I preach." One of his television ads also mentions that Cleator "had the good sense" not to use a city credit card and fought to abolish the cards.
Applying what he terms "business logic to city government," Cleator has proposed a five-year plan for San Diego highlighted by a regional growth-management summit, development of a major industrial park in Otay Mesa, jobs programs to ease tensions in minority communities with high levels of unemployment and a water plan "to take care of our needs for the next 100 years."
"The mayor has to be an idea man," Cleator said. "He's the person who gets the ball rolling, who brings people together to get things done. That's one thing Bill Cleator knows how to do." As proof, Cleator cites his key role in attracting the cruise-ship industry to San Diego--a program that local tourism industry leaders concede was foundering before his involvement.
Once derisively referred to by one of his council colleagues as "a cement mixer" for his strong pro-development slant, Cleator also has spent much of the campaign trying to recast his record in more environmentally sensitive terms. His proposed growth summit and frequent homages to Proposition A, the stringent growth-management initiative approved by San Diego voters last fall--and that he opposed at the time--demonstrate, Cleator argues, both his commitment to preventing urban sprawl and that "Bill Cleator is a person who can change."
Voters should cast their ballots, Cleator says, in much the same way that a business deal is analyzed.
"I guess what I'd really like people to do--and I know this is a bit of a gamble--is to take out a piece of paper and put all the pluses and minuses down for both of us," Cleator said. "If people do that, I think Bill Cleator will do all right."