July 8, 2005

San Diego Chicanos and Chicanas opine on the city’s political crisis and Mayor Murphy

(Editor’s Note: Mayor Dick Murphy’s last day in office is July 15, after which a special election will be held. In response to Mayor Murphy’s stepping down our reporters asked Hispanic residents of San Diego their opinion of Murphy and of the special election. The following are their responses.)

By Ricardo Raúl y Daniel Alberto Pozos y Garay

It seems like everyone these days has had his or her say regarding the City of San Diego’s financial and electoral crises. Last year, national news headlines dubbed San Diego “Enron by the Sea” for its swelling pension deficit, federal investigations into its retirement system and subsequent allegations of illegal accounting and public corruption. Last April, top-selling news magazine “Time”, dubbed mayor Dick Murphy, along with Detroit and Philadelphia mayors, as one of the current three worst big-city mayors in the United States.

The City of San Diego’s Chicano/a community, the city’s largest ethnic minority, accounting for approximately 25.4% of the city’s population, as a whole has remained uncannily silent or perhaps unquestioned regarding the city’s mayoral and financial crises, until now.

Amateur boxer and entrepreneur, José Flores is representative of many Chicanos/as was excited about Juan Vargas being among the mayoral hopefuls. “I really think that Juan Vargas is a model politician, one that truly represents the voice of our community”, said Flores. “However, Vargas did vote for the initial pension under-funding in 1996 and a lot of people are saying that didnt help his candidacy but then again, Donna Frye also voted the same way in 1996 and no one seems to hold that against her”.

José Flores

Nicolas Vega M.A., a local historian and researcher voiced his discontent with city politics but was thankful nonetheless of City Attorney Michael Aguirre’s assiduous query of Murphy’s motives. “I can’t say I’m too surprised about the all the news—said Vega—I mean, people far and wide for the past few years have made allegations of corruption downtown and have singled out Murphy the whole time. So this is nothing new but the fact that high-ranking politicians are being held accountable is something real new in this town. I was really anxious to hear Aguirre’s findings. I really commend Aguirre’s hard work but especially his intrepidness”.

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre’s highly anticipated 91-page report corroborated allegations of wrongful conduct concluding that there is “substantial evidence” Murphy and the City Council, beginning in early 2002, committed civil violations of federal securities laws by concealing important facts about the city’s ailing pension system from the public and from investors in more than two billion dollars in city bonds. The public disclosure of these facts is quite a departure from the same ol’ closed-door wheeling and dealing that San Diegans have come to expect from city politicians.

Freelance reporter and public relations employee Zulema Lailson was taken aback by Mayor Dick Murphy’s stolid stance amid the allegations. Nonetheless Lailson commends the mayor for stepping down. “Through it all, Murphy showed himself extremely overconfident, if not out right blasé and indifferent; flicking the blame off himself and onto the previous city attorney and outside securities experts—even the national journals he dismissed as ‘ignorant’”, said Lailson. “But I knew it was only a matter of time before the perennial voices of doom would take their toll and finally break the questionable mayor. His resignation is probably the first ‘right’ thing he’s done in a long while”.

Severely daunted and fearful of a potential recall movement, Murphy announced his abdication effective July 15 and a special election to supersede him on July 26. A majority winner, with more than 50 percent of the vote, would serve out the duration of Murphy’s term, which expires in December 2008.

Current USD student and certified public accountant Alejandro Galindo never thought the mayor would ever step down or that County Supervisor Roberts would drop out of the mayor’s race. “County Supervisor Ron Roberts has maintained all along that Murphy has consistently lied and mishandled city funds”, said Galindo. “Roberts should feel vindicated by Murphy’s resignation. I’ve supported Roberts for over ten years now. I can’t understand why Roberts quit all of a sudden.”

Architect and County Supervisor Ron Roberts has been systematically vying for the mayor’s seat since 1992. Roberts announced on May 5, 2005 he will not launch a fourth run for San Diego mayor, despite encouraging poll odds and events that prop up his 2004 campaign message that the city had been thrown in a ditch under Mayor Dick Murphy.

Another Ron Roberts supporter, recent business and real estate graduate Carolina Santana, was also upset over Roberts’ unforeseen announcement. “Quite frankly I was shocked; then dismay-ed—said Santana—why would Roberts drop out? Had it not been for Donna Frye, I’m positive Roberts would be our city’s mayor. Honestly,—if you ask me—Frye’s supposed bid for the mayorship was nothing more than a glorified gerrymandering stratagem to reelect Murphy. After all, Murphy did approve Frye’s last minute candidacy”.

“First they put in Murphy as mayor, a well qualified, experienced man, who happened to do it all wrong—said José Flores—and now they want to replace him with Frye, perhaps the most unqualified, inexperienced person, and they’re thinking she’s going to do the job right. Man! Are things ever going to get better around here?”

Undoubtedly, the mayoral crisis marks a difficult chapter in San Diego city political history unlike ever before. The overwhelming majority of the city’s Chicanos/as interviewed for this piece, though they don’t exactly constitute a unified voting bloc; agree that the city is in dire need of an all new mayor. Decades of Anglo politicians have done little to improve the city’s financial woes and far less to address the city’s Chicano/a community’s needs.

San Diego Chicanos/as look north to the City of Los Angeles for inspiration. There Chicano Antonio Villaraigosa has popularly assumed the city’s mayorship. The last time Los Angeles had a Chicano mayor was 133 years ago. Villaraigosa’s grassroots platform is what political analysts believe will finally lead the city of Los Angeles out of decades of deep political and social divisions and onto the right track. Chicanos/as make up the majority of the city of Los Angeles’ constituency and although Chicanos/as are not the majority in San Diego, local Chicanos/as feel it’s time some new blood took the city’s reins and steered the city into a brighter future for all—Chicano style!

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