Democrats’ Revenge: San Diego City Council Appointment of Ed Harris Tilts Council Left

by on April 8, 2014 · 11 comments

in Election, History, Labor, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

San Diego CityCoun D2 apptmt 028

Ed Harris being sworn in, with Kate Harris looking on. (Photo by Frank Gormlie)

The Democrats on the San Diego City Council took revenge on their Republican colleagues yesterday by appointing another Democrat to the Council.  As of 5pm Monday, April 7, there are now 6 Democrats to the 3 Republicans on the Council after they choose Ed Harris, a lifeguard and union head – and Democrat, to take the seat to represent District 2.

This retaliatory measure was, in no small part, revenge for the defeat of the Democratic candidate in the last mayor’s election, where David Alvarez lost to Republican Kevin Faulconer.  Faulconer vacated his seat for the 2nd District when he stepped up to the mayor’s floor of City Hall.

With a 6 to 3 tilt, the City Council now leans left, and with this super-majority, can forestall any veto by Mayor Faulconer.  This could dampen any extreme right mayoral decisions or directions.  So, let’s say, the Council passes a minimum wage ordinance, and predictably, Faulconer vetoes it. Now, the Council could over-ride that veto and the proposed ordinance would become law.

It’s a certainty that the Democrats have taken note how Faulconer is being touted by the GOP around the state and country as the only Republican mayor of a large city. By the time the majority of five Democrats who took their seats on Monday around 2pm – before the appointment – there was an unspoken sense that only a Democrat would emerge from the 20 applicants for the office.

Yet by time the audience settled down inside the Chambers on the 12th floor, filling it by about 80%, politicos on the floor knew that three of the 20 individuals had withdrawn their names: Richardo Flores, Don Mullen and Wayne Raffesberger. That left 17 – and all 17 sat in the front row seats with their named chairs. Behind them were all their supporters and others watching the process, hoping for the best for District 2.

And of those 17, Ocean Beach and Point Loma were well represented.  In fact, I was told, the Pt Loma Democratic Club had five members as applicants: Bruce Coons, Jane Gawronski, Ed Harris, Gretchen Newsom and Howard Wayne.

Other Peninsula locals going for the seat included Jim Musgrove, Mary Elaine Cooluris, Christopher Cramer, Daniel Holstein, Gary D Lowe, Bryan Pease, Jarvis Ross, and John R Wertz.

It was also noted that the successful applicant had to be registered in the District according to its boundaries before they were redrawn in 2011.  This oddity meant that possibly someone could be appointed to represent the current District 2 but who didn’t live within the current district boundaries.  The term of the appointee expires on December 8, 2014 – and whomever he or she is can not run in the June or general election for the District 2 seat.

With the appointment the only item on the docket for the Council, Council President Todd Gloria quickly began the process.  Each applicant had 3 minutes at the microphone, after which each public commenter had 2 minutes.

After the 17 had spoken which took just about one hour – and after a couple of beer jokes when Chris Cramer, the CEO of Karl Straus beer, spoke – the Chambers settled into a two hour process during which the 36 speakers endorsed their favorites.  Several applicants had mobilized friends and supporters, most noteworthy were Gawronski who had ten in her corner, Wayne with 9, Newsom with 8.  Hubby Kris Newscom was humorous when he joked why he was speaking on his wife’s behalf – because he had better.

But in the end, it didn’t matter, really, how many enunciated their endorsement.  Ed Harris had only 3 supporters who spoke on  his behalf – and he was selected.  It was interesting, however, to observe the 3 bases of supporters for the three Dems who dominated the room.  Dems in the District are flexing their muscles.

After public comment came the time for the Council members to ask questions or make comments. To a person, they all graciously thanked those who had applied and apologized to those whom they would not pick.

David Alvarez was first and brought the first non-partisan wave of laughter when he said:

“Most of  you know that I worked really hard not to get us to this position ….”

Then Alvarez endorsed Ed Harris. So did Sheri Lightner.

Lorie Zapf did not endorse anyone right away and publicly.  Then both Republicans Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman threw their weight behind Cramer – which brought another round of beer jokes.

Marti Emerald also did not endorse anyone – but she pulled off the great political maneuver of the afternoon when she asked all the applicants to line up and publicly give their positions on two issues before the Council: minimum wage and earned sick leave.

Quickly,  the 17 jumped up and formed a line. And nearly to a person, they all declared their support for both issues – although several of the Republicans and “independents” qualified their support, particularly Anton and Cooluris. Only Jim Musgrove came out against the minimum wage as a danger that would result in job loss.

Next the Council took their ballots and marked their preferences. A hush fell over the massive room as Clerk Liz Maland counted the results.

Then they were read: Harris had 3 votes – Alvarez, Lightner and Zapf; Cramer had 2 votes – Kersey and Sherman; Newsom had two – Gloria and Cole; and Wayne had one vote – from Emerald.

By rule all those who did not receive one vote were immediately eliminated for the second round.  This meant that 13 people were out and only Harris, Cramer, Newsom and Wayne were on the next ballot.

Things got tense.  Council members made their marks and the assistant Clerk collected the ballots. It seemed that Maland took an exceptionally long time in counting these, but she looked up and announced that Ed Harris had 5 votes – the majority he needed.  The place broke out in applause and he was immediately sworn in with his spouse Katie by his side.  He was on the Council by 5pm.

