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A.C. Gonzalez Came One Vote From NOT Being City Manager

A.C. Gonzalez
A.C. Gonzalez

As I said on Twitter yesterday morning and the DMN then double-secret confirmed, our new city manager, A.C. Gonzalez, had the necessary votes locked up 24 hours ago. But that doesn’t mean this was a done deal. In fact, 48 hours ago, anti-A.C. forces on the Council only needed one more vote to hire Oakland city administrator Deanna Santana. Here’s how the arm-twisting shook out, according to five on-background sources I kept in contact with as the drama played out over the weekend.

Late Friday evening, it had become clear that Gonzalez had enough votes to be named city manager. This deeply distressed not only several council members who wanted to send a “times they are a-changin’” message to their constituents, but also Mayor Mike Rawlings. He has grown increasingly concerned that city staff doesn’t always level with him or the Council — all together now, A-DUH — and he wanted a change agent.

That’s when the vote brokering began. Whichever candidate could get a hard eight votes was going to win by a landslide, because no one was going to anger the new city manager right away by voting against him or her. There were several fence-sitters, folks who would be willing to side with Rawlings on Santana provided the mayor had enough votes. This included District 2’s Adam Medrano, interesting because the four black council members (they are fine with things running as they always have) had already warned Medrano that he had better side with them in backing Gonzalez, lest there be political repercussions.

Once you added up the anti-A.C. council members and the fence-sitters, by Sunday morning you had seven votes for Santana. One more was all that was needed. But whom to target, and what would get that person to change his or her vote? Obviously, the mayor could have tried to change Sheffie Kadane’s vote, but no one has yet figured what planet he is from, much less what his people desire. The other target would be Jerry Allen.

This would be problematic. You see, Allen is still furious at the mayor over the way he was yanked off the police-fire pension review board. (And it was mishandled, even if you think it was the right move.) So the only possible way he might have changed his vote is if he was given his seat back on that board — he gets what he wants, and Rawlings looks like he had to cave.

Well, as one person close to the mayor said to me, “Mike was never going to do that. He’s not political. He wants to do the right thing the right way.” And, yes, assuming Allen would have played ball — there’s no way to know now — that would have been a very political move, inserting someone back on the review board who was its leading anti-Nasher voice. That offer never came.

So what did Mayor Mike do to try to get that last vote? That’s the sticky part. No one is quite sure. Maybe he begged. Maybe he pleaded. Maybe he cajoled. It’s doubtful he put the screws to anyone. Rawlings is not considered the best — how to put this delicately? — organizational strategist. All that’s known is that, as I tweeted Monday morning, by Sunday he’d given up the fight, and Gonzalez had the votes. Rawlings said he would do his best to work with Gonzalez, the fence-sitters swung back to A.C., and even those who were adamant that this was the wrong move realized there was no value in falling on their swords.

What now? As one Dallas politico said to me on Sunday, “Here’s the thing: I like A.C. a lot.” So do many people. He did a lot of Mary Suhm’s dirty work when he worked for her, and everyone thinks he can easily handle the Xs and Os of the job.

But as one longtime insider told me, “A.C. does not have the political instincts that Mary has.” This person suggested he hire someone with said instincts. Me, I don’t know. Another shadow mayor is not really what I want out of the city manager.

That does bring up an important point: Mary Suhm needs to get the hell out of the building. Why is she still there, on charter review committees and roaming the halls? Have you ever worked somewhere where the old boss is still hovering over your shoulder? It’s impossible.

In the meantime, the Council will do its best to work with Gonzalez, and he will make cosmetic changes to the way business is done at City Hall, because when you’ve got the votes, you don’t really need to change, right?