June 24, 2005

Candidates Debate as Mayor’s Race Unfolds

By E.A. Barrera

Candidates for the Mayor’s office established a feisty tone during a June 23 meeting of Citizens Coordinate for Century Three (C-3). Five of the declared candidates were asked to speak to the group, which focuses on land use and planning issues within the city. Their remarks often echoed themes they have used since Mayor Dick Murphy’s surprise resignation last April. Each one spoke to the city’s current pension crises and what they felt was a lack of leadership at City Hall.

“Unfortunately, no one else has stepped forward to run for mayor who is willing to go to war with the city’s labor union bosses over the pension rip-off. I’m willing to do just that. I’m the only candidate with the experience, the moxie and the history of going toe to toe with the unions and the big spenders,” said Libertarian candidate Richard Rider. “I’m not running to get re-elected. I know I will not make anyone happy and will not get a second term, but someone has got to make the unpopular choices and do the hard work to get this city’s finances back in shape.”

  A total of fifteen candidates will be on the ballot for registered San Diego City voters to choose from on July 26. If none of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote on that date, a run-off of the top two finishers will occur either in late Summer or early Fall. In addition to Rider, the other major contenders in the race include Attorney Pat Shea, Healthcare businessman Steve Francis, former San Diego Police Chief Jerry Sanders, and city councilwoman Donna Frye.

Frye has never really stopped running for Mayor since announcing a surprise write-in candidacy last October. Her organization has remained intact, due to drawn out court challenges of the election results last November, in which Mayor Murphy came in second to Frye in the final vote totals, but prevailed in court when a judge declared too many of Frye’s votes had not been legally casted.  The court cases following the election forced Frye to maintain fund-raising operations for a legal defense fund. Though the money cannot be used for her campaign, the organizational contacts made from the funds indirectly helped her keep her name in the papers and her supporters primed for war.

With Murphy’s surprise resignation announcement, Frye jumped to a small lead in several polls, with Sanders a close second. During the C-3 forum, both Frye and Sanders said their candidacies represented a break from the power structure currently in place under Murphy.

“Getting the politicians to admit to their problems isn’t easy. Fixing the problems will be even more difficult. That’s why this is not a job for a politician. Taxpayers must be told the truth about the city’s finances, because we can’t afford to be in the dark. We need transparency at City Hall and an end to the shell games with the city budget. Tough decisions must be made in public - no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable for elected officials and City Hall,” said Sanders.

He echoed statements Frye has repeatedly made during public appearances in both this current race and last fall.

“The first step to restoring our city’s good name is to elect a new mayor. Our city faces not only a financial crisis, but also a crisis of confidence,” said Frye. “We must stop accepting a corrupted system as normal by resetting the baseline back to one where honesty, courtesy, trust, respect and civility are the norm, not the exception. Elected officials have to remember to be grateful for the chance to serve and not act as if including the public in decision making is a burden. If we had more open discussion about this pension crisis in the past, maybe the details could have been aired and we could have avoided this mess”

Francis’ entry into the race was seen as the choice of those who backed Murphy in the last election. A millionaire businessman and former state legislator in Nevada, Francis’ campaign team is headed by California Republican heavyweights George Gorton, Craig Benedetto, and Carolyn Dorsey - all of whom have ties to Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger and have worked in San Diego and California GOP circles for years. Francis has vowed to spend his millions to win the race. None-the-less, he also tried to make himself appear as an outsider, insisting that since he had not served in San Diego public office, this qualified him as a newcomer.

“I am different from the other candidates in this race. I am not part of the system. How can someone who is part of the system that brought San Diego to its knees put San Diego back on its feet? I don’t receive a pension. I don’t have a record of reckless votes on the city council. I am not beholden to the special interests. I am the only major candidate in this race who has the independence to turn San Diego around,” said Francis. “We can not declare bankruptcy or tax ourselves out of this mess. We need to cut those things that are not vital from the city budget and use management analysis to see where we can streamline our current spending.”

Shea has advocated bankruptcy as the only way out for the city.

“Adults face their responsibilities head on. The only reason people are opposing bankruptcy is because they don’t like the sound of the word. If it were called ‘basketball’ or ‘a sandwich’ not only would everyone be for it, but I would be winning this race hands down,” said Shea.

Shea, a bankruptcy attorney who organized the financial reorganization of Orange County in the early 1990s and is married to former San Diego Pension Board member Dianne Shipione, called bankruptcy “a process that the city has at it’s disposal” to work out of the crises. His wife Shipione was the one who alerted the city to the pending financial crises, only to be fired for her charges that the city council had deliberately and secretly run created a pension crises through the use of credits and borrowing to off-set other budget expenditures.

“We have the ability to get out of this mess using a bankruptcy as an orderly restructuring for the city’s finances. But this will be hard work and we need a mayor with the political will to get the job done,” said Shea.

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