Harris’ votes came from Alvarez and Lightner, both Democrats of course, but also from 3 Republicans: Zapf, Kersey and Sherman.

So what happened? How was it that 3 Republicans joined 2 Democrats in selecting a Democrat?

Obviously, Harris is liked by both sides of the aisle. He’s been in front of them and worked with them on city employee issues – so they all know him. Plus he’s a hero – he apparently made some spectacular rescue off the OB Pier – and he’s been a city lifeguard since 1989.

He’s likeable; he told them in his presentation that he is a consensus – builder, that he’s “an average joe” who works with everybody.  This makes him non-controversial, a known entity, someone unlikely to rock the boat – particularly since he is a labor leader. But everybody loves lifeguards.  (There’s even a monument to them near the OB Lifeguard station -a station that needs to be immediately replaced, by the way.)

Harris is another labor guy and this is why Alvarez – the labor guy on the Council – endorsed Harris.  By why did the vote come down with only 2 Dems backing him.  His other Council supporter was Lightner – truthfully, a conservative Democrat.

The other Dems, Emerald, Cole and Gloria, were split between Newsom – a newcomer, and Wayne – an oldcomer.  With only one vote, Wayne, a state legislative veteran and prosecutor – but longtime Democratic politician, became a long shot.  This left Newsom.

Gretchen Newsom presented a challenge to the Republicans.  She had touted her work with well-known Democratic state politician Phil Angelides as well as being president of  the OB Town Council. She definitely came off as a liberal Democrat.

Perhaps it came down to the fact that Lorie Zapf didn’t want to potentially face off with such a fresh face as Newsom’s in 4 or 8 years .  Currently in a tight race against Democrat Sarah Boot, Zapf didn’t want to promote or endorse another somebody that is very similar to her main competitor – a feminist and liberal Dem.

When the first balloting was held, Zapf showed her cards: she was going for Harris.  This was the signal to her two GOP colleagues to change their vote and join her for Harris. Often Council members look to that member whose District is involved in whatever issue is before them.  District 2 is seen as “Lorie’s seat” by the Republican establishment and that view is shared by Kersey and Sherman, no doubt. They did change their vote. That meant no more beer jokes for the day.

The Dems would win the day, but damn it, they wouldn’t get their main man or woman. It was tit-for-tat. Boom we got you now, say the D’s to the R’s, we now have 6 to  your 3.  But yeah, say the R’s back, you only got the person we wanted. So boom back!

Yes, revenge can be sweet, but it can be complicated.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie April 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm
bodysurferbob April 8, 2014 at 1:26 pm

how perfect for the beaches! a lifeguard!


Molly April 8, 2014 at 1:27 pm

There’s also a trend where Republican politicians get their start in the lifeguards. Ala Byron Wear.


Frank Gormlie April 8, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Byron Wear was in the audience yesterday in the Chambers. Byron looks good – he has dropped a hundred pounds since his City Council days. I asked him why he didn’t apply – and he something to the effect of ‘been there, done that’.


claudia jack April 9, 2014 at 5:59 am

Good Morning~~ Ed Harris is a Great Choice>>> He will serve OB in a Positive way!!!! Ed you Rock!!!! Claudia Keep in Touch~~~


Melanie Nickel April 11, 2014 at 8:55 am

I think Harris will do a great job. But I do wish that the press (and that includes you, OBRag) would stop focusing so much on Democrats-vs.-Republicans in discussing city issues. These elections are nonpartisan per California state law. That is starting to fray – the local parties have become much more overtly involved in city elections – but I think that’s a shame. Local issues can and should be dealt with in a nonpartisan, non-ideological fashion, and I think that’s what happened here. This was a case where partisan considerations were not primary. I think the council simply picked a person they thought would do a good job for the city and be easy to work with. Sorry, but I think this article is seriously misguided to view the whole thing in partisan terms. “Democrats’ revenge,” seriously??


Frank Gormlie April 11, 2014 at 9:20 am

Melanie – We too wish everything was dealt with in a “non-partisan” way, but we have to calls it as we see it. When Councilmember Lorie Zapf goes “nuclear” to prevent Gretchen Newsom from being chosen, we have to describe what happened. It’s not us – the media – who are partisan, it’s the politicos who make it so. But to call our analysis “seriously misguided” is to seriously disagree with us – and that’s okay. But I think you want to live in a dream world where everybody is nicey-nice. It just doesn’t work that way. Of course, there are certain problems, like pot-holes. How could there be a Republican way to fill a pot-hole and a Democratic way to fill a pot-hole?


Melanie Nickel April 11, 2014 at 9:55 am

How did Zapf “go nuclear”? I don’t see that in the story.


Frank Gormlie April 11, 2014 at 10:15 am

Our sources say that she was bent out of shape to make sure Gretchen Newsom wasn’t appointed – ‘anybody but Newscom’ was her order of the day.


Melanie Nickel April 11, 2014 at 10:40 am

OK. You didn’t cite those “sources” in your story. But there is another flaw in the argument that Zapf feared facing Newsom in 4 or 8 years: Zapf has already served one full term in the city council. If she wins in November, that will be her second term; won’t she be ineligible to run for re-election?


Frank Gormlie April 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

Good question. I believe the term limit applies to the length of service in that particular district by that particular politician. So, Zapf could theoretically serve in a new district for the full length of time.


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