June 22 2011 10:20 AM

Donna Frye won't rule out a run for mayor

Donna Frye isn’t exactly kicking back, but she is biding her time.
Photo by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan

Former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye has quietly embarked on a new gig since being termed out of office last December: She's a project manager. The project? A big bathroom remodel in her Clairemont home. It'll have a new tub, and it'll be painted Full Moon gray with Espresso highlights. She calls it her “Zen bathroom.”

Frye wouldn't knock anyone for assuming that a need for a calming retreat was brought on by nine rollicking years in city government. But, no, she explains; her bathroom's just old.

The remodel is the biggest of the home-front projects she's been tending to in the past six months. There's also been cleaning and organizing—everything she didn't have time for while she was a politician.

Even as other high-profile names are launching their 2012 campaigns for mayor, and even as observers continue to speculate about whether Frye will enter the race, she says she's remained focused on her domestic tasks. But, in true Frye fashion, she won't rule out a run.

“Today, no,” she says when asked if she wants to be mayor. “Six months from now, I don't know.”

Keep in mind that Frye hates campaigning.

“Shorter campaigns are always more fun,” she muses. “Get in, get it done and move on.”

Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for San Diego City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, says that a poll Faulconer commissioned as he was considering his own run had Frye leading seven other potential candidates: Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis, Faulconer, Bob Filner, Nathan Fletcher, Steve Francis and Christine Kehoe. “It showed that it was going to be a tight race for everybody except for Donna Frye,” he says.

“Donna Frye does well in polling because she prides herself on being a populist,” says Republican political consultant John Dadian. “She unmistakably lives the mantra of Tip O'Neil that ‘All politics is local.' If Donna Frye enters the race, she immediately becomes a top-tier candidate and probably gets into the runoff.”

“Donna Frye is the only Democrat in 20 years to be seriously considered as a potential mayor in San Diego,” says Democratic political consultant Lucas O'Connor. “It's perfectly natural that voters would have a built-in comfort level with her and be more skeptical of other candidates.”

Frye, O'Connor adds, “is in a unique position of being able to pick her spot.”

In the past, when discussing what prompted her to run for mayor—she launched a late, write-in candidacy in 2004 and ran a conventional campaign in 2005—Frye's talked about factors such as voter choice and being urged to run, by close friends and constituents alike.

In 2004 and 2005, she didn't think voters had adequate options in Republicans Dick Murphy, Ron Roberts, Jerry Sanders and Steve Francis. And supporters were begging her to run. But on top of that, she genuinely wanted to be the mayor. Last year, when she was mulling a run for county supervisor, she didn't think the choices were great and supporters wanted her to get in. “So,” she says, “the same scenario was setting up, but I didn't want to do it.

“Dick Murphy did not want to run for a second term [in 2004], and he got talked into it,” Frye says. “That is the worst place to be, in any occupation, but particularly when you're supposed to be the leader of the city. If your heart is not in it, and your passion, and every ounce of your being is not telling you, ‘This is a great idea, and I can do a great job,' you shouldn't do it.”

She acknowledges that she's again being asked to enter next year's contest. But, at this early stage, she believes there are adequate choices.

“If I were to make it into a pie chart,” she says, “I think there's something for everybody at the table right now. Is it the best pie? Then you start drilling down.”

Yes, let's drill down.

Frye doesn't know state Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher or District attorney Bonnie Dumanis, both Republicans, very well. She didn't like the surprise, Fletcher-authored law last year that extended the life of Downtown redevelopment, but she appreciated how Fletcher reached out to her after she criticized the move publicly.

“He's very charming,” Frye says. “I think he's very smart.”

Would he make a good mayor?

“I don't know,” she says. “I don't know him well enough to answer that. And I don't know Bonnie Dumanis well enough to answer that. I know Bob Filner enough to answer that, and I know Carl DeMaio well enough to answer that.”

Would DeMaio, the Republican San Diego City Council member, be good as mayor? Frye answers before the question is complete: “No.”

Why not?

“Because I don't believe that bullies make good mayors. And I don't believe that people that think everybody else is wrong but them selves make good mayors.”

Filner, the longtime Democratic member of Congress, is a different story.

“I like Bob Filner tremendously,” Frye says. “He's a wonderful person. I have great respect for Bob Filner, and that goes way back before I was ever an elected official. I have a very long history with Bob.”

Frye dismisses charges from conservatives that Filner would fit snugly in the pocket of labor.

“Bob's his own person,” she says. “I believe that Bob Filner is extremely independent and does what he believes is in the best interest of the public.

“He understands the big picture and understands how to connect the dots,” she continues. “That's not something that you're born with. That's something that comes from a lot of hard work, and reading, and studying, and being interested. He's not going to put his finger in the wind and go take a poll to see if he should think a certain way on a certain day.”

So, Frye thinks Filner would be a good mayor. And she acknowledges that he has the most to lose should she jump into the race.

“Right,” she says. “And it would never be my intention to hurt anyone. My intention is to try and give people the best I've got and my best judgment. And in politics it gets messy.”

Frye talks philosophically about sudden moments that change everything. “One minute in politics can change your entire life,” she says. “And sometimes even 30 seconds. Something happens, and you just know.

“We've seen it over and over again. Look at Mr. Weiner. That's one second where someone pushes the ‘send' button… and everything changes in a moment.”

So, Frye likes Filner and says she doesn't want to damage his chances, but she seems ready if the circumstances call for it. Does this mean she'll enter the fray if something bad were to happen to Filner's campaign?

“Anything can go wrong with anyone's campaign, and that could be a defining moment,” she says. “Again, I have great faith in Bob Filner.

“It's hard to know what switch gets flipped, where one day I'm not going to do it,” Frye adds, “and all of a sudden I wake up one day and say, ‘I gotta do this. I really want to do this.'”

If she doesn't do it, it won't be because she's afraid to lose again:

“If you let the possibility of not winning stop you, you're going to end up sitting on your bed at home knitting sweaters.”

Write to davidr@sdcitybeat.com.


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