Last week’s teary turn of events that saw Mayor Jerry Sanders reverse his original plan to veto a City Council resolution supporting gay marriage in California will go down as one of the more memorable political events in San Diego in some time.
Make no mistake, it was a political event. As the story quickly found top billing in national news outlets and the video of a choked-up Sanders explaining his position flew into e-mail inboxes around the country, the prevailing headline sounded something like, “Sanders puts politics aside to follow his heart on gay marriage.”
We urge you to remember that politicians NEVER put politics aside, and suggest that Sanders made his decision with his head rather than his heart.
The idea that Sanders was sticking his neck out politically by supporting gay marriage in a conservative city is probably exaggerated. He was already considered a gay-friendly mayor, his support for civil unions and participation in pride parades earning him wide support from those who favor equal rights for gays. And his most likely competition in the upcoming mayoral election, Republican businessman Steve Francis, was going to out-flank him to the right on that issue no matter what Sanders did.
And don’t discount the points Sanders will earn locally for his 15 minutes of national fame. This city is terribly sensitive to how it is portrayed in the national press - remember that for all his troubles, Sanders’ predecessor, Dick Murphy, clung stubbornly to his job until Time Magazine named him one of the worst mayors in America, and he resigned in shame. The national headlines lauding Sanders for his courage and leadership will win him votes in San Diego - and we know he’s probably been dying to appear in a big headline without the word “Sunroad.”
Which brings us back to what we consider more pressing issues. We support the position taken by the City Council - and it already had enough votes to override Sanders’ veto anyway - but wonder if this is the time to take it on. Resolving the pension deficit, completing the last three years of city audits, fixing infrastructure (particularly the streets) and resolving the myriad multi-million dollar lawsuits against the city would seem to be more urgent matters than adding San Diego’s name to a lawsuit seeking to overturn a ban on gay marriage that was approved by 62 percent of California voters less than a decade ago.
If Sanders’ dramatic confessional ends up being the moment that galvanizes the movement to legalize gay marriage in California, he will deserve congratulations. But for now we can only ask our mayor to dry his eyes, and get back to work.