Coolness to Seeing Mayor May Be Deukmejian’s Payback
For more than a month, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor has been unable to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Gov. George Deukmejian to discuss the city’s growing drug and gang-warfare problem, even after she put her request in writing and offered to meet him anywhere.
Part of the reason for the cold shoulder, prominent Republicans contend, is that Deukmejian is well aware of longstanding complaints that O’Connor herself snubs prominent businessmen, civic leaders and local officeholders who try unsuccessfully for months to get a personal meeting with her, much less return telephone calls.
And one Democratic legislator said that O’Connor’s unorthodox, outspoken political style has left her with little support in Sacramento, not even from members of the county legislative delegation who could have easily arranged a meeting with the governor even during the recent hectic weeks of state budget negotiations.
‘Called Them All Crooks’
“Normally, someone would go to bat for the mayor to assure that a meeting occurred,” said Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista). “But nobody would go to bat for Maureen because she has brutalized--literally brutalized--everybody here. She’s called them all crooks.”
A spokesman for Deukmejian denied that the governor was purposely putting off O’Connor, explaining that the governor has been involved in a series of intense negotiations with Democratic leaders in the Legislature over the new $49.4-billion state budget.
“The governor’s schedule is jammed to the gills normally, but this has been an especially frenetic period of time,” said Press Secretary Kevin Brett. “We do anticipate a meeting (with O’Connor) in the future, but we just have not been able to do it.”
Deukmejian has not met with any other California mayors since O’Connor made her request, Brett said.
But a check of Deukmejian’s schedule since May 25 shows that the governor has attended other public events that have nothing to do with the budget. They include a courtesy call from the president of Portugal, a reception for Assemblyman Bill Baker in Contra Costa County, an American Bar Assn. hearing in San Francisco, a transitway groundbreaking and political dinner for Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) in Los Angeles, a realtors’ luncheon in Long Beach and a college reunion in New York.
Attended Other Events
In Sacramento alone, Deukmejian took time out to kick off the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run from the Capitol’s west steps, as well as Sacramento’s Dixieland Jazz Jubilee in a nearby parking lot. He took a courtesy call from a Woodland Hills high school team, which won the California Academic Decathlon, and awarded a Medal of Valor. One afternoon he officiated at a ceremony to celebrate Philippine Independence Day.
Meanwhile, O’Connor has been asking to sit down with Deukmejian since her surprise press conference in late May requesting that he declare a “state of emergency” because of gang- and drug-related violence on San Diego streets. O’Connor called on Deukmejian to give the city $34 million from the state’s $2.5-billion surplus to help build courtrooms and jails, and to finance community programs.
O’Connor spokesman Paul Downey said Wednesday that both he and Ben Dillingham, the mayor’s chief of staff, made calls to their counterparts in Deukmejian’s office to attempt to arrange the meeting, preferably in San Diego so the governor could be escorted along the border and through crime-ridden streets.
After Deukmejian sent a letter to O’Connor rejecting the request last month, Downey said, he called the governor’s office again to ask for the meeting and was told to put the request in writing. O’Connor did so in a June 22 letter to Deukmejian.
“I would like to show you San Diego’s problem but, if your schedule does not allow a visit here, I am more than willing to meet you at the time and place of your choosing,” O’Connor wrote. “I look forward to your early, positive response.”
Staff Is Puzzled
So far, Deukmejian’s office has not set any definite date for the meeting, a circumstance that has puzzled the mayor’s staff.
“We’re a little surprised with the difficulty in getting an appointment with him,” Downey said. “But we’re still hopeful that, once he’s through the budget, that he will be able to find a few minutes to meet with the mayor.”
In contrast, Downey noted, U.S. drug czar William Bennett came to San Diego, met with O’Connor for an hour and toured the border for half a day to scout the local drug problem.
“That’s the kind of response that we need, and we’re not getting it from Sacramento,” Downey said.
No Response From Mayor
O’Connor did not return repeated telephone calls from The Times for this story.
Some prominent Republicans, meanwhile, suggested that Sacramento is trying to send a message to O’Connor, who herself has been roundly criticized for her inaccessibility to local movers and shakers.
Unlike past mayors, O’Connor has often declined to meet with community leaders unless they sign up for a five-minute time slot during her public “Meet the Mayor” sessions or until months after their initial request. Similarly, other local officeholders, such as county Supervisor Brian Bilbray, say that they have put in requests for months before O’Connor has agreed to schedule a meeting, sometimes after breaking previous appointments at the last minute.
“I’m thoroughly certain that the governor is aware of the fact that she doesn’t make provisions to allow for certain leaders of the community to come in and meet privately with her,” said Tom Stickel, president of TCS Enterprises and a former Deukmejian appointee to the California State University board.
Asked if he thought O’Connor’s treatment by Deukmejian is, in part, a payback for the way she has handled requests from San Diego’s power brokers, many of them Republican, Stickel said: “I would think that would be a fairly obvious conclusion.”
Another high-ranking Republican, who asked not to be identified, said O’Connor’s chilly reception in Sacramento has to do not only with her reputation as inaccessible, but also with the fact that she failed to give Deukmejian a courtesy call first before holding her May press conference.
“I think he’s onto the mayor’s style, and I don’t think he gives her much credibility,” said the Republican, who stressed that he has not talked to the governor about O’Connor. “He doesn’t like people to address him through the newspapers.”
Peace said O’Connor’s failure to tip off Deukmejian and members of the legislative delegation to her press conference is not the only gaffe the mayor has made in her relations with Sacramento.
Another misstep occurred when O’Connor went to the state capital for a hearing on legislation pertaining to the San Diego Gas & Electric merger with Southern California Edison and, at a morning press conference, accused lawmakers of being on the take from the utilities, Peace said.
“People generally don’t know who the mayor of San Diego is, and that’s why it is so hurtful when the only impression they have, or the first impression they have, is that (she said) ‘this place is awful and the outcome is predetermined by money’ and that sort of thing,” Peace said. “That was basically all they knew of her.”
Because of that incident, Peace said, there has been a “concerted effort to keep the mayor out of the capital” during subsequent legislative hearings pertaining to the SDG&E; merger.
Peace also said that O’Connor’s decision to hold the state-of-emergency press conference--without first informing the governor and members of the San Diego delegation--virtually guaranteed that her request for state funds would be treated lightly and as a “publicity stunt.”
“If they had believed that she was serious, as opposed to playing politics, there would have been a meeting (with Deukmejian) because it had budget implications,” Peace said. “She had taken that first step too quickly and had the thing labeled in the governor’s office and by most observers as more publicity than substance.”
He also said O’Connor erred by not following Sacramento protocol and arranging for the meeting with Deukmejian through the offices of one of San Diego County’s legislators.
“She picks up the phone, she talks to (State Sen.) Wadie Deddeh and it’s done the next day,” Peace said.