A bitter budget struggle between San Diego's top two elected officials came before the City Council late Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor Bob Filner is proposing a 3 percent spending cut for the office of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith -- $1.4 million out the current fiscal year’s total of $44 million, the equivalent of 13 full-time positions.
The mayor says that would bring the office more in line with reductions other city departments have endured in recent years.
Fiscal logic aside, it's widely seen as political a shot across his rival's bow.
In presenting his own budget proposal for the new fiscal year beginning in July, Goldsmith touted his staff’s savings and efficiencies while handling a larger caseload and more oversight responsibilities -- while reducing the use of costly outside attorneys.
He offered a subtle allusion to the political atmosphere that often envelops City Hall.
"Some of the city's worst historical failures in governance occurred due to poor legal work arising out of pressures of a political environment,” Goldsmith told the Council. "We run our office like a private law firm. We do our best to shield our lawyers from outside political and media pressures. And I absorb them. Lucky me."
Meantime, while his budget is in Filner’s crosshairs, Goldsmith is investigating Filner's legal adviser, Lee Burdick, in connection with public statements he suspects may violate Charter prohibitions against the practice of law by city employees other than his deputies.
But on Wednesday, he expressed optimism that the mayor’s relationship with his office and the Council could “evolve” into something more cooperative than it has been.
Veteran political observers have their doubts about a permanent reconciliation between Goldsmith and Filner.
"Both sides have leverage; both sides have animosity,” says Voice of San Diego columnist Scott Lewis.
Calling the balance of power between two officials elected by a citywide constituency “adversarial and problematic," Lewis adds this about the mayor’s approach to governance: “He's always gotten what he wants out of conflict, and then resolution that comes out of it. And so, if you're uncomfortable with that, then you're uncomfortable with our mayor."
More budget deliberations lie ahead before the Council weighs in later this month.
But judging from the tenor of Q&A at Wednesday’s hearing, Filner's challenge to Goldsmith's budget figures to meet serious resistance.