In a bright spot in an otherwise dim Tuesday for conservatives in
California, former Police Chief Jerry Sanders was swept into office as San
Diego’s next mayor, handily defeating activist and Councilwoman Donna Frye.
With more than 54 percent of the vote, Sanders garnered the type of decisive
victory that eluded the city’s powerful business establishment last year
when Frye, a blond-haired and self-described “surfer chick,” nearly took the
reins of California’s second-largest city in a surprise last-minute write-in
Frye actually finished ahead of Sanders in a July primary. But defeated
Republican businessman Steve Francis threw his endorsement behind fellow
Republican Sanders, and the former cop took the lead and never looked back.
The Republican ex-city police chief ran on his resume and reputation,
claiming a drop of 40 percent in crime during his tenure in the 1990s.
In the last year, San Diego has been a city mired in political turmoil. The
city will have gone through four mayors in less than a year at a time when
it faces a daunting $1.4 billion pension deficit, and scandals where city
officials are accused of taking illegal contribution.
Seven months into his second term, Mayor Dick Murphy, who beat out Frye last
year after a recount and a court challenge, resigned amid scandals
surrounding his administration, saying that the city needed a fresh start.
He was succeeded by acting-Mayor Michael Zucchet, who soon thereafter was
convicted of graft. Toni Atkins stepped replaced him as acting mayor.
Sanders will replace her in December.
Sanders will inherit San Diego’s pension problem, which some observers say
threatens to bankrupt the city’s coffers. The pension deficit was a central
theme of the campaign.
The problems began when the city council voted to increase pension benefits
but not pension contributions in 1996 and 2002.
Fifty-three years old, Frye has served in the City Council since 2001 and
was the only member of the nine-group council to oppose the increase in
benefits. And she campaigned to have the courts to appoint an independent
receiver to re-organize the pension plan.
San Diegans have seen a decline in public services, including police and
fire departments as a result of the deficit.
The problem was on full display in October 2003 when wildfires raged
throughout San Diego County, and city officials said budget cuts had
hampered the efforts of first responders.
Sanders and Frye agreed that with the city facing a serious revenue
shortfall cuts had to be made. But what marked the biggest difference
between them was Frye calling for a half-cent increase in sales tax.
This, she said, would have helped draw affordable housing and infrastructure
to the city, as well as pay down the pension fund deficit. Her goal was to
generate $1.1 billion over ten years.