Bruce Henderson, the former San Diego City Councilmember and thorn in the side of public officials and sports team owners everywhere, is at it again, and this time we're with him all the way. Henderson dragged the mayor, City Council, city attorney and county registrar of voters into court Tuesday morning in hopes of legally compelling the city to schedule an election for City Council District 4 on or before Nov. 6.
It didn't have to be this way.
Sometime within 24 hours of the Aug. 8 death of District 4 Councilmember Charles Lewis, Murphy chatted with, among others, City Attorney Casey Gwinn, Registrar of Voters Sally McPherson and Anthony Young, Lewis' chief of staff.
The topic of the talks: What should be done about the District 4 vacancy? The answer the mayor reached on Aug. 9: Delay City Council discussion of District 4 until Sept. 7 and recommend holding a special election on Nov. 30.
The last City Council meetings scheduled for after Lewis' death and before the annual August break were Aug. 9 and 10. The next planned meeting is Sept. 7. Murphy chose to cancel the Aug. 9 meeting out of respect for Lewis, and he said the Brown Act-the state's open-meeting law-precluded him from holding a City Council discussion on the matter on Aug. 10. But if Murphy understands the Brown Act, he knows that it allows for discussion of emergency, non-agenda matters if two-thirds of the City Council agrees to it. Murphy could easily have gotten agreement from five other members. Had it discussed the matter on Aug. 10, the City Council could have openly debated the matter of when an election could be held. Community leaders and activists could have been alerted through the efforts of Lewis' staff.
City Councilmember Donna Fyre has pleaded with the mayor and her council colleagues to call a special meeting to allow Lewis' constituents to weigh in on when they'd like to elect a new representative, but her pleas have been ignored. That's unfortunate and disappointing.
By law, the city has to hold a special election within 90 days of this sort of vacancy. Murphy and Gwinn obviously believe the vacancy won't technically exist until they official declare it on Sept. 7. That's how he supports a Nov. 30 election date. Henderson, on the other hand, interprets city law to say that a vacancy occurred when Lewis died, when the people of District 4 lost their representation. If he's right-and he certainly has logic on his side, if not the law-an election must be held no later than Nov. 6.
Fortunately, there's already an election happening on Nov. 2. The people of District 4 could help vote George W. Bush out of office and elect a new City Council representative all at the same time. But Murphy says he won't allow it. Why? Under state law, county registrar McPherson can't consolidate the two elections and get them on the same ballot, but she'll do it if a judge tells her to. Even without a court order, however, she can hold another, simultaneous election. But she told Murphy, who, in effect, pays her to hold city elections, that that will be a difficult task with so little time. That was all Murphy needed to hear.
Why? If you believe the conspiracy theorists, Murphy has much to gain by holding the election off until Nov. 30. They say he wants former District 4 City Councilmember George Stevens back in office, and the way city officials are reading the term-limits law, a Nov. 30 election date would make it easier for Stevens to serve again. (We disagree with their interpretation. Please see last week's editorial on our website.) Stevens, we believe, would not fare as well on Nov. 2, when Democrats, some of whom are angry at Stevens for his endorsement of Republican Shirley Horton (for whom he now works) for the state Assembly, will be at the polls in great numbers.
In any case, Murphy is insulting the people of District 4 at every turn. He and others-City Councilmember Jim Madaffer, for one-say those folks have nothing to worry about because the City Council will make sure their interests are served. How utterly condescending. What they deserve is their own political representative, as soon as possible. Would this have happened to constituents of a wealthier, whiter district? Chew on that.
Holding two elections on different days in one month will result in a lower turnout when it comes time to replace Lewis, and that will further alienate an already disenfranchised group of voters. We hope Judge Charles Hayes agrees with Henderson and compels McPherson to hold the elections on the same day, despite the difficulty.