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Man About Town : San Diego's Ex-Mayor Roger Hedgecock Hasn't Let His Felony Conviction Get Him Down. But This Week, the Past May Catch Up With Him.

December 06, 1987|BARRY M. HORSTMAN | Barry Horstman is Times staff writer based in San Diego who covered Roger Hedgecock's administration and is reporting on his trials

But whenever Hedgecock begins to feel that this, perhaps, is one personal tragedy with more silver lining than cloud, he is jolted by a grim reality: At a time when many expected Mayor Hedgecock to be plotting a gubernatorial or senatorial campaign--following the lead of his predecessor as mayor, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.)--Citizen Hedgecock faces the disquieting notion that his residence on Election Day '88 could be the San Diego County Jail.

"I don't dwell on it, but it's something that's always there," Hedgecock says of the one-year jail sentence facing him if his conviction is not overturned on appeal. "Sometimes I worry about what would happen to my wife and kids if I'd have to serve the time. That's the real down side to all this--that, and seeing your reputation . . . in shreds.

"So, yeah, on balance, life today is good--real good. But if you ask the question another way--'Would you still rather be mayor today?'--the answer is yes."

HEDGECOCK HAS long prided himself on his ability to "compart mentalize"--to focus on the tasks before him while not being distracted by other events swirling around him. During his two 1985 trials--the first ended in a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction--Hedgecock carried out his mayoral duties with aplomb even as he battled for his political life in court.

"My personality has been a blessing through all this, because bemoaning how unfair life is just isn't my style," Hedgecock says.

Still, he occasionally broods over what he defines as his "life in limbo" until his case is resolved. He perceives himself as an "internal exile in my own community." Some movers and shakers keep their distance, and proposals he floats on his radio program in an attempt to influence city policy are often dismissed by elected officials "not because they're bad ideas, but simply because they come from me."

"We both try to be positive, but there's still a lot of anger and resentment in both of us," says Hedgecock's wife, Cindy. "There's a light gone from Roger's eyes that I really miss. My husband misses being mayor. And he should still be mayor."

But Cindy Hedgecock--and her husband--are both also acutely aware that some San Diegans believe Hedgecock deserves a room with barred doors and windows rather than his former suite on the 11th floor of City Hall.

They've heard obscenities sometimes shouted by drivers who pass by their spacious, imposing house overlooking downtown San Diego. There also are occasional embarrassing public scenes: As Hedgecock left a beachfront restaurant recently, a middle-aged man approached him, first asking for his autograph and then trying to sell him a pair of sunglasses for $3. When Hedgecock declined the latter offer, the man snarled: "What's the matter? You ripped off San Diego, but you can't give me $3?" And then there are the inevitable jokes. One sample: What do herpes, a Palm Springs condo and Roger Hedgecock have in common? You can't get rid of any of them.

"There obviously are people out there who think I'm a crook who belongs in jail," Hedgecock concedes.

Although Hedgecock has simply availed himself of the same legal appeals open to anyone--at least to anyone able to afford his $200,000-plus legal bill for three top-flight attorneys--some San Diegans interpret his current success as proof of favored treatment.

"I have only one question about the guy: When the hell is he going to jail?" a politically prominent San Diego businessman says. "If you or I had done what he did, I doubt that we'd be on the radio cracking jokes about it. We'd be in the slammer."

"The way I see it, 23 of 24 jurors found Roger Hedgecock guilty of what in essence were crimes against the citizens of San Diego," says San Diego financier Tom Stickel, a top fund-raiser for Gov. George Deukmejian. "He disgraced the mayor's office, he disgraced the city. How someone who did that can still be so popular is surprising and, frankly, a little scary."

A FORMER two-term county supervisor noted as much for his abrasive personality as for his leg islative achievements, Hedgecock brought a strong environmentalist record and the rallying cry of "Avoid Los Angelization!" to San Diego City Hall when he won a special May, 1983, election to fill the vacancy left by Pete Wilson's elevation to the U.S. Senate.

The early months of Hedgecock's 31-month mayoralty were heady ones, as his considerable accomplishments--highlighted by successful fights for expansion of the San Diego Trolley, toughened growth-management policies and voters' approval of a downtown convention center--gave him remarkable public-approval ratings. In one October, 1983, poll, only 3% of those surveyed disapproved of Hedgecock's performance in office.

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