"True statesmanship is the art of changing a community from what it is into what it ought to be." (W.R. Alger)
There is a bothersome subject on my mind this week; it is the mayor's announcement that he will not run for re-election.
This is a loss for the region and a loss for his true potential as a leader. The new parlor game is "can he be talked out of this decision" as the resulting primary election will turn into a circus when there could have been stability in these increasingly volatile times. We collectively long for something predictable as chaos is no community building block.
Courage is the infrastructure of leadership when the brain lusts for an easier path. This new millennium promises anything but simplicity. The good mayor's announcement was a shock to most of us; he was supposed to have been a shoe-in, with little likelihood that someone could unseat him. He chose not to run, yet commented that he would not be considered a lame-duck, which was the height of naivet?. Why would a solid politician throw away a chance to be in power for four additional years?
The first thing I thought of was personal or family health. Hopefully neither is the case. His stated reason was that he didn't want to waste his time campaigning when so much was left still to be accomplished. I put that down under "frustration." Most politicians have tasted the disappointment of frustration as conditions or adversarial "termites" pile up and eat away their productive time. Politics produces a mischief that dims the vision and diminishes our collective possibilities.
If you examine the two preceding mayors, you knew that their frustration had to be much worse than his, that he must have known that no job like his could be free of defeats, opposition or unexpected erosion of power. He couldn't have been that naive. He knew that infrastructure was getting worn out; that we had been growing too big, too fast; that traffic was an expanding monster; that the state's deficit was placing too strong an inhibition on the city's budget; and that it would be getting worse and not better, for the city is affected by global events.
He knew that affordable housing was proving an impossible factor to resolve, and that growing terrorism might further hurt the city's convention and travel business. In other words, there has been a coming millennium shift in people's willingness to travel far away from their homes for vacations, or to hold conventions. The Iraqi War and its aftershock join 9/11 in changing perceptions about safety and leadership.
This mayor is no tyrant, and no double-dealing political animal. After all, he is a judge and understands that complications demand careful thinking and deliberation. He was not decisive and his political adviser was not a risk-taker; rather a typical poll-watcher before deciding on any subject. That robbed the mayor of any visionary possibility at exactly the time when that factor became a critical necessity; a leader with a vision, not a list; a unique person who could build the trust of the electorate as he convinced them of the pathway to an achievable future.
Tomorrow's vision can be achieved only by a visionary whose trust could be earned through his leadership, attitude and skills as a communicator. San Diego and the state are in desperate need of these precious qualities of leadership and energy. I have concluded that this is the time for this strength of ethical leadership regardless of how fine a city he leads. The near-perfection of our climate and beauty makes it even more difficult for we are becoming more conservative rather than creative and experimental.
While enjoying no friendship with the man, I shall miss this busy, this good person, for he could have accomplished so much more for his city. I hope that he and his family's health are excellent and that he will not be bereft of effectiveness because of his limiting time, which will inhibit his power, but hopefully not his courage.
The new mayor should build trust for that is the primary necessity for leadership and any relationship with the electorate. Trust is a mysterious commodity that only time can measure. The new mayor must be effective so that his or her principles can be calibrated and experienced. Without effectiveness, there is only mediocrity and San Diego has seen enough of that sorry commodity.