A little bit before 3 p.m. Monday, after most of the people who had packed City Council chambers to watch Jerry Sanders get sworn in as mayor had shuffled out of the room, City Councilmember Donna Frye read aloud a resolution proclaiming Dec. 5, 2005, to be "Falun Dafa Day" in San Diego and presented a plaque to an emotional representative of local practitioners of Falun Dafa, a Chinese spiritual discipline of exercise and meditation also known as Falun Gong.
The resolution sheds light on Yantai, San Diego's sister city in China, as a ground zero of sorts for the Chinese government's brutal, at times deadly, persecution of Falun Dafa followers. Local practitioners had been begging the City Council for nearly three years to formally urge Yantai to do something about the senseless brutality. But former Mayor Dick Murphy would have none of it; he refused to docket the resolution. Maybe he agreed with the Chinese government that Falun Gong is a cult that deserves to be snuffed out with extreme violence. We don't know; he wouldn't tell us why.
At the end of her reading of the resolution, which the City Council passed with a 7-0 vote, Frye made a point of thanking Sanders in particular. Later, CityBeat called Frye and asked her why she thanked the newly seated mayor. "He signed the resolution," she said simply.
Seems like a no-brainer, sure, but it's a gesture that gives us hope that Sanders will be very different than lousy Mayor Murphy.
Sanders is already getting kudos for giving the public the straight poop on the sorry state of San Diego's financial affairs. Of course, there's no alternative; we already know. It would be foolhardy of him to try to sugarcoat things Murphy-style. We appreciate his decision to forego any pomp and circumstance-considering his sober talk of mass layoffs and into-the-bone service cuts, not doing so would have been wholly inappropriate and rather Let-Them-Eat-Cake-esque. An easy yet smart move.
We're still dealing with some lingering bitterness, here at CityBeat, over Sanders' attacks on Frye's integrity during the campaign. Her honesty and integrity has been proven; his hasn't. We hope we can come back a year from now and say that he has conducted himself as well as Frye has. We'll be watching.
Sanders certainly has his work cut out for him, but, then again, he has little to lose because he's been handed a defective product. He didn't do himself any favors by backing himself into that no-taxes corner. His only option now is some kind of combination of staffing and service cuts and labor concessions-and even that might not keep the city out of bankruptcy court.
The mayor would do well to recognize City Attorney Mike Aguirre's unique place in city government. Riding a successful campaign aimed at cleaning up corruption in City Hall, Aguirre took office in a time of turmoil. He stepped into a leadership vacuum and hasn't wavered, despite his critics' unrelenting attacks on his motives, tactics-even his sanity. Aguirre is not your average city attorney, thankfully, and Sanders needs to cut him some slack. Sanders doesn't always have to agree with Aguirre, but it would behoove him to not go down the path forged by people like City Councilmembers Scott Peters and Jim Madaffer and former City Manager Lamont Ewell, who have been unable to cope with Aguirre's leadership.
There's been much talk already of togetherness and harmony among city officials in the new era. That's all well and good, boilerplate rhetoric for a new leader, but Sanders shouldn't pull a muscle trying to get along with everyone. When City Hall's denizens are singing "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" and playing kissy-face in public, we know something's going on behind closed doors. That's how we got into this mess. Fight it out in public, Mr. Sanders. Show us all your cards.
We're more than a little concerned about the folks who brung Sanders to the dance. During his campaign, he made lots of noise about fast-tracking housing development-music to the ears of the real-estate brokers and developers who contributed to his campaign. We urge caution. The interests of the public and the interests of developers are often divergent.
Sanders needs to blend his Republican ideals with Frye's populist ethos. There's a reason upwards of 125,000 people voted for her-Frye's take-no-crap authenticity makes her different than the sort of politician voters are tired of in these scandal-ridden times. Sanders said Monday that Frye made him a better campaigner. We hope she also made him a better public servant.
Oh, and, Jerry, please stop calling us "customers." It reminds us of platitudes like, "The customer's always right." That's a marketing slogan and nothing more. We're people. We're citizens. We're not customers.