The year 2005 was all about uncovering corruption and recovering from its damage. That's all the setup that's required. Let's jump right in:
1. Duke Cunningham-No local newsmaker had a worse year than the now-former congressman from North County's 50th District. When 2005 began, Cunningham was still full of his trademark bluster by day and basking in the quiet luxury of ill-gotten treasures by night. But by the end of November, Duke was done, whimpering as he finally confessed, in a plea bargain, to accepting an unprecedented $2.4 million worth of bribes-cash, a car, a yacht and antique furnishings-from a couple of guys who wanted (and received) Cunningham's help in securing Pentagon contracts. The catalyst of Cunningham's downfall came back in June, when Marcus Stern of the Copley News Service reported a real-estate transaction between Cunningham and Mitchell Wade, one of the contractors, in which Wade took a curious $700,000 loss on a house he bought from Cunningham. Cunningham's first response was to lie, saying he'd done nothing wrong.
2. Mike Aguirre-In the city of San Diego, 2005 was the Year of Aguirre. Having won the 2004 election to replace Casey Gwinn as the city attorney by a sliver over Leslie Devaney, Aguirre took charge, essentially creating the role of Elected Political Opposition. He was a bull in a china shop, releasing to the public on Jan. 14 a document titled "Regarding Possible Abuse, Fraud and Illegal Acts by San Diego City Officials and Employees," the first of what would be seven investigative reports, which drew responses from city leaders, the press and city officials ranging from quiet indifference to boisterous outrage. Throughout the year, Aguirre noisily took on elected leaders, union bosses, high-level city bureaucrats, volunteer retirement trustees and city consultants as he endeavored to show the public, the media and various government investigators where he thought corruption and malfeasance were hiding. Buoyed by relatively high public-approval ratings, Aguirre managed to avoid being silenced by his critics, who repeatedly tried to tag him as emotionally out of balance and politically out of control.
3. Jerry Sanders-The former San Diego police chief returned from obscurity in 2005, ran for mayor of a reeling city and won a decisive victory over Donna Frye, a high-profile elected official whose star had risen throughout 2004 and who had developed a cult-like following among the progressive wing of a left-shifting electorate. Sanders won with a disciplined, conservative campaign that stressed his outsider status, co-opted his opponent's open-government platform and promised to return fiscal sanity to City Hall without making taxpayers foot the bill. In doing so, he became the first mayor of San Diego's new executive-mayor era.
4. Donna Frye-After flying high in 2004-when she gained a national-media identity as the "maverick surfer chick" by collecting more votes as a write-in candidate for mayor (unbubbled ballots notwithstanding) than the two official candidates, button-down Republicans Dick Murphy and Ron Roberts-Frye suffered a major political setback in 2005. Suddenly the frontrunner in a new election prompted by Murphy's resignation, Frye ran a let's-cut-the-crap campaign that said a sales-tax increase might be needed to keep the city from going belly up. That gave her opponents-Jerry Sanders, the downtown business establishment and the Union-Tribune-a golden-plated and gift-wrapped opportunity to paint her as the candidate who wanted to send taxpayers the bill for a decade's worth of municipal mismanagement. By the end of the year, Frye was left having to plan her defense of her District 6 City Council seat.
5. Carol Lam-The U.S. Attorney capitalized on a couple of pieces of good fortune, scoring colossal victories in government-corruption cases in 2005. Having inherited the federal case against San Diego City Councilmembers Ralph Inzunza and Mike Zucchet (and the late Charles Lewis) from her predecessor, her prosecutors managed to do what defense attorneys considered highly unlikely at best: convince a jury that Inzunza and Zucchet participated in an illegal quid pro quo with a strip-club lobbyist. This year, she took the Duke Cunningham scandal like a baton from reporter Marcus Stern and mounted a case so overwhelming that the congressman had no choice but to cry uncle, admit guilt in the most brazen bribery affair in congressional history and tearfully relinquish his long-held seat. Though her triumphant year was marred when Judge Jeffrey Miller overturned the Zucchet conviction (she's appealing), targeting the Republican Cunningham helped Lam confound critics who griped that her case against three Democratic City Council members was politically motivated. Now we await her indictments in the City Hall/pension-system scandal.
6. Duncan Hunter-El Cajon's congressman was one of the most powerful and high-profile advocates for the military establishment and against illegal immigration in 2005. A Dick Cheney-style hawk and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter remained unapologetically supportive of an increasingly unpopular and deadly occupation of Iraq and capped the year by standing in the way of an agreement between President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain to ban cruel and inhumane treatment of terrorism suspects. On the border, Hunter succeeded in getting environmental laws suspended in favor a 14-mile triple border fence and, overall, championed an illegal-immigration policy focused wholly on enforcement and deterrence-many more armed agents and higher, longer fencing-over a more comprehensive attack favored by Bush that includes a guest-worker program.
7. Dick Murphy-Hard to believe he was the mayor of San Diego for the first half of 2005. Bloodied and bruised in a battle for control of the city with Donna Frye, Murphy limped into 2005 vowing to see the city through a storm he played a huge part in creating. But the walls closed in quickly on him, and, in April, fresh off a favorable court victory over Frye, he resigned in shame. As a lame-duck mayor for three months, however, Murphy hammered out contracts with three city unions and presided over the 2006 budget ordinance. Murphy's not being allowed to fade into oblivion; he's under legal scrutiny for his overall role in the city's financial crisis and, more specifically, for an alleged shady deal with Ron Saathoff, president of the firefighters union and one of the first six people charged with crimes related to the pension mess.
