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Roger Hedgecock : Enjoying Life Beyond Politics Despite a Lingering Legal Cloud

Times Staff Writer

Former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock drives to work these days in a new Cadillac Seville. His radio talk show on KSDO is a major success that continues to provide him with a potent public forum.

The radio program, combined with his work as a land-use consultant, gives him a salary that is more than double--how much more is anyone’s guess--his former $50,000 annual wage as mayor. At several recent receptions, he has received rousing ovations. He gets to spend more time with his family and pronounces himself a “happier, more rounded person.”

And last weekend, there was Roger Hedgecock, wearing sunglasses and sporting a new beard, belting out the lyrics to “Louie, Louie” before the crowd at a surfing contest in Oceanside.

Suffice it to say that Hedgecock is not moping at home over his 13-count felony conviction, handed down one year ago this week, and wringing his hands over thoughts of what might have been.

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“Sitting around complaining about how unfair things are isn’t my style,” Hedgecock said in a lengthy interview last week. “The test of life is, can you come out smiling? The test isn’t whether you can come out a winner, because sometimes you will be and sometimes you won’t be. The test is whether you can put it in perspective, bounce back, be positive, continue to contribute, continue to make a difference, no matter what life throws at you. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. So, I’ve been doing a lot of smiling lately.”

Throughout his political career, Hedgecock’s allies and opponents alike marveled at his ability to, in his word, “compartmentalize"--to focus his energies on the tasks before him while not being distracted by other events swirling around him. One of the more notable displays of that characteristic occurred during his two trials, when Hedgecock carried out his mayoral duties with aplomb even as he battled for his political life in court.

J. Michael McDade, Hedgecock’s close friend and former City Hall chief of staff, once described Hedgecock as a person who “believes in putting everything he’s got into the activity at hand and believes that, regardless of the outcome, the sun will always come up tomorrow.”

While McDade made that comment in the fall of 1983--when neither he nor Hedgecock could have anticipated just how severely that philosophy would be tested two years hence--it concisely captures the essence of Hedgecock’s life in the year since his conviction.

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The former mayor’s cocky assuredness, sharp tongue and sense of humor remain firmly intact as he adjusts to life after politics--a life that could include a year in county jail if his appeal is unsuccessful.

Though clearly concerned about that prospect, the 40-year-old Hedgecock said he spends little time worrying about it “because it’s in my lawyers’ hands and out of my control.” When he does broach the subject, it more often than not serves as fodder for a joke. Recently, for example, Hedgecock approached Sheriff John Duffy at a party and asked whether his beard is “within the regulations” for county jail inmates.

“You might as well kid about it,” said Hedgecock, acknowledging that the humor perhaps serves as a psychological defense mechanism.

While awaiting the outcome of his appeal, Hedgecock already has begun serving a three-year probation, under which he has periodic meetings with a probation officer “that last about two minutes.”

Overall, Hedgecock says that he has enjoyed his readjustment to life as a private citizen, a transformation that he likened to “stopping hitting yourself over the head with a hammer.”

Gushing over the joy of rediscovering time for “simple but sane pursuits” such as reading, movies, travel and family activities, Hedgecock said: “These are everyday things for most people, but you never have enough time for them in politics. I used to wear out tuxedos running around to 19 receptions and parties a night.

“When you’re in politics, you just accept that as the way it is. But you have to get away from it to realize what an insane life style that is. It’s a pleasure to be first and foremost a father and husband.”

Hedgecock and his wife, Cindy, have two boys, ages 6 and 9.

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Meanwhile, Hedgecock’s job as host of a 9 a.m. to noon talk show on KSDO radio has enabled him to remain very much a public figure. Always eclectic in his interests and comfortable in front of a microphone, Hedgecock described the job as “a delightful way to get paid for having fun.”

Topics discussed on the program range from the usual local, national and international issues of the day to decidedly offbeat offerings. Once, Hedgecock’s guest was a man who claimed that his body was inhabited by a 2,000-year-old man with the ability to predict the future. Unable to resist a joke even at his own expense, Hedgecock asked the man how his appeal would turn out. The answer: Hedgecock will be dissatisfied with the early rounds of his appeal, but ultimately will be vindicated.

“So you know I feel a lot better now,” Hedgecock said, rolling his eyes. “It was like something you’d get in astrology.”

Before recently moving to the Monday-to-Friday morning time slot, Hedgecock’s program ran from noon to 3 p.m., where he doubled the station’s ratings for that period. Noting that as many as 35,000 people may be listening to his program at any given moment, Hedgecock argues that the talk show enables him to still help shape and direct public opinion on certain issues.

“It’s a powerful forum, even though it’s a very different role from what I had as mayor,” Hedgecock said. On several occasions, Hedgecock contends, telephone calls to public officials generated by his program have influenced proposed legislation.

On others, he tries to function as “an ombudsman of last resort” for listeners frustrated by the bureaucratic maze in local government. Recently, for example, a woman who called during the first hour of Hedgecock’s show to complain about her inability to get a property tax refund called back later in the same show to thank Hedgecock for putting her in touch with a county official who finally solved the problem.

“The show’s been good therapy for me, to recover my sense of pride in who I am and what I’m doing,” Hedgecock said.

