Dec. 3 2014 09:24 AM

Republicans are reportedly backing her for City Council President, but she should decline

Sherri Lightner
Photo by David Rolland

Wendy Fry of NBC 7 reported Monday that the Republicans on the San Diego City Council are orchestrating a coup to oust Todd Gloria as council president. Their strategy, Fry reported, citing Democratic and Republican sources, is to back Councilmember Sherri Lightner for the job.

We’ll cut to the chase: This is not good news. 

There are nine members of the City Council. Each December, they vote on a new president, whose power comes from being able to set the council’s legislative agenda, choose what issues get to be discussed and voted on at meetings and assign members to committees, where the committee chairs wield considerable influence. It takes five members to choose a winning candidate for president. Next Monday, the council will comprise five Democrats and four Republicans. So, while the Republicans don’t have enough votes to pick one of their own, they have enough to pick the least objectionable Democrat, provided that Democrat agrees to vote for himself or herself.

For the Republicans, Lightner makes sense. David Alvarez, Marti Emerald and Myrtle Cole are strident liberals. Although Lightner was all-in on the big progressive policy initiatives in 2014, she’s comparatively independent and has voted with conservatives on occasion, drawing serious grief in the past from environmentalists and labor leaders. She’s also termed out of office in 2016 and isn’t a likely candidate for mayor, so Republicans don’t have to worry about boosting her clout.

By ousting Gloria in favor of Lightner, the Republicans would be getting a leader who’s at least slightly more likely to entertain their policy initiatives, and, more importantly, they’d be significantly reducing Gloria’s power heading into the June 2016 primary election. Gloria is currently the Democrats’ best—and possibly only—hope for unseating Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

If Gloria runs, he’ll be running alongside the referendum on the minimum-wage increase—a vote the Republicans forced with a successful petition drive this year. In light of minimum-wage increases around the country, we’re betting that by the time June 2016 comes around, an increase to $11.50 by 2017 will be quite popular. It might even seem modest. Gloria was the unquestioned leader in the push to raise the wage, and he would certainly use it as his running mate. Republicans might be regretting their decision to place a vote on the wage on the same ballot with Gloria’s candidacy for mayor—if the wage increase passes, Gloria will appear that much stronger going into a November 2016 runoff election against Faulconer. This coup to oust Gloria as council president could be a way for Republicans to minimize the damage by removing “Council President” from his job title while he’s running.

Besides holding on to the Mayor’s office, the Republicans’ big prize is Lightner’s open District 1 seat in 2016. If they get that, they’ll have a 5-4 majority on the council and will be able to choose their president. (How does “Council President Lorie Zapf” grab you?) Lightner would be the best option for them as a bridge to outright Republican control.

The lure of leadership is enticing. If Lightner’s considering this, we can understand why. (She didn’t respond to Fry’s request for comment or ours.) Like most politicians who have thoughts in their heads, she probably has her own ideas about how to move the city forward, and as president, she’d have two years (assuming the council gives her a second year) to pursue an agenda and leave a larger legacy. We don’t know what Lightner’s next move is, but if she’s considering a run for another office, a stint as council president would raise her profile. We haven’t heard her name attached to any higher-office talk, which, again, makes her ideal for the GOP. They likely believe that any benefit she could provide for the Democratic District 1 candidate would be negligible.

Assuming Fry’s reporting is accurate and Lightner’s considering this, we urge her to stand down. If she’s truly on board for a more progressive San Diego, she needs to realize that Gloria continuing as council president is the best outcome. While he hasn’t always been successful, losing battles over affordable-housing funding and planning for Barrio Logan, we don’t think it was because of him.

Gloria is charismatic and popular, the rare politician who knows how to connect with people. He’s hardly polarizing; in fact, some observers believe he’s too accomodating to would-be opponents, although many others might see that as a virtue. Gloria followed through on a truly progressive policy agenda in 2014 and is San Diego’s undisputed Democratic leader. We hope Lightner figures that out before it’s too late.

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