Posted by Andrea Gemmet, Almanac staff writer, on Dec 6, 2006 at 11:12 am
Andrea Gemmet is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
This is the Mercury News Story of Nov. 26, 2006 that is being discussed:
Council `star' plans his exit
DEBATE HOVERS OVER LEADER'S LEGACY
By Joshua Molina
It's a recent Tuesday night in Menlo Park, and Nicholas Jellins looks more like he's ready to hit a nightclub than lead a city council meeting.
In a black jacket over a white shirt, the dapper Jellins sits perfectly upright, shoulders back and head high. With impeccable delivery, he welcomes the audience in the room and the ``millions'' of people watching at home via public access TV and the Internet.
In the often dramatic, sometimes bizarre and always entertaining world of Menlo Park politics, the departing councilman and three-time mayor has been a controversial star. His seemingly scripted delivery, flawless fashions and notable charisma always seem to strike a nerve.
``I have long been aware of certain gifts that I have,'' Jellins recently said from his law office on Menlo Avenue. ``I have always been conscious of how I speak and how I appear in public. I believe I have been gifted with the ability to express myself.''
The man who loves to be the center of attention will step aside Dec. 5. After eight tumultuous years on the council, Jellins will be all dressed up with no place to go.
Citing personal and professional reasons -- including a recent divorce from his wife, with whom he has three children -- he decided not to run for a third term. He has no immediate plans to run for office again, although he says he would love to one day be a county supervisor or congressman. The land-use attorney may also seek a judgeship down the line.
Jellins' legacy is up for debate. During his two terms, he earned favor with developers and used the mayor's platform to bask in the spotlight at community events.
``He is just a masterful legislator,'' said Rick Ciardella, chairman emeritus of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, adding that Jellins had a vision for economic growth.
Yet Jellins notably failed to bridge differences between the pro-business and slow-growth factions on the council, seeming to embrace the rift -- if not stoke the fire.
``I thought Nick had great potential to go far in politics,'' said Jon Levinson, longtime member of the San Mateo County Democratic Central Committee. ``I envisioned him as running for the board of supervisors. I thought he had a terrific chance for that, and who knows, maybe he could go beyond that? I really don't know what happened to him.''
When Jellins was first elected in 1998, he won by four votes -- after a recount. At the time, he was in the minority. Jellins tended to lean moderate and often found himself the odd man out on a council that swayed all the way left.
But things changed in 2002, when Lee Duboc and Mickie Winkler were elected. Together, the three dominated Menlo Park. They backed the privatization of a public swimming pool, supported the contentious Derry Lane mixed-use housing project, tried to outsource the city's child care programs and pushed to build a disputed golf course, a plan that was ultimately abandoned by the developer after community outcry.
In January, Jellins, Duboc and Winkler broke tradition and voted to re-appoint Jellins to a third term as mayor -- even though Vice Mayor Kelly Fergusson was in line to assume the rotating position.
``I was disappointed that they didn't follow the policy and the tradition,'' Fergusson said. ``There's no question that it has been a challenging relationship.''
Things got so bad that, during one recent public meeting, Fergusson accused Jellins of shining a laser pen into her eyes.
Jellins has an explanation for not appointing Fergusson to the mayor's post.
``I have a set of skills perhaps unequaled by others,'' he said. ``At the time, I had served six years on the council and Kelly had barely served two.''
And Jellins has plenty of supporters who agree that he is unparalleled on the council.
``I really admire the guy,'' Ciardella said. ``He has this commitment. He has integrity. Prior to Nicholas' tenure on the council, the city was in a position with a lack of leadership in providing a strong economic condition.''
Developer David Bohannon backed that up.
``Nicholas was interested in what was good for the city,'' said Bohannon, who met Jellins when he was on the city planning commission. Jellins backed at least one of Bohannon's projects while on the council, an office project on Marsh Road.
But to others, Jellins was a disappointment.
``Nicholas was on the council for eight years, and I don't recall his ever advocating a policy or project that truly benefited residents,'' said former two-term Councilman Steve Schmidt, who served with Jellins from 1998 to 2002. ``He seemed to be more interested in being the center of attention.''
Jellins was born in Berkeley but grew up in Atlanta. He was raised by his mother and lived next door to Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., father of the civil rights leader; Jellins said he met the younger King once when he attended a neighborhood birthday party.
A few weeks later, Jellins watched on TV as King delivered his ``I Have a Dream'' speech. Jellins remembers the impact the encounter and the speech made on him.
``No matter what your background, there's no limit to what you could accomplish,'' he said.
Even as a child, Jellins seemed to be grooming himself for the public eye. ``When he was 13 or 14 years old, he wouldn't let me touch his clothes,'' said his mother, Miriam Jellins, 79. ``He was never, ever sloppy, and that is unusual for a boy.''
After college at Harvard and law school in Virginia, Jellins moved to Menlo Park in 1989. He had returned to the Bay Area in previous years to visit his father, and Jellins and his then-wife fell in love with the area.
Next year, Jellins turns 50. His decision not to run again was wise, insiders say: His like-minded colleagues, Duboc and Winkler, finished at the bottom of a six-person race.
Unapologetic and proud of his time on the council, Jellins said he won't look back. ``My only regrets relate to things I didn't try,'' he said. ``I have no regrets about things I tried or failed at.''
Jellins also hints he won't be a stranger in council chambers, saying he might represent clients on development issues or other matters.
``I have long aspired to serve as a policymaker,'' he said. ``Policy is made in many ways, and not just in elected office.''