The San Diego City Council did the right thing this week by voting to hold a special mayoral election instead of appointing a successor to Dick Murphy who would then be on the job for a year and a half. That would have been far too long to have a non-elected mayor in office, particularly in light of the increased power and responsibilities that come with the job as of Jan. 1, 2006.
Scott Peters and Toni Atkins, the two City Council members who argued in favor of appointing a temporary mayor and holding an election in June 2006, made valid points about having a warm body in the mayor's seat, dealing with banks and Wall Street interests and whatnot, but they clearly don't understand the depth of the public's mistrust of their city government. By and large, the citizens of San Diego understand the role the current City Council's played in burying us in the deep hole we now inhabit, and they don't believe its members possess the good judgment needed to pick the right person. It's just that simple.
San Diego needs an elected mayor as soon as possible; the public deserves nothing less. That means that even if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls a special November statewide election for his so-called reform package of initiatives, the City Council must not consolidate the mayoral runoff election with the statewide election. San Diegans will go to the polls on July 26 to vote in the primary election, and it's a virtual certainty there will be enough candidates to force a runoff, because no one will get the required majority of votes. That means a runoff can take place as early as Sept. 13, nearly two full months before Schwarzenegger's election—if he calls for one.
By Sept. 13, San Diegans will have been without a mayor for two months; there's no need to double that time. If an election happens Sept. 13, the new mayor will be sworn in by early October. If we wait until November, the new mayor will have only a matter of weeks to get settled in before the city shifts to a new “strong mayor” form of government. That extra transition time will be enormously valuable, and worth the extra cost of the additional election.
But before that time comes, we'll have an acting mayor—starting July 15, when Murphy steps down. As it stands, that guy will be Deputy Mayor Michael Zucchet, who happens to currently be on trial facing corruption charges. There are some who think that because Zucchet's on trial, he should relinquish his post as deputy mayor. City Attorney Mike Aguirre once upon a time went so far as to say Zucchet should resign from the City Council. We didn't agree then, and we don't think now that he should step down because of the charges he's facing. He is innocent until proven guilty—no matter what the U.S. attorney believes he did.
However, we do believe he should step down as deputy mayor, and here's why: Word is, the trial of Zucchet and Councilmember Ralph Inzunza will last eight to 10 weeks, taking it into late June or early July, right before Zucchet would take over as acting mayor. We believe the acting mayor would need to devote more time to transitioning into the job than Zucchet can be expected to devote. He will be too wrapped up in his trial to be sufficiently prepared.
We don't make this recommendation lightly; we're not suggesting it, as others are, because the charges he's facing would taint the office. It's just a matter of bad timing. The deputy mayor should already be working on a transition, and Zucchet's trial has just commenced.
That brings us to our final recommendation: Councilmember Donna Frye should be named deputy mayor. Under any reasonable interpretation of voter intent—a concept completely disregarded by the judge who ruled in favor of Murphy—Frye won last year's election. The City Council naming her deputy mayor—and, by extension, acting mayor come July—would be a show of respect for the plurality of people who took the effort to write her name on the line back in November. Not to mention the fact that she's the only member of the City Council to cast a vote against the shady pension deal back in 2002 that helped get us in the mess we're in.
Frye has become a particularly positive leadership force at City Hall and has mobilized a constituency. We should be allowed a taste of what her administration would look like before we go to the polls in (hopefully) September.