New Council President Lightner Explains Succession, Policy Plans

New San Diego City Council President Sherri Lightner addressed her quick rise to power

San Diego's new city council president is now going public with the reason she pursued the job held by the ousted Todd Gloria -- and her plans moving forward.

Sherri Lighter had been the center of media intrigue surrounding the City Hall coup.

Lightner, media-shy and introverted by nature, wasn’t inclined to feed the speculation that began when NBC 7 broke the story that Gloria's presidency would be challenged.

In an interview Friday, she said that report was the first she had heard about what became more than a political insiders’ controversy – and that she doesn't know who on the council set the wheels in motion.

"You didn't put this out first?" I asked her.

"No. I did not," Lightner replied.

"So who came to you first?" was my follow-up.

"It was Todd."

"Where had he heard it?”

"It was the press inquiry,” Lightner responded. “We both got the same press inquiry at the same time."

Without quoting him, Lightner indicated that Gloria wasn’t thrilled to learn of her interest in the council presidency.

“I think we know how he took it,” is all she would say.

On Thursday, Gloria offered NBC 7 a blunt description of the change of command: “This is politics.”

Lightner said the fact that Gloria’s two predecessors as council president each had held the post for two years had created an informal expectation among other members that the job should be limited to that time span.

The idea behind that expectation, she continued, is that council vice presidents -- which Lightner had been during Gloria's tenure – can thereby advance to the top post, often referred to as “moving up the chairs.”

"It is something that's important to all the councilmembers, to have the possibility of being the council president,” Lightner explained, adding that there's been talk on the council floor of formal action to make it just a two-year job.

NBC 7 has reported that discussions about the succession process involved private, one-on-one meetings that involved six councilmembers including Lightner and Gloria, and quoted a council aide as saying Lightner told Gloria last week that she was “going for it."

However the decisions behind the ultimate 7-2 vote in favor of Lightner over Gloria were reached, Lightner says her professional background is well-suited to running what's been called the "nuts and bolts" of council business -- which she did herself for the six months Gloria was acting mayor after Bob Filner’s departure from City Hall.

"I think the reason for 'nuts and bolts' is, I am an engineer, and engineers by and large are very interested in getting things done in a rational way,” Lightner said. “They're solution-oriented: 'Let's fix the problem, let's not just talk about the problem, and let's move forward with that.'"

Lightner wants to move forward with water policy, economic development, open data, cybersecurity and workforce building through science, math, engineering, arts and technology by way of public, private, and academic partnerships.

There will to lots of long-term “swamps to drain,” I pointed out, and lots of day-to-day “alligators” to fend off in the process.

Lighter’s response: "The minimization of 'alligators' is working collaboratively with other people to put the fires out before they happen.”

She laughed off suggestions that she'll be "gamed" by the four-member Republican bloc on the nine-member council or that they promised her some kind of power.

"You need to include everyone in your discussions, and these folks have things to add to the discussion,” Lightner said.

“It's important to include as many viewpoints as you can while you're building something and engage in a rational discussion. We certainly have enough problems. We don't need to be at each other's throats. We need to solve the problems."

Lightner’s recommended appointments to new terms on council committees have Gloria serving as chair of the Budget & Government Efficiency Committee, vice chair of the Smart Growth & Land Use Committee and a member of the Environment and Public Safety & Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

She also appointed him to continue to represent the city as a director and executive committee member of the San Diego Assn. of Governments, director of the Metropolitan Transit District and liaison to Civic San Diego, successor agency to the disbanded redevelopment authority.

In the process, Gloria maintained positions he’s previously held and was given new ones now that he no longer faces the obligations of the council presidency.

“No objections,” Gloria’s spokesman said in a text message when asked about his reaction to the appointments. “He’s very grateful.”

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