When he had a full head of wavy hair during his days as a member of the Point Loma High School Class of 1945, Bill Cleator was nicknamed "The Mayor"--a schoolboy jest that he dreamed of one day transforming to political reality at San Diego City Hall.
More than four decades later, however, most of the hair is gone and so, in all likelihood, is the dream.
Following his second mayoral election defeat in the past three years, the 59-year-old city councilman admits that the office he calls "about the highest honor I can imagine" probably will never be his.
"I tried twice--that's enough," said Cleator, defeated on June 3 by former Councilwoman Maureen O'Connor, 55%-45%. In 1983, Cleator finished third behind O'Connor and Roger Hedgecock in a 20-candidate primary and failed even to qualify for the runoff.
More than simply a political defeat, this month's loss compelled Cleator to face one of life's most sobering truths--the recognition that a dream, not an outlandish one but one that for years has seemed tangible, attainable, perhaps never more so than this year, appears destined never to become any more than that.
"Bill's holding up great," said Cleator friend and political confidant Don Harrison. "But still, it's tough. You're talking about giving up on something . . . you wanted very much for a very long time."
For his part, Cleator insists that he is disappointed but not depressed by the thought that he likely will never make the jump from the council's offices on the 10th floor at City Hall to the mayor's suite on the 11th. However, to both recover from the rigors of the campaign and to begin adapting to a vision of the future that does not include the mayoralty, Cleator and his wife, Marilyn, took a week-long vacation shortly after the election.
"There's a lot more to Bill Cleator than running for mayor or being mayor," the Point Loma businessman said. "The last time (in 1983), I didn't feel that I had really done that good of a job. But this time, Marilyn and I felt that we'd done everything we could to win. When you feel that you've given it your all, the results don't bother you that much. This isn't the end of the world."
Although he lost an election in a city where Republicans rarely lose, even while having the support of most of the politically prominent downtown business establishment, Cleator said he feels none of the embarrassment that losing candidates often experience over public rejection.
"I've been getting a lot of positive response on the streets since the election," Cleator said. "A Parcel Post truck driver went by me today and shouted, 'Atta baby, Cleator! Keep it up!' A lot of other people smile and nod your way. If you run a good race and lose, there's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's just not much fun."