Since Oct. 8, 31-year-old Erik Olson, along with two companions, has spent each night sleeping on the sidewalk in front of Mayor Dick Murphy's Del Cerro home-a first, perhaps, when it comes to political activism in San Diego. Their goal is to draw attention to what Olson describes as basic human-rights violations happening under the mayor's watch: a lack of affordable housing and a lack of healthcare for kids, for example. The trio sets up camp at 8 p.m. each evening and are gone by 6 a.m. the next day.
So far, Olson said, the mayor hasn't ventured out to chat, let alone invite them in for, say, a cup of coffee. There are two police officers always on duty, and the mayor comes and goes in a chauffeured car.
We sympathize. See, the mayor won't talk to us, either. And believe us-we've considered setting up camp in his office. We work for an alternative weekly; we're used to roughing it.
When CityBeat arrived in town in August 2002, the mayor impressed us as an affable guy. He made it through our first 15 issues with scant critique-it wasn't until Dec. 4, 2002, that John Lamb, author of the now-defunct political column "Spin Cycle" gave the mayor the first in a string of nicknames: "Mayor 10Goals" (referring to the 10 goals Murphy set out to accomplish while in office).
A couple weeks later, Lamb had this to say:
"Our mayor, for all the fun we poke at him, seems like a perfectly decent guy, a real '50s-Cardigan-sweater-and-ranch-house kinda chap. We say seems' because, well, he doesn't make himself readily available to talk one on one with the Fourth Estate....
"Typically, the mayor's words are encapsulated in short statements released by his press secretary, the very able and pleasant Colleen Rudy, a former local TV newshound. Efficient, sure, but rather distant as well."
And then the zinger that perhaps sealed our fate:
"We're not sure what would happen to this town if it ever decided to pick an inspiring, charismatic individual as mayor. The last few have been real stinkers at public speaking, which is clearly a talent not afforded to everyone. At any rate, jokes are something our current mayor should avoid like a bad hangover or a Nehru jacket." Ouch.
Lamb said questions he sent over to Rudy were acknowledged roughly 10 percent of the time-and that's being generous. The rest of us-editor David Rolland, staff writer Daniel Strumpf and me-tend to be strung along or ignored.
Here's an e-mail exchange between Rolland and Rudy in December 2003:
Dec. 2, 2003
How's it going over there in the Mayor's office? Gearing up for an exciting election?
Hey, please consider this an official request to sit down with the mayor for a wide-ranging one-on-one interview. It would be great if I could get an hour with him.
Please let me know if and when this can happen. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
A week ago, I sent you a request for an interview with Mayor Murphy. But I haven't heard back from you. Is the mayor mulling over my request?
Again, I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for your time.
I don't recall receiving your request but I will go back through my e-mails in case it was overlooked. Sorry about the unintentional delay.
Unfortunately, the Mayor's heavy schedule does not allow time for a one-on-one interview now. As you know he and the council are going on legislative recess at the end of this week and he is booked. Thanks. CR
Thanks for responding to my request. I understand that the mayor is busy in the near term, but I didn't necessarily have the near term in mind. Can you foresee a time after the first of the year when he might be able to squeeze me in?
Nine months later...
Hello there, Colleen. You surely were looking festive-and fetching, as usual-at the Street Scene VIP room. I should have chatted you up, but I was probably feeling a little too festive myself, if you know what I mean.
Hey, back to business: can you send me a large photo of Bruce Williams? Thanks a ton.
P.S. You're still trying to get me a one-on-one with the mayor, right?
When asked last week whether the mayor would comment on his general lack of responsiveness toward CityBeat, Rudy didn't respond. No big surprise there. Maybe we're just not asking the right questions. Maybe elected officials here are used to being coddled by the press.
If the mayoral election ends up the way we'd like, we'll no longer have to deal with a recalcitrant mayor. If Murphy wins another term, however, he'd better watch out. We're a lot like pesky kids trying to win some attention; the more you ignore us, the louder we get.