Dec. 10 2014 10:21 AM

A chance encounter at December Nights

“These things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell!”
Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

“I feel sure that coups d’état would go much better if there were seats, boxes, and stalls so that one could see what was happening and not miss anything.”

—Edmond and Jules De Goncourt 

It’s a cool Friday night among throngs of meandering strangers in Balboa Park, its iconic buildings awash in a rotating palette of vibrant colors.

Past the You’re-Going-To-Hell sign holders (with their prerecorded exhortations) and the angelic carolers—the latter on a stage wedged between a holiday knick-knack market and a fenced-in Nordic hot-spiced-wine dispensary—a first-time visitor to December Nights might confuse it with a hokey county fair after dark. Commercial vendors dominate the landscape.

The business angle also dominated Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s brief remarks prior to the ceremonial lighting of the 40-foot Christmas tree at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, naming so many sponsors that Spin fell into a deep trance.

Spin found himself floating above the festivities, gazing at a sea of whitened smiles. On stage, more smiles. Even the Three Wise Men—Faulconer, his henchman City Councilmember Scott Sherman and City Council President Todd Gloria—were beaming.

Spin rubbed sleepy eye sockets: Hasn’t this trio for weeks been in a behind-the-scenes battle to determine who gets to be the Rudolph of the City Council reindeers? Gloria, who’d like to keep the gig, was quickest to the faux candy-cane light switch and put the most oomph in flipping it.

What’s been fascinating about the sketchy tales of internal partisan horse-trading to elevate Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, a Democrat, to the pilot’s chair on Republican shoulders is how silent the key players have remained.

U-T San Diego reported that it had been trying to coax a comment from Lightner for a month (later edited to a less-definitive “several weeks”) on her interest in replacing Gloria, to no avail. A U-T editorial even bemoaned what it typically preaches: the unsightly “partisan gamesmanship” of it all.

Sherman, said to be Faulconer’s point man to drum up the needed votes, was issuing no statements. Lightner went into deep-bunker radio silence on the matter. Faulconer & Co., the mayoral contingent that still seems in campaign mode, uttered not a peep.

All this tight-lipped tension, coupled with the overwhelming funk of burnt kettle-corn oil, had Spin spinning. As he stumbled into the midway area, the noise rose to deafening—machine-gun BBs tearing into paper stars, screams from the gravity-defying-amusement-ride crowd, carnies hawking the chance to win an 8-foot stuffed flamingo.

Just as Spin neared sensory overload, a tap on the shoulder startled him back to earth.

“Been a long time,” a familiar voice accompanied by harp overtones cut through the not-so-festive din. “You look like hell.”

“Magic Budget Fairy? I thought you wintered in the Bahamas!” Spin sputtered as the brain cells began to clear. Rumors of Magic B’s tropical retirement after the Bob Filner Debacle instantly became pixie dust.

“Nope. Took a gig with Faulconer,” Fairy said. “He said, ‘I’m gonna open up the checkbook, and I want you there by my side.’ Plus, the pay was good. How could I say no in this economy?” 

Just then, Spin caught a whiff of spiced wine emanating from Magic Budget Fairy. “You been drinking?” Spin asked, recalling that the last time Fairy hit the sauce, the pension scandal smacked former Mayor Dick Murphy square in the chestnuts.

“Yeah, I fell off the wagon when Frozen came out,” Magic growled. “Fuckin’ Disney copped my story. Except for the cold part. I hate ice. Sticks to my wings. I’m more the Wizard of Oz type.”

Spin deflected back to the council-presidency battle. “Oh that shit,” Magic sighed. “Well, you know, follow the yellow brick road to 2016 and all.”

“Wait, this isn’t about sharing the leadership reins as the political wizards intended?” Spin asked, bewildered.

Fairy laughed until a harp string broke. “What the hell have you been smokin’, pal?” Magic B snapped. “This is about ripping the soapbox out from under the feet of that ambitious SOB Gloria.”

“What’s your beef with Todd?” 

“Are you kidding?! Mr. Raise- UpSanDiego? Do you know how many businesses have called me, panicked that they won’t find the money to pay higher wages? Like I can pull dough out of my—.”

“But I thought that’s what you’re good at.”

“Yeah, sure, Faulconer’s got me sparking on all cylinders, scraping up every penny under the seat cushions,” Fairy said. “But it’s tiring work. Plus, his whole team wears rosy glasses when it comes to this economy. Like I said, he’s suddenly a spending machine. Go figure!” 

When Spin mentioned he’d noticed an uptick lately in smiling photo-op joint appearances by Faulconer and Gloria, Fairy snorted out glitter.

“Ha, yeah. The mayor wants no fingerprints on this coup, so he’s acting all chummy,” Fairy said. “He’s got Sherman on the case to deliver that big lump of coal to Gloria’s ambitions. The pressure’s on.”

But why Lightner? Spin asked. 

“Come on, think,” Fairy implored. “Two years left in a colorless council career. She was hooked when she subbed for Gloria while he played iMayor. And she’s a sucker for managed competition. Oh, and she’s no threat to Faulconer’s lofty ambitions. How does Governor / Senator Faulconer in 2018 sound to you?” 

Spin felt a dizziness return but managed to maintain composure. “You think this will shut down T- Glo? Methinks you underestimate his ambition, oh winged one.”

“Well, he better hope Susan Davis finally follows through on retirement plans, so he can jump on the Congress gravy train, ’cause here comes Toni the Tiger!” Fairy shouted, the hot wine taking hold.

“Shhhhhh!” Spin whispered. “You talking about termed-out state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins? She wants to be mayor?” 

“Hello! She was very good to the Democratic Party this last election cycle. You don’t think that came without strings, do you?” 

“The whole subterfuge reeks like burnt kettle-corn oil.”

Magic Budget Fairy waved a wand commanding silence. “Just repeat to yourself: There’s no place like 2016. There’s no place like 2016.”

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