Donna Frye is thinking ahead. Way ahead. When I brought up “the future” with her this week, she was in 2010. I was still in 2009, and I thought I was looking forward.
Frye says the chances are “good” that she'll run for the seat now occupied by county Supervisor Ron Roberts. Sounds like the only thing that could stop her from running is if her mother, with whom she lives and is very close, were to fall ill. Sure, Frye could make a bundle of money barefoot and selling surf equipment and clothing, she says, but she worries that she might get bored outside of the public-policy arena. What's more, she's beginning to get hip to the idea of battling on policy matters like healthcare and land protection in the unincorporated county. Were she on the board at the time of a decision on the Sunrise Powerlink, she grinned, the SDG&E project would go down 3-2, with Frye teaming with Dianne Jacob and Pam Slater-Price.
But first things first. In 2009, Frye wants to be president of the City Council. Having served a partial term prior to her two official terms, Frye is in the unique position to bridge the gap between the old council and the new council. The senior member come December, Scott Peters, Jim Madaffer, Toni Atkins and Brian Maienschein will be termed out, and Frye will be the only one left from the days before the executive-mayor governance structure, the only one who was around for the city-employee pension scandal.
Late last year, Frye supported Councilmember Tony Young's bid for the job, but the majority of her colleagues favored giving Scott Peters a third year at the post. Mindful that Young may seek it again, Frye said, “Tony will have a lot more time on the council in the future than I will. He'll get to serve another term, so there's more opportunity.” In other words, Frye wants to the first president of the new era.
Frye has no qualms about criticizing Peters' presidency. She views him much the same way she viewed former Mayor Dick Murphy: They were both too concerned about avoiding personal political losses. With Peters, that has manifested in a willingness to bargain away the City Council's power.
She said Peters' presidency feels like a one-way conduit between the mayor and the council—the council simply responds to the mayor's agenda when it should be responding to the mayor and bringing forward its own legislative agenda. “Nothing has been carved out that really stands out as accomplishments of the council president that separates us as a unique legislative body,” Frye said.
Told of Frye's comments, Pam Hardy, Peters' spokesperson, rattled off a list of policy issues in which the council has acted independently of the mayor, including sewage-water reuse, restricting the mayor's midyear unilateral budgeting authority, supporting gay marriage, opposing the San Onofre toll road, regulating big box stores, mandatory recycling and combating lead poisoning.
Apparently, even though that's a list of items about which Frye cares deeply, she's not terribly impressed.
“Because of the pension stuff and things like that, it seems that we're just sort of treading water, trying to figure out which parts of the mayor's agenda we'll support or not support,” she said. “Not that that isn't part of what we do, but as a legislative branch of government—you don't see people in Congress sitting around waiting for George Bush to hand them some agenda and that's all they talk about.”
I reminded Frye of a criticism of her—that she's too headstrong against forming coalitions in order to get things done. I meant coalitions among City Council members, but she went another direction, her favorite direction: the public at large.
“When people say that, I say, ‘Fine. I put together a write-in mayoral campaign and got over 150,000 people to write my name in,” she said.
Playing my game, she noted that in three week's time a few years back, she successfully fought for a number of rule changes that benefited public participation in government, including requiring a court reporter to transcribe closed-door council meetings, which came in handy recently amid a dispute between Peters and City Attorney Mike Aguirre. But rather than “banging on doors” at City Hall, she prefers to go grassroots, by pulling in citizens. “Part of the process is to empower the public,” she said. “That's how I see my job.”
As for 2009, she'd like to help empower new members of the City Council—whether they're Republicans like Carl DeMaio or Democrats like Marti Emerald (she's endorsed Emerald, Stephen Whitburn and Sherri Lightner).
“I think that the people who are running for office now, they have some very strong ideas and some very strong opinions, and they are going to want to put through their agendas…. I'm not convinced that they are going to be content to simply wait to have their agendas moved forward. I think they're going to be more likely to understand what the potential is.”
Indeed, the next two years will be transitional for the City Council—and for Donna Frye.
Correction: One of our readers pointed out that the county Board of Supervisors doesn't have the authority to vote 'down' the Sunrise Powerlink project, only to endorse it or not. Sorry for any confusion.
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