June 3, 2005

Commentary:

Seeking a Courageous Mayor

By Ernie McCray

I hear people talking about how courageous it was for Mayor Dick Murphy to resign. And I say: Courageous? By who’s standard? Not mine.

Hey, a man’s got to breathe and there was not a whole lot of fresh air in the messy situation he found himself in, so his actions were, perhaps, prudent. But courageous? Nah. I don’t think so.

If the man were courageous he would have brought the city’s attention to the pension fund in his very first moments as mayor. Such actions are expected of men of courage, especially when they own Phi Beta Kappa keys along with economics and M.B.A. degrees.

But, to be fair, I’ll give Murphy a kind of excuse for his role in the pension fiasco. Like most mayors I’ve seen come and go around San Diego he was just too caught up in all the America’s Finest City stuff: Holiday Bowls and Super Bowls and Charger Ticket guarantees and the building of stadiums and ball parks and malls and monuments. These enterprises take a lot of a mayor’s time.

But I can’t cut the soon to be ex-mayor any slack when it comes to issues of freedom and justice. I’ve lived for the day when a San Diego mayor speaks out courageously on such matters. Dick Murphy had an opportunity a couple of years or so ago to do just that when the city’s lease with the Boy Scouts of America was up for renewal. At that time there was a part of me foolish enough to think that he would have voted against the signing of such a contract. You know, he having been a judge and all, one who supposedly respects the law - but even though the City Charter makes it crystal clear that discrimination is a “No-No” for anyone doing business in San Diego, our mayor proudly and boldly supported the BSA’s discriminatory practices against atheists and gays.

For me that ended any notion I could have ever had about Dick Murphy being courageous in any way.

Along these lines, Dick Murphy’s lack of courage stood out in my mind one night recently as I sat with a group of gay high school kids at a social gathering sponsored by GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Educators Network), an organization in which I’m proudly involved because it’s about what I’ve spent a lifetime being about: creating school environments where all students are respected and accepted.

That evening we watched Prom Queen, a movie about a gay teen who had to battle his Catholic school board and his principal for the reasonable right to date whomever he pleased. It was a very funny movie at times so we laughed every now and then. But there were moments when I could feel the uneasiness stirring inside these young people as they identified with the main character’s pain, the pain of having to suppress who they are just so they can be accepted in society.

Each one of the kids in that room cares about their world as they have shown through being actively involved in their schools and in their communities.

Each one of them is undeserving of second class citizenship in a country where they are supposed to be free.

Every grownup in the United States owes children like them some form of protection in whatever way they can. And all Dick Murphy needed to do from where he stood was just follow the law. The law. The man didn’t have the courage to simply say to the Boy Scouts: “Hey, I know how you feel, I read Leviticus too, but, as to the lease, according to the City Charter, no can do. But I’ll help you pack.”

Oh, we use the word courageous so loosely but I see no courage whatsoever in a man using his high office to turn his back to all our children’s need to feel loved and wanted. What a beautiful opportunity he had to do the right thing.

I can only hope that my dream of living to see a courageous San Diego mayor comes true when the votes in the upcoming elections are tallied. It’s been a long time coming. Too long.

Mr McCray is a San Diego resident and a retired school principal.

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