However, describing himself as having “George Plimpton-esque tendencies,” Hedgecock said that he also is eager to “do a lot of different things with my life.”

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So, after completing his radio show daily, Hedgecock heads off to spend the afternoon at the Kearny Mesa office of Roger Hedgecock Consulting Services Inc. Drawing on the land-use planning expertise that he developed as a county supervisor and mayor, Hedgecock is working on half a dozen development projects for Roque de la Fuente Jr., whose family has considerable land holdings in Otay Mesa and owns numerous San Diego County auto dealerships.

Those projects include proposed industrial and residential developments in Otay Mesa, as well as a proposed auto raceway near the Mexican border. In addition, Hedgecock is helping De la Fuente develop plans for an office-hotel complex on Friars Road in Mission Valley.

Hedgecock describes his consulting work as a logical extension of the managed-growth policies that he espoused while in office, not a contradiction of his strong environmentalist sentiments. He noted, for example, that, as mayor, he fought for the city’s annexation and development of Otay Mesa, a region that he often hailed as “San Diego’s next frontier.”

“Anyone who says this is inconsistent would miss the mark entirely,” Hedgecock said. “It fits in perfectly with my philosophy of growth-management, because when I was in office, I was promoting the kind of growth that I thought would enhance our environment without doing so at the expense of our environment.”

Hedgecock’s combined salary from the radio and consulting jobs is, he said, “a very healthy multiple” of his former $50,000-a-year mayoral wage.

“People say, well, at least you’re making good money, and that’s true,” Hedgecock said. “And it’s a good thing, because the bills are big, too.”

While a group of his supporters called Californians for the Future raised about $90,000 to help pay his legal costs, the estimated defense cost for Hedgecock’s two trials and appeals reaches well into six figures.

While Hedgecock insists that he does not dwell on his legal troubles, he made it clear that he still has intense feelings about his lengthy, and ultimately unsuccessful, battle to preserve in the courtroom what he had won at the polls--a struggle that he sometimes characterized as “the country’s longest-running political soap opera.”

“To call what went on in my case a fair trial is a perversion of the word,” Hedgecock said. “In my view, I was removed from office on trumped-up charges in an unfair trial with a completely tampered verdict.”

Hedgecock also reiterated his oft-stated charges that prosecutors “twisted and distorted” evidence against him, and he criticized Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr. for rulings that blocked the presentation of “almost anything that could have helped me.” The former mayor’s attitude toward the Copley Press, which he often accused of biased coverage of his campaigns and trials, also has not softened.

“Let’s face it, if this were another century, I’d be in the tower in chains--if it were up to the D.A. and the Copley Press,” he said.

Todd has since been nominated by Gov. George Deukmejian to the 4th District Court of Appeal, and the case’s two major prosecutors have either already received or are currently seeking promotions themselves. Richard Huffman, who prosecuted Hedgecock’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury, was appointed to a Superior Court judgeship last year, and Charles Wickersham, who handled the retrial that resulted in Hedgecock’s conviction, is running for the Superior Court bench in next month’s election.

“They’ve all been handsomely rewarded to put salve on their conscience,” Hedgecock remarked. “And that’s fine, because they have to live with that for the rest of their lives. I have a clean conscience. I just think this is an injustice that sometime, someplace, somehow will be rectified.”

Saying that he has “made a clean break” with his former job, Hedgecock said that he does not have “I-should-be-there” thoughts while reading or watching news coverage of City Council meetings or Mayor Maureen O’Connor.

“That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to be there--I would,” Hedgecock emphasized. “But the only reason I’d want to be back at City Hall is that I got elected to a four-year term by the largest number of votes ever cast for any candidate for mayor in the history of the city. I would still like to be there doing the job voters elected me to do. On the other hand, I can’t change what happened.”

On his radio program, Hedgecock has occasionally supported O’Connor, arguing that “her success can only benefit the whole city.” However, while he said that he did not want to “second-guess or criticize” O’Connor, whom he defeated in the 1983 mayoral race, Hedgecock could not resist taking a few verbal pot shots at his old political foe during the interview.

He chuckled, for example, over the fact that O’Connor got elected in this year’s special election with fewer votes than Dick Carlson received in losing to Hedgecock in 1984. And, noting that O’Connor spent more than $560,000 of her own money in 1983, he said that he bristled at her comments that Hedgecock “stole” that race with illegal contributions and her rather pious refusal in this year’s race to accept campaign contributions from developers.

“Aside from the absolutely absurd injustice that Maureen O’Connor could put in $560,000 of (her husband) Bob Peterson’s money, and that was legal, in all fairness, honesty and common sense, her subsequent holier-than-thou posturing is the worst hypocrisy anyone has ever had to put up with in this town,” Hedgecock said.

Hedgecock, who never lost an election, said that he “cannot envision” running for office again, even if a successful appeal makes a future political race possible by reversing his felony conviction.

“It’s not that I’m sour about it or because of the money,” Hedgecock said. “But from the standpoint of family, it would be very difficult to go back to politics. As a family, we’re probably much better off today. Plus, I’ve already done my thing, made my contribution, and now it’s time to move ahead.”


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