Editorials : Mistrial Clouds Future

The coming months are going to be trying ones for the City of San Diego, as Mayor Roger Hedgecock's future remains in doubt.

The fact that he came within a whisker of being convicted on all 13 felony counts in his recent trial has to have a devastating effect on the mayor and make his job of leading city government even more difficult.

The 11-1 vote on each count is encouragement for City Council members and others now jockeying to run for mayor should Hedgecock be convicted and turned out of office. Already the coalition Hedgecock formed with Councilmen Mike Gotch, Bill Mitchell, Uvaldo Martinez and William Jones after his reelection in November is strained to the breaking point. The near-conviction may further weaken it while galvanizing the other four council members who consistently oppose Hedgecock and his controlled-growth philosophy.

For several months, Hedgecock has had two problems stewing, one legal, the other political. Now the heat has been turned up on both.

Legally, Hedgecock has not been convicted, and it is unfair for anyone to assume that he will be. When he returns to the courtroom, he brings with him the same presumption of innocence he had when his trial began in December.

The political process has different standards of proof, however, and the 11-1 vote further erodes the mayor's already-damaged credibility and tests the faith of those allies who have stuck with him to this point.

While the ultimate judgment on Hedgecock's guilt or innocence must wait until another day, two conclusions can be drawn from the trial:

- The prosecution's case is not one simply trumped up by Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller for political purposes.

- All but one juror apparently believed the prosecution's key witness, developer Harvey Schuster, who testified that Hedgecock told him in 1981 that his co-defendants Nancy Hoover and J. David (Jerry) Dominelli planned to pour large sums of money into his mayoral campaign via Tom Shepard's consulting firm. Hedgecock's assertion that Schuster was lying was rejected.

Those are facts that won't go away, and they must gnaw at Hedgecock along with doubts about whether the 11-1 vote is a precursor of worse times to come. But he is a man who has always shown remarkable stamina and fortitude. The worse things get for him, the stronger he seems to become. Those characteristics will surely be put to the test now if he is to continue as mayor in anything more than name only.

As for the other members of the City Council, it may be folly to urge restraint on those who are ambitious to become mayor or who see a political foe's vulnerabilities exposed, but that is what the good of the city demands. After the stormy year the city has experienced, those who choose not to participate in internecine back-biting and quarreling may be the ones who seem most attractive to the public if a vacancy in the mayor's office does occur.

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