One of the oddities of this year's races for the San Diego City Council is that, in each of the four districts, the two finalists are of the same party. Regardless of the outcomes, it is certain that two Republicans and two Democrats will be elected to fill the four seats being vacated on the council.
In the 6th District, Republicans Bob Ottilie and Bruce Henderson, both lawyers, are running for the right to succeed Councilman Mike Gotch, who chose not to seek a third term. Ottilie seems far and away the better choice.
Although he is making his first run for elective office, Ottilie, 32, has shown an impressive grasp of city issues and demonstrated considerably more instinct at problem solving than has Henderson. While Henderson, 44, seems more focused on the 6th District, Ottilie speaks with depth about dealing realistically with problems such as Lindbergh Field and disposing of the city's garbage. He is a conservative who recognizes the need to restore the credibility of the Police Department and sees civilian review of police misconduct complaints as a necessary part of that.
For years, Gotch has been the leading spokesman on the council for the forces of slow growth, and it is doubtful his successor, whoever it is, will play that role. But Ottilie seems more sensitive to the need for measured growth than does Henderson, whose legal practice has included representing landowners in property matters.
Ottilie seems like the kind of young person who would bring enthusiasm and imagination to a council that needs an infusion of both. We recommend his election Nov. 3.
The race in the 8th District is more difficult to call. Bob Filner and Mike Aguirre are among the brightest and hardest working of all the candidates running for council, yet each carries certain political liabilities. As a measure of how hard the two Democrats have campaigned since the September primary, one of them characterized their battle by saying that when it is over, "One of us will win and one of us will die."
It is a shame that both can't win because each would bring a high degree of intelligence, commitment and energy to the council. On balance, however, we conclude that Aguirre would be the better councilman.
Although Aguirre, 38, has not served in public office, he is no stranger to the political arena. In 1982, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and since then he has continued to maintain a high profile on specific issues. For example, he was a loud voice pressing the San Diego Unified Port District to seek new bids on construction of the convention center when the original bids came in millions of dollars over budget.
Aguirre's major contribution on the council would likely be to play the role of an independent voice, sometimes being a rabble-rouser, sometimes using humor and sometimes, no doubt, being wrong but effectively framing the issues.
The downside to Aguirre is his penchant for running off in several different directions at once. He may not be as good as might be desired at setting an agenda for himself and then going about implementing it. To a large extent, his effectiveness may depend on his ability to channel his considerable drive and imagination and not become carried away by the media access that a council member has.
Filner, 45, has many good qualities to offer, too. He is keenly intelligent and has as good an understanding of city issues as any candidate. He was effective during his term as a member of the city school board, though his quick temper sometimes got him in trouble.
Our recommendation of Aguirre is not at all anti-Filner. Rather, we believe Aguirre has the better combination of personality traits and political skills, and that the fairness issue of having Latino representation on the City Council helps tilt the balance in his favor.