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The Changing Of The Guard
LA MESA -- There is a reason presidents bring great poets to their inaugurations. The profundity of the transfer of power in America is difficult to penetrate for masses who can't see the day-to-day role the elected play in keeping government in the people's possession.
On Tuesday night, in the City Council chambers, there was a need for such a poet. After 18 years of showing up at meetings, listening to citizen complaints and helping chart a course for his community, City Council member Ernie Ewin was clearly overcome by the prospects of stepping aside.
Ewin was followed to the spotlight by Mayor Art Madrid, whose own service to this town, outlasted seven U.S. presidents and extended through 40 percent of this city's history. Madrid attempted to capture this moment, but again was sidetracked by the nuts and bolts of local government service. He listed accomplishments made during his tenure, but that was almost beside the point on this night.
The City Council chamber was full with friends and family of the departing and the arriving. This was a night of ritual not substance and virtually anything that veered from the script hit a particularly discordant note. Local resident Craig Maxwell rose to mark this new era and City Council members Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio exchanged a few unpleasantries about representation on the San Diego Association of Governments, but in virtually every other way this night was simply for a kind Changing of the Guard.
Local officials who understand what long public service entails came by to honor Madrid and Ewin. Local mayors and state officials brought proclamations, often exchanging friendly barbs with Madrid, whose reputation for feistiness was appreciated -- at least in retrospect on this night.
City Manager Dave Witt boldly noted that Madrid and Ewin were known for their frequent political jousting, but that he saw, from his perspective, how much they had in common, reciting a long list of local accomplishments the two pols achieved together for the people of the city.
When it was his turn to speak, Madrid quoted Cory Booker, the New Jersey politician, reminding his successors they will be judged by their actions not the purity of their dogma. He listed the redevelopment of Fletcher Parkway, the expansion of the city's commission system, the rebuilding of the civic center, the Centennial celebration and the rebuilding of the downtown Village as his strongest achievements in office. Madrid also took a moment to honor his long-serving assistant, Lidia Simms, calling her his "guardian angel'' through many years in City Hall.
And then, it was time to depart. The meeting was halted as Madrid and Ewin left the stage. Seats were re-arranged and namecards moved. "City Councilman Mark Arapostathis" became "Mayor Arapostathis.''
In part a reminder of both his Greek roots and his faith, Arapostathis chose to be sworn in by Greek Orthodox Priest Christopher Flesoras, a long-time friend, whom he met while working at church camp in the mountains in his youth.
Arapostathis briefly thanked all who had come out for this night and then cleared the stage for the swearing in of new council members Bill Baber and Guy McWhirter. Baber, a member of former San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy's administration, asked his old boss to swear him in and Murphy obliged.
The new council members then took their seats, moved quickly through a routine agenda and then recessed until January. A modest reception with many hugs and handshakes followed in the Police Department's community room next door.