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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

That record and Hedgecock's image as the "surfing mayor" attracted national attention. One popular scenario within Hedgecock's inner circle had him rolling up a triumphant 1984 re-election, using that as a springboard for a successful race for state attorney general, then beginning to maneuver for a gubernatorial campaign.

And the long-range plan did not end with the governor's mansion. "I know it sounds crazy now, but believe me, this guy had a 10-, 15-year game plan that took him to the White House," one statewide Republican leader says.

HEDGECOCK'S decline was equally swift. In 1984, his popularity plummeted when he was accused--and ultimately indicted--of conspiring with several prominent supporters to funnel more than $360,000 in illegal contributions into his campaign, as well as falsifying financial disclosure statements to conceal the scheme.

The controversy drew former television newscaster Dick Carlson into the 1984 mayoral race--his central theme being that Hedgecock should be ousted because he had given San Diego "a black eye." Hedgecock countered with a Trumanesque "give-'em-hell" style that produced a resounding 58%-42% victory only seven weeks after his September indictment, prompting even detractors to label him a political Houdini.

"One down and one to go!" Hedgecock said confidently at the time. Eleven months later, however, a Superior Court jury convicted him of 13 felony conspiracy and perjury charges. Hedgecock's three co-defendants later pleaded guilty under plea-bargain deals that kept them out of jail, or, in one case, from having an existing sentence lengthened.

The 4th District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear Hedgecock's appeal this week, with a ruling expected early next year. If his conviction is upheld, Hedgecock, who already has begun serving his three-year probation, meeting twice monthly with a probation officer, will appeal to the California Supreme Court, where a decision to hear the case could push back a final resolution to 1989. But if the high court declines to hear the case, Hedgecock, as one of his former top aides puts it indelicately, "could be wearing one of those funny orange outfits picking up trash on Interstate 5" sometime next year.

Though clearly concerned about that prospect, Hedgecock often jokes about the subject. Recently, in an ad announcing that his radio show would be broadcast from the San Diego Zoo, Hedgecock said: "Tomorrow, I'm going to be where you always thought I should be. No , not there !"

If his appeal is successful, Hedgecock will be free to re-enter politics, but says it is "incomprehensible" that he would do so. As he sits in a claret-red wingback chair in his living room, with a panoramic view of San Diego behind him, Hedgecock becomes animated as he describes the joys of rediscovering time for his 6- and 10-year-old boys.

"Little League games and Cub Scout meetings, weekend camping trips, quiet nights at home--these may be everyday things for most people, but in politics, you never have enough time for them. . . . Until you get away from politics, you don't realize how insane that life style is. I just wouldn't put my family through it again."

FEW PEOPLE TAKE Hedgecock at his word on that point, considering his denials as simply the only option open to him until his appeal is resolved.

"Roger's still an opinion-maker but not a decision-maker," says his former City Hall chief of staff J. Michael McDade. "I think he'd give his right arm to be a decision-maker again."

Nancy MacHutchin, Hedgecock's former campaign fund-raiser, and a close friend, interprets Hedgecock's updating of his former political mailing list and his frequent speaking engagements as signs that he is at least leaving the door open for a political comeback.

"Given Roger's ability to jump out of a nine-story building and not get bruised, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him run again and be successful," says former San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Allan Royster. "Roger can pull more tricks out of the hat than other guys have hats."

Indeed, walk with him down any street in San Diego and there is unmistakable warmth in voices that call out "Roger!" or "Mr. Mayor!" A major source of Hedgecock's continuing popularity is his daily talk show on San Diego radio station KSDO. His "office hours," as Hedgecock jokingly refers to the show, extend from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday--considerably less trying than the 12-hour days typical during his mayoralty. His current dress code is also casual: khaki slacks and colorful short-sleeve shirts.

Wearing headphones and surrounded by video display terminals, microphones and other electronic gadgetry in a rather cramped studio, Hedgecock fields dozens of calls. Based on recent ratings, he reaches more than 150,000 people daily.

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