Just when it appeared that Mayor Dick "Dasher" Murphy had made every chess move in the political playbook to neutralize Ron Roberts, his opponent in the November general election, now comes word of some nail-biting polling numbers for the wannabe strong mayor.
Sources in the political-gambit world say a poll of local voters conducted last week show that Murphy's job-approval rating has tumbled from a high last summer of 69 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent. Meanwhile, the mayor appears to be ticking off more people than before, with the number of those polled who disapprove of his job performance rising to 38 percent from 21 percent in June 2003-a troubling 81 percent bump in naysayers.
In another "trial heat" poll conducted in mid-April, the mayor appeared to be clinging to his March-primary margin of victory, with 40 percent of likely voters saying they'd still vote for Murphy and 30 percent leaning toward Roberts, a county supervisor. Those numbers are eerily similar to the final tallies from March, save for now a 30-percent undecided cluster that presumably are supporters of primary also-rans Port Chairman Peter Q. Davis and ecologist Jim Bell.
Those Davis and Bell backers apparently have not decided which remaining candidate will get their vote come November.
Said one political operative not connected with either mayoral campaign: "What struck me was that none of the Davis vote had gone to Roberts."
Given the results of both polls, the operative suggested that despite the constant drumbeat of financial troubles at City Hall, Murphy remains in the election driver's seat. "For whatever reason, people may think he's incompetent, but they still kind of like him," the operative noted about Murphy's predicament. "If he's able, as a result of the stuff he's doing right now, to convince people that he might not be incompetent, my sense is he's probably going to get the benefit of the doubt."
So why can't Roberts seem to get a decent political foothold, even while the city implodes financially? The operative offered one theory: "The problem with Roberts is he's got high name identification, and there are a certain number of voters that are willing to vote for him-but there's like a ceiling" that he's unable to bust through.
The operative chuckled at a weekend report that Roberts is steamed about Murphy "stealing" his ideas-Roberts first proposed an Ethics Commission, which Murphy latched on to and made a cornerstone of his 2000 campaign, and called for the firing of City Manager Mike Uberuaga, who suddenly resigned last month (some say shoved out the door).
"That must be driving Ron nuts," the operative said. Efforts to reach Roberts for comment through his campaign consultants were unsuccessful. Murphy campaign consultant Jennifer Tierney said her camp has yet to conduct any polling and declined to comment as well.
Pay increase? Maybe next year
Sometimes, you just gotta love that Ralphie Inzunza. So often during council meetings, the councilman sits there silently, letting major issues wash over him like a rising tide while his colleagues stick their necks out on controversial matters. He once said that he read a city budget once and vowed never to do so again.
But when the mayor needs him to do his dirty work, Inzunza knows how to behave. Case in point this week: a proposal by the obscure Salary Setting Commission to bump City Council and mayoral pay 3.5 percent next fiscal year and another 3.5 percent for fiscal year 2005-06.
The pay hikes would have sent the mayor's salary from its current $100,464 to $107,619 and City Council pay from $75,386 to $80,756 by July 1, 2005.
The president of the commission, Deb Pedersdotter, gave an impassioned plea to the City Council Tuesday that-get this-the salary boost wasn't intended for the current officeholders. No, no, she said, "It's for somebody else that we really need in a difficult time." In other words, she offered the same, tired argument that in order to attract the best and brightest to run for elected office, we need to pay them well-really well.
Inzunza beamed at the thought of more money. "This will be the lowest-paying job I'll ever have," he said, which made Spin Cycle wonder what kind of job might await him in jail if federal prosecutors successfully argue that he and two City Council colleagues did indeed take bribes in the City Hall-a-go-go affair. Appropriately, his two colleagues-in-indictment, Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis, kept their lips zipped.
It's truly apparent, as City Councilmember Toni Atkins noted, that the council is embarrassed to vote on its own pay. Well, except for Ralphie. "I deserve a pay raise this year, next year and for every year that I'll be on this council," he said.
The truth of the matter is this: The commission-which is appointed by the City Council-selected Civil Service Commission-offered an alternate plan whereby the City Council and mayor could take the entire 7 percent bump next year, conveniently sidestepping the November election.
Atkins, who noted that she supported the last salary boost two years ago, rightly acknowledged the discomfort of accepting the raise while "some unclassified employees recently took a 5.8 percent cut."
"Now is not the time," she said.
Richard Rider, of San Diego Tax Fighters, noted that City Council pay has risen nearly 54 percent since 1996, while the Consumer Price Index rose only 11.7 percent during the same period. This, for a group of folks that take 15 weeks of vacation each year, receive more-than-generous pension plans and a "gold-plated" health-care package, Rider said.
Oh, and an $800-a-month car allowance, he added.
As Rider asked recently, "How can these politicians control the city's runaway employee pay and pension costs when they've got their own noses buried deep in the public trough?"
Well, they heard you, Richard-at least this year. The City Council unanimously voted to delay the pay raise until next year. ©
What say you?: spincycle@SDcity beat.com.