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San Diegans want to put mayor's `shady' image behind them

A two-year saga of legal and political battles is drawing to a close in the nation's eighth largest city. Roger Hedgecock, the young, ``visionary'' mayor, who is credited with bringing a coalition of previously voiceless San Diegans to power with his own political rise, is not likely to survive the week in office. Many here, both friend and foe, welcome such a turn, saying it's important that the city put the problems of Mayor Hedgecock and his felony convictions behind it.

``I think it's given the city a bad image. Stability is what the city really needs,'' says City Councilwoman Gloria McColl, often an opponent of Hedgecock on city issues.

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San Diego County Democratic chairman Tom LaVaut expresses similar sentiments. ``This thing has gone on and on. People tell me San Diego is the sunny place where shady people live.''

The fall of Hedgecock as mayor appears imminent, following the California Supreme Court's decision last week not to intervene in, and further delay, his trial. The court had been asked by the mayor's attorneys to consider charges that a court bailiff tampered with the jury that had returned guilty verdicts on 13 felony counts of violating election finance and finance-disclosure laws.

The allegations of jury tampering and a request for a new trial will be considered today by the original trial judge, William L. Todd, who has already ruled as inadmissible most of the evidence that Hedgecock's attorneys intended to use to substantiate the tampering charges. If Hedgecock is denied a new trial he will be sentenced. Under California law he will also automatically be removed from office.

Hedgecock has already tendered his resignation. On Oct. 11, two days after his conviction, he announced: ``I can no longer offer leadership. . . . It's time for the people of this city to elect someone who can.''

He rescinded that resignation when two of 12 jurors stepped forward before sentencing to question whether a court bailiff's instructions, defining legal terms and the jurors' responsibility to return a verdict, tainted the jury's decision.

The mayor's legal woes result from his 1983 campaign to serve the unexpired portion of US Sen. Pete Wilson's term as mayor. In the course of that campaign, Hedgecock received at least $130,000 from a single financeer. The money was laundered through his political consultant's firm in violation of the state's Political Reform Act and city ordinances that limit the amount of money a single contributor can donate. He was convicted of conspiracy for accepting the donation and of purgery for failing to discl ose it on campaign finance reports.

Hedgecock was reelected to a full four-year term in 1984 despite the fact that he had already been indicted by a grand jury on the conspiracy charges. Pretrial hearings in his case commenced on the eve of that election. His first trial ended in a hung jury in February, when a single juror maintained Hedgecock was innocent.

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A public opinion poll, conducted following that mistrial, estimated that 51 percent of San Diegans believed Hedgecock, a Republican, should remain in office against 40 percent who thought he should resign.

His support came from an alliance of environmentalists, homosexuals, Democrats, Latinos, blacks, and others who rallied behind him to buck what San Diegans commonly refer to as ``the Republican establishment,'' a coalition of downtown business, banking, and other interests.

He maintained the support of his coalition by pushing for controlled growth of the city's remaining undeveloped tracts and by focusing attention on the city's problems with its homeless, its transit systems, and its job programs.

Political consultant David Lewis, whose firm commissioned the poll after Hedgecock's mistrial and who helped run the 1983 campaign for Hedgecock's opponent, says he believes there still exists a solid core of support for Hedgecock, perhaps 25 to 30 percent of San Diegans.

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