SAN DIEGO — The head of the Urban League of San Diego on Friday announced a drive to persuade conventioneers and professional groups to boycott San Diego as a meeting place in protest over this week's vote to strip the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from a downtown thoroughfare.
Herb Cawthorne, the Urban League's president and chief executive officer, said the push to dissuade convention groups from gathering in San Diego will be nationwide and will use volunteers based here.
"The boycott is not revengeful. It is not vindictive," Cawthorne said in a speech to the Catfish Club. "It is rather a powerful economic means by which to demonstrate . . . the depth of our pain over the dishonorable deed that has been done to the image of one of God's greatest servants.
"What was done was wrong," he said. "It was petty. It was small-minded. And we owe it to our history, to our forefathers, to our children and to the future to ensure that nothing like this ever happens in San Diego again."
Cawthorne's call for a boycott was greeted with criticism by Todd Firotto, head of the Keep Market Street Committee, the merchants' group that spearheaded the drive to take King's name off of the downtown street. The measure passed with a 60% majority in Tuesday's election, reinstating the name Market Street.
"It's another element of blackmail or extortion," Firotto said of the boycott. "They're cutting their noses to spite their faces. They live in San Diego, too, don't they?"
Bill Nelson, chairman of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, said he was "disappointed" by the call for a boycott. "I think in the long run it is very counterproductive because the call for the boycott has no specific goal nor does it have any timetable," said Nelson.
No gatherings have been canceled in the wake of the vote, a spokesman for the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau said.
A spokesman for Mayor Maureen O'Connor, who was out of town, expressed sympathy for the emotion behind the boycott, but stopped short of endorsing the economic action.
"She's not condoning the boycott," said O'Connor's press secretary Paul Downey. ". . . What she's hoping is we can come together to resolve this problem as fast as we can."
Downey said O'Connor would introduce a resolution on Monday putting the City Council on record that it would seek another street or public structure to name after the slain civil rights leader.