The potential months-long delay in Mayor Roger Hedgecock's retrial could, most City Council members and the mayor say, provide a respite at City Hall during which they hope to refocus their energies on city problems and put aside, at least temporarily, the distraction caused by Hedgecock's legal quandary.
Although frustrated by the inconclusive outcome of Hedgecock's felony conspiracy and perjury trial last week, both the mayor's supporters and foes on the council agreed that the interim before his second trial will provide what Councilman Bill Mitchell called "a temporary breather" from the months of preoccupation with Hedgecock's case.
"I woke up this morning and decided I just don't have any more time to worry about the mayor's trial," Councilman Ed Struiksma said. "It's time to stop worrying about his problems and get back to the problems of the city."
Hedgecock and Struiksma are often at odds on major issues that go before the council, but the mayor heartily endorsed the councilman's sentiments on the most productive use of the time before his second trial, which appears unlikely to start before late spring or early summer.
"With this (trial) apparently on the back burner for a while, I'm eager, as I've said all along, to do the job I was elected to do," Hedgecock said. "What I intend to prove over the next four months or so is not only that I'm the most qualified person to be mayor, but that, even under the most stressful conditions imaginable, I can continue to push this city ahead."
Michael Pancer, Hedgecock's attorney, has said that his commitments to other clients would make it impossible for him to retry the mayor's case until at least July. Assistant Dist. Atty. Richard D. Huffman argues that the case is "too important to wait . . . that long," but concedes that even if Hedgecock were to choose another attorney, the new lawyer probably could not be prepared to begin the case until this summer.
Noting that "there isn't that much more I can do" to prepare for the second trial, Hedgecock said he is enthusiastic about the prospect of being able to devote most of his time over at least the next several months to "getting back to normal as much as possible" by working on major issues scheduled to go before the council, including plans for a new downtown library, additional steps toward development of Otay Mesa and budget discussions.
"Working on these issues is what helps gives me the energy I need . . . to get through the trial," Hedgecock said. "It reminds me that this job is worth having and worth fighting for, no matter how long it takes.
"I don't want this job just so people will come up to me and say, 'Hi, there, Mr. Mayor.' I want them to say, 'There's the guy who got us the new trolley line or the new central library.' That's what really charges me up."
Even Hedgecock concedes that it was difficult "to stay on top of things the way I'd like to" during his seven-week trial. The mayor's court appearances usually forced him to miss at least one of the council's two weekly sessions and when he was at City Hall--where, even at the peak of his popularity, he never controlled a majority of council votes as easily as former Mayor Pete Wilson did--his weakened political position clearly diminished his clout with his colleagues.
For example, during his trial, Hedgecock lost a key battle over a San Diego Unified Port Commission appointment that went to Daniel Larsen, a staunch opponent of the mayor, and failed to block the council's approval of the controversial 24-acre Blackhorse Farms development adjacent t
o UC San Diego.
Although San Diego's council-city manager form of government ensured that the essential functions of city government were uninterrupted during Hedgecock's trial, the impact of the mayor's preoccupation with his legal problems manifested itself in other ways that can be seen more clearly in his working relationship with the council than in specific actions or, perhaps more properly, non-actions.
"There aren't that many specific things you can point to that did or didn't happen because Roger was tied up with the trial, but there was a fairly dramatic change in the attitude between the council and this office," said J. Michael McDade, Hedgecock's chief of staff.
"To a certain extent, the council has been behaving like high school kids with a substitute teacher," McDade added. "The respect that this office deserves has been very lacking. Basically, the council members have been reluctant to make any commitments to someone who they think might be a short-timer at City Hall."
That attitude made it difficult, McDade admits, for the mayor or his staff to effectively tackle long-range issues such as growth management, public transportation needs or the mayor's ambitious "Downtown '85" promotion.
"It's been really hard to focus on anything that's more than a week down the line," McDade said. "Long-range planning probably has suffered a bit. There was a sense of things being put on hold until the verdict."
Similarly, a tendency to attempt to defer action on major issues until Hedgecock's fate was decided also occasionally originated outside City Hall during the mayor's trial. Notably, the developer of the proposed 240-acre Artesian Trails industrial park near Rancho Bernardo withdrew the project from City Council consideration until after Hedgecock's trial--hoping perhaps that Hedgecock, who opposes the project, might no longer be at City Hall to vote against it.
Wednesday's mistrial caused by a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction on all 13 felony counts facing Hedgecock hardly eliminated--indeed, among city officials, it increased--the doubts that he will still be at City Hall at year's end.
However, the delay in the start of Hedgecock's second trial destroyed the scenario that some council members who harbor mayoral aspirations had hoped for--namely, that Hedgecock would be ousted from office by a guilty verdict early this year, prompting a special election to replace him.
"If for no other reason than some council members recognize that they'll have to stop salivating for Roger's job and start doing their own job because there's not going to be a special election in May, the delay should improve things around here," Councilman Mike Gotch said.
Gotch himself has contemplated a possible mayoral bid in the event that Hedgecock is removed from office but has maintained a discreet low profile and said he has "tried to separate Roger Hedgecock the defendant from Roger Hedgecock the mayor."
Councilmen Struiksma, Dick Murphy and Bill Cleator, as well as a handful of other local public officials, have laid preliminary groundwork for a possible mayoral bid.
Mitchell agreed with Gotch, adding that he blames the council more than Hedgecock for some of the difficulties in recent months.
"Roger kept a cool head and I think did a brilliant job as mayor during the trial," Mitchell said. "The problems we've had have been caused by the bloated egos of these council people trying to grab his seat before it's even cold."
The fact that Hedgecock will be able to attend all of the council's meetings should, Mitchell said, "give a boost" to his efforts to lead the council in his direction.
"I think it makes a difference when you have to look Roger in the eye on some of these things," Mitchell said.
Murphy, however, argues that Hedgecock's narrow escape from conviction in his first trial "creates a cloud that we can't push away that easily."
"He may physically be here full time, but it's difficult to think that he'll be able to concentrate on the job full time until the trial is resolved," Murphy said. "Unless he's acquitted, his effectiveness is damaged because he won't have the strong community mandate he had a year ago."
In addition to the library, Otay Mesa and budget issues, several other matters on the council's horizon will test Hedgecock's leadership ability. Decisions on two appointments to the city Planning Commission and three seats on the Centre City Development Corp., the city's downtown redevelopment arm, potentially could provide repeats of the bitter clash over the port commission appointment, council members said.
Conceding that he will enter those and other legislative battles with "diminished power," Hedgecock nevertheless said he believes that the next several months afford an "opportunity to get back on track with the city's business."
"There's a lot coming up that strikes me as being a hell of a lot more important to the average citizen than how I got financing for my campaign in 1983," Hedgecock said, referring to the alleged campaign-law violations that led to his trial. "There should be an incentive for all of us to use this time to push a positive program forward."
His other short-term legislative priorities, Hedgecock said, include moves toward carrying out the recommendations of his task force on the homeless, reviewing plans for additional development in Mission Valley and Balboa Park, and possibly taking a leading role in an initiative drive aimed at overturning the council's approval of the controversial La Jolla Valley project.
The mayor admitted that he has some uncertainties about how the other council members will react to "having me around again" pending his second trial. But he also made a wry observation that summarizes his hopes for the next several months at City Hall.
"I guess my feeling is, if I can be positive about this, I hope the other council members can, too," Hedgecock said.