For months, the question has been the favorite guessing game within San Diego political circles: Will San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding challenge Mayor Maureen O'Connor this spring, or will she simply seek reelection to her current seat?
And Golding is perfectly content to allow the guessing to continue.
"At this point, I don't see the need or necessity of making an announcement that I'm not doing something," Golding said in an interview in her supervisorial office. "I don't think there's any more point to saying I'm not running for mayor than there is to saying I'm not running for president, governor or state senator.
"As of today, I'm running for reelection to the Board of
Supervisors. I've said that all along and have never varied from that. But I'm also listening to those who are actively and vigorously encouraging me to run for mayor. So the situation could change. There's still plenty of time to make that decision."
Whether Golding is, as she professes, genuinely undecided about her political options or is simply being coy about her intentions, the 42-year-old supervisor, now in the final year of a four-year term, is widely viewed as the only potentially serious obstacle standing between O'Connor and a reelection that otherwise could be a virtual fait accompli .
"If Golding doesn't enter the race, there may be no race," political consultant David Lewis says simply.
By conventional political standards, Golding's entry in the mayoral race, should she opt to challenge O'Connor, would be a relatively late one. O'Connor's strategic planning already is well under way and the filing deadline for the June race is only two months away.
Golding, however, argues that her unique political circumstances--notably, name recognition perhaps second only to O'Connor among local officeholders, her 1981-1983 service on the City Council, proven fund-raising ability supplemented by personal wealth and a supervisorial district that largely overlaps the city--give her "more time to play with" than the typical mayoral candidate.
'Needed to Start Yesterday'
Though Golding, half-jokingly, suggested that she could "announce the day before the (March 10) filing deadline . . . and still be viable," some of her closest advisers believe that she faces a more compressed political timetable and say they expect a decision within several weeks.
"I don't see us getting out of January with it still being an open question," said lawyer J. Michael McDade, a Golding confidante and one-time City Hall chief of staff to former Mayor Roger Hedgecock.
Fund-raiser Nancy MacHutchin added: "She perhaps could put off a formal announcement until March, but in terms of organization, she needed to start yesterday."
Meanwhile, Golding's uncertain status has increasingly fueled speculation among political observers, many of whom view the prospect of an O'Connor-Golding showdown as potentially this year's preeminent local election. For months, some county officials have jokingly referred to Golding as "Mayor Golding," and the will-she-or-won't-she question has become a staple at political gatherings.
With that heightened interest as a backdrop, Golding's actions and public comments--as well as those of O'Connor--have been constantly scrutinized for hints of a budding political battle.
When the two clashed over formation of a committee to examine new ways to honor Martin Luther King Jr. after San Diego voters last November removed the slain civil rights leader's name from a major downtown street, the dispute was widely interpreted as a political spat between two potential mayoral opponents.
"Not from my side it wasn't," Golding said.
Similarly, the fact that Golding in recent weeks positioned herself in the forefront on a number of high-profile issues, ranging from recycling and aid for the homeless to an anti-discrimination measure to protect AIDS patients and a push to hire more sheriff's dispatchers, was seen by some as a pre-mayoral candidacy publicity blitz.
"I was just doing the job to which I was elected," Golding explained. "But I can't stop others from interpreting that in other ways."
Golding admits, however, that she has spent "considerable time" weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a potential mayoral race versus a supervisorial reelection campaign.
In making the case for seeking reelection, Golding ticks off these factors: the likelihood of an easy campaign, one in which no challengers have surfaced; her desire to complete unfinished projects and her belief that her experience would enhance her already impressive legislative record in a second term, and the knowledge that, even if she chooses to stay on the sidelines in June's mayoral race, "there will be many other opportunities in the future."