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San Diego Hopes to Get Respect Ride on Wilson : Image: Civic leaders expect the state's power brokers to at last notice their city once the new governor is in office.


SACRAMENTO — Catch the wave of expectation cresting through San Diego's civic elite these days: One of their own has been elected the 36th governor of California, and now they want some respect.

With a former mayor, Pete Wilson, set to be inaugurated Jan. 7, city leaders say San Diego has never been in a better position to shed its reputation as California's cultural cul-de-sac and assume its rightful prestige as the second-largest city in the state.

They're tired of living down the image of a sleepy Navy town and one-dimensional vacation spot, where sailors, surfers and blue-haired retirees exist quietly in the shadow of brawny Los Angeles. They're tired of getting left out by the power brokers in Sacramento when it comes time to divvy up state funding for social programs and hand out the political plums.

Now they're banking on favorite son Wilson, surrounded by his coterie of hometown advisers, to usher in a new era when San Diego no longer will be considered the shy stepsister of California government. "He (Wilson) really did a lot to put San Diego on the public map . . . and I think San Diego will benefit from it," said Robert C. Fellmeth, a law professor and director of the University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law.

"I think that, at least before this election or Pete Wilson's rise, people in California and Sacramento thought the state stopped somewhere south of Disneyland, but they weren't exactly sure," he said. "I think they now know there's a little bulb of land down here, growing like a weed, called San Diego."

Lee Grissom, president of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, added:

"This is really a very special opportunity for San Diego to exercise its political vision and exercise its political connections. If there is something that San Diego needs, like additional financial support for the county, this is literally a once-in-a-lifetime chance--actually, a once in a 200-year-time--to achieve it."

Fueling the enthusiasm is the hope that Wilson, like Deukmejian before him, will reward his most trusted supporters with appointments to influential state boards and commissions--jobs that set the tone for state regulation and planning. Some of the more prestigious posts include the UC Board of Regents, the CSU Board of Trustees, the Public Utilities Commission, the California Transportation Commission and the California Coastal Commission.

Deukmejian drew upon supporters from hometown Long Beach and Armenians in Fresno to help stock these and myriad other boards.

He appointed his former law partner to the state Supreme Court; his brother-in-law to the Del Mar fair board; his barber to the Board of Barber Examiners; his local sporting goods retailer to the Fish and Game Commission; his minister to the Board of Behavioral Science Examiners, and his neighbor across the street to the California Medical Assistance Commission.

San Diegans expect no less from Wilson, who tagged his hometown with the slogan "America's Finest City." Their optimism is undimmed by his first four cabinet picks, all of whom hail from elsewhere.

Wilson spokesman Otto Bos tried last week to temper such talk.

"You've got to be careful what you draw from all this," Bos said, adding that Wilson has spent the last eight years as U.S. senator and has an extensive network of supporters throughout the state.

Yet, even with that caveat, Bos acknowledged that the Wilson camp has nurtured the hopes by underscoring the former mayor's ties with San Diego. A former San Diego Union reporter, Bos observed that Wilson's election marked a political "coming of age" for the city.

"I remember the days when . . . consultants used to give this kind of advice if you were a candidate, you were from San Diego and you wanted to run for statewide office: 'Move!' " Bos said.

Repeated television ads during the campaign held the city up as a shining example of Wilson's managerial abilities. Candidate Wilson insisted on operating his campaign out of San Diego offices, even though Los Angeles would have been more convenient politically and for travel. His campaign symbol was a surfboard.

Now that he's elected, Wilson's inaugural plans include trucking up food from the popular El Indio restaurant for a special San Diego-styled "fiesta" to kick off the festivities in Sacramento on Jan. 5. Planeloads of prominent locals--including the San Diego Chicken, in tux--will attend. Then, a triumphant Wilson will return after the inauguration to a hometown reception Jan. 11 to the San Diego Convention Center.

Meanwhile, Wilson has decided to open a San Diego gubernatorial office. And his aides are said to be working behind the scenes to persuade Republican National Committee officials to hold their 1992 presidential convention in San Diego--a publicity coup that would rival the city's successful bid to host the 1988 Super Bowl. Nothing like this has happened since local boy Dennis Conner lost and then won back the America's Cup yachting trophy from Australia.

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