8. Mike Zucchet-The year 2005 was a rollercoaster of the most harrowing kind for Zucchet. Having been named deputy mayor by Dick Murphy despite being indicted on corruption charges, Zucchet began the year planning with his lawyer a defiant defense against Lam's attack. In a cruel twist of timing, Zucchet was mayor of San Diego for a matter of days between Murphy's exit and a conviction Zucchet wasn't expecting. Trading the prospect of steadfastly navigating the city through treacherous waters for a reluctant resignation and possible prison time was a bitter pill for him to swallow. Now, the close of 2005 finds Zucchet working as a utility-consumer advocate and planning a repeat defense as Lam tries to win back the conviction Judge Miller yanked from her.
9. Ralph Inzunza-Judge Miller grant no such reprieve to City Councilmember Inzunza, who was sentenced in November to 21 months in prison, essentially for depriving his constituents of honest services amid a low-level influence-peddling scheme. Inzunza, a member of a connected South Bay family, had high aspirations for political power-maybe Greg Cox's supervisorial seat en route to the San Diego mayor's office; perhaps mentor Juan Vargas' state Assembly district-but he got himself sucked into the seedy world of Las Vegas strip clubs, and it all came crashing down when he was convicted in July.
10. Bill Horn-Hands down the most quotable local pol (yes, topping even Mike Aguirre), Horn made news early in 2005 when he arrogantly pushed for a gigantic, 25-percent raise for him and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors while they were laying off rank-and-file employees. He provoked a loud, jeering chorus in January when he famously remarked in defense of the raise: "It is true we are elected, but nobody who got elected took a vow of poverty. We're not Franciscans." When his fellow supervisors voted against the $28,000 raise, Horn responded minutes later by voting against financing improvements to a skilled-nursing facility, employing the twisted logic that if the county can't afford to give him a raise, it can't afford to fix up the hospital. Horn ended the year by leading his colleagues in a crusade against the state law that allows patients access to marijuana for medicinal purposes.
11. Lamont Ewell-Ewell's professional fate was sealed back in 2004, when San Diego voters approved a switch to a new form of government that makes his job, city manager, obsolete. He announced early in 2005 that he would resign, effective mid-year, but was talked into finishing out the year by Dick Murphy, who, ironically, was the one who bailed in July. What Ewell's decision earned him was the dubious distinction of being Mike Aguirre's personal punching bag. Ewell spent much of the year responding-or, failing to respond, as Aguirre would put it-to federal subpoenas demanding internal documents related to city finances. Ewell wound up getting a pay raise in his new job as city manager of Santa Monica, a much smaller and much quieter town.
12. Toni Atkins-The third in an incredible succession of four mayors in 2005 (sandwiched in there with Murphy, Zucchet and Sanders), Atkins earned high praise for her handling of the mayor's office amid Frye v. Sanders and Aguirre v. Everyone. The first openly gay occupant of the office, Atkins stayed levelheaded, even when she was the object of Aguirre's scorn-with one notable exception: her ill-conceived and cost-ineffective dueling-attorneys exploration into whether or not Aguirre was overstepping his authority. At any rate, her performance boosted her chances of winning a seat on the Board of Supervisors, which had been in doubt thanks to the albatross that is the city's financial fiasco.
13. Arthur Levitt, Lynn Turner and Troy Dahlberg-The city's so-called independent Audit Committee, tasked with reconciling Mike Aguirre's politically charged investigations with a half-assed probe by the consulting firm Vinson & Elkins, spent 2005 making millions off San Diego's misfortune. The trio, seen by anyone who matters as the key to getting long-delayed 2003 and 2004 (and, now, 2005) audits of the city's finances, signed a contract with the city that allowed them to travel and lodge in luxury as they poured through tens of thousands of documents and interviewed witnesses, repeatedly delaying completion of their task and asking for additional money.
14. Nick Inzunza-The brother of Ralph Inzunza and mayor of National City, Inzunza found himself in the crosshairs of the Union-Tribune's news department and its newfound zeal for investigative reporting. The U-T spent nine months this year investigating Inzunza's management (or lack thereof) of numerous rental properties in the barrio. Conclusion: He's a hypocritical slumlord who seeks first to blame others when the going gets tough. Doesn't bode well as he gears up for a state Assembly campaign.
15. Peter Preovolos-The current volunteer chair of San Diego's besieged employee retirement system, Preovolos drew criticism from a wide range of politicians-Jim Madaffer, Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Mike Aguirre-for his leading role in rebuffing requests for private retirement-system documents by investigators. He was castigated for months for being a major obstacle blocking completion of a certified city audit, but he withstood an attempt to oust him from the board.
16. Scott Peters-The conservative Democrat deftly positioned himself to become the City Council's first president in the new government structure, giving him the power to set the City Council's agenda in the new year.
17. Ron Saathoff-President of the city firefighters union, Saathoff was one of six people charged this year (with conflict of interest, by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, in state court) with crimes stemming from the city pension crisis. Saathoff is easily the most intriguing defendant in the case, having been widely regarded as the guy who called the shots for many years on the pension system's board of administration, and having enjoyed a close working relationship with Dick Murphy.
18. Steve Francis-A businessman who made a fortune pimping temporary traveling nurses, Francis financed his own from-out-of-nowhere mayoral campaign, forcing Jerry Sanders, who had left open the possibility of tax increases, into taking tax hikes off the table. Francis nearly beat Sanders, who ultimately found the no-taxes pledge handy during his battle with Donna Frye.
19. Kourosh Hangafarin-To the delight of San Diego's Iranian community, Hangafarin was sworn in as the newest member of the Board of Port Commissioners on Feb. 1. But his tenure, while not terribly sweet, was short. He stepped down on March 9 after becoming entangled in controversy stemming from a trip he took to Cuba, where he brokered an unauthorized trade agreement between that country and the Port District.