On Wednesday night, May 14, City Councilmember Donna Frye e-mailed me to say she got a real kick out of the supermarket-tabloid-style cover of our endorsements issue that came out that day, and to thank us for recommending a “No” vote on Proposition C. In the ensuing exchange, she commented that she was surprised that we'd urged readers to vote for Mayor Jerry Sanders—and that led to a conversation that I think is packed with irony.
I reminded her that we picked Sanders only because we think challenger Steve Francis is a phony, and she responded by sending me an excerpt from a Q&A she said was from Sanders' 2005 campaign website. The Q was: “Would you support an increase in taxes or fees to resolve the City's current financial crisis?” The A was: “No, I do not support increases in taxes or fees to solve the current crisis.”
Her point was that it was Sanders who was the phony in 2005, saying he wouldn't raise taxes or fees, only to subsequently raise fees paid by city water and sewer customers.
Believing those fees had to be raised in order to finance necessary improvements to water and sewer infrastructure, I asked her what Sanders' alternative was, and she replied, “The alternative to not telling the truth (about raising fees) is telling the truth.”
Fair enough, I said, but you can't have a conversation about Sanders' no-taxes pledge without talking about Steve Francis, who's running against Sanders for a second time in 2008 and who, in 2005, was the guy who backed Sanders into a corner. If I remember correctly, Sanders had said all options had to be left on the table when it came to fixing the city's financial mess. That is, until Francis came along, backed by elements of the Republican establishment, telling voters that Sanders would raise their taxes.
You'll recall that Frye was also running for mayor in 2005, and she bravely stuck to her guns by leveling with voters, saying that tax and fee hikes might have to be part of the solution. I was proud of her for that. But, I told her in our e-mail exchange, “Sanders could have left taxes on the table, like you did, but we saw where that got you. Sanders did what he thought he had to do to get elected.” I added that it's my opinion that had Sanders stuck to his guns, Francis probably would have been elected—and not the current liberal-populist Francis but, rather, the frothing hardcore right-winger Francis.
She said it seemed as though I was saying it's OK to lie just to get elected, and I said, no, that's not was I was saying; I was simply empathizing with Sanders' no-win plight. I told her I wish she'd been “rewarded” for telling the truth.
“… [J]ust because I did not win an election does not mean I was not rewarded,” she countered. “There's a lot to be said for not having to go into deep spin control every day, which is where Sanders is at. It's a hell of a way to live.”Fair enough, I said again. But I added, “I feel like [you're] not addressing the sticky situation of the alternative if Sanders had not been elected. Do you feel like Francis would have been better or worse?”
“I don't know, Dave,” she said. “I thought Sanders would be a lot better than he is, so what do I know? My crystal ball is more like a pair of dice at this point.”
And with that, the conversation ended.
I acknowledge that because I consider Francis a shameless charlatan who I hope does not win this race, I'm susceptible to forgetting or downplaying some of Sanders' own transgressions, such as his attacks on Frye in 2005. But Sanders at least started to do the right thing in 2005 by refusing to take taxes off the table until realizing that that made him vulnerable to the ultimate right-wing weapon: the dreaded tax-raiser attack. I'd love to know how Francis would have handled the water and sewer dilemma. Would he have said, “No, I think I'll risk more water-main breaks and sewage spills because I promised not to raise fees”? My bet is that he'd have raised the fees, too, which would have opened him up to some other right-wing yahoo in this election to call him a flippy-floppy taxer-spender.
Frye told the truth and paid the price. Sanders went all weak-kneed and is now being attacked by both Francis and Frye. Francis was, and still is, a brazen opportunist and might just emerge the victor for it. And who's to blame for all this?
I say it's the very same public that Frye's always championing—for always falling for Francis' brand of malarkey.
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