The San Diego City Council saw a shake-up in leadership Wednesday when Councilwoman Sherri Lightner was voted to be the next council president, ending the tenure of Councilman Todd Gloria.
A 7-2 majority elected Lightner, the first woman to hold the council president position since a strong mayor system was enacted.
"I understand the decision today," said Gloria. "It's about politics. It's not about my performance as council president, and I will show up here tomorrow to do the work of representing the people of District 3 and do my very best to make this city a better place to be."
Ligthner left City Hall without commenting on her new position. However, she later issued a statement that said she is honored her colleagues have selected her as their new leader.
"I have worked hard during my six years on Council to be fair, open minded, and independent. I’ve always been a voice for our neighborhoods, and I’m not afraid to go against the grain or stand up for the little guy. I’ll continue to do my homework and make well-researched, informed decisions," her statement read in part.
Wearing purple and carrying yellow signs, more than 100 people showed up to support Gloria in City Hall as the council elected their new leader.
The vote came the same day newly elected Councilman Chris Cate and returning members David Alvarez, Myrtle Cole and Lorie Zapf were sworn in, allowing everyone in the new council to have a say in the issue.
But first, over 30 public speakers gave testimony either for or against Gloria, most describing his hard work during a dark time in San Diego politics. Gloria stepped in as interim mayor last year after Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal and eventual resignation.
"Primarily when the city had a crisis, he stepped up and he put the city first," said Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, one of the speakers. "But in addition, as a person of color, it's good to see people in power and who are doing well in power as examples for our children."
The strong show of support was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing day for Gloria.
"And as unfortunate as the outcome is, as disappointed as I am about the outcome, I'm really heartened by this testimony that was given today by people from all corners of this city who are very happy with the job that I'm doing," said Gloria.
However, some in city leadership have expressed anger with Gloria’s minimum wage proposal. And as the Democratic-controlled council's top leader, Gloria would likely have been in a position to go up against the mayor on certain issues.
Republicans on the council and in the mayor's office decided they would rather battle it out against Lightner instead of the outspoken Gloria.
Gloria told NBC 7 he is looking forward to continue his work with Lightner, whom he had selected as his second in command.
In turn, Lightner's statement commended Gloria for his time in office.
"He has done an outstanding job during his tenure as Interim Mayor and Council President," her release read. "He brought stability and a calming presence to the City during a very difficult time and helped restore faith in city government. I will always be one of his biggest fans, as he is one of the best and brightest elected officials with whom I've ever worked. I cannot say enough good things about Todd and the job he has done. I know everyone in San Diego shares my gratitude for his service.”
Lightner, who held the second highest post on the council as president pro tem, is also chair of the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee.
As the new council leader, she said she and her colleagues need to improve police salaries, update the city charter, approve the Climate Action Plan, address infrastructure and water needs and put more city services online.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer quickly responded to the vote, releasing the following statement:
“I want to congratulate Sherri Lightner on being elected City Council President for 2015. We already have a great working relationship and I look forward to working together to create more opportunities for all San Diegans. I would also like to commend Councilmember Todd Gloria for his leadership over the past two years and for working collaboratively with me to get the City back on track.”
Council presidents are elected for one-year terms. Gloria was first elected in 2013 and then re-elected by his peers in 2014, according to his online bio.
The position gained importance almost a decade ago when San Diego switched over to a strong mayor form of government. Since then, a council president runs the council meetings and sets the agenda.
"He or she is the person who brings items forward, stops items, delays items," said Stampp Corbin, the publisher of the San Diego LGBT Weekly who supports Gloria. "That's really important. They make the decision about what the agenda's going to be for the city."