Donna Frye is a frustrating person, and she knows it. She tells stories of how she's driven people batty, particularly her own staff, with her unconventional ways. If you're a journalist in pursuit of an answer to a specific question about a pressing municipal issue, she's always ready with an answer, but if you're fishing for a story, she can be maddeningly coy. These days, she's contentedly making us politics junkies—not to mention Assemblymember Lori Saldaña, who'd be her opponent in the primary—wait for her decision on whether to make a run for county Supervisor Ron Roberts' seat.
Last year, Frye said she'd make up her mind by August. That was five months ago. Now, the primary election is just five months away. Time's a-wastin', isn't it, Donna? She shrugs. Don't you need to put together a campaign, raise funds, mobilize the ground troops? Nah, she says. Are you concerned that maybe you can't win, Donna? Nope, she says; she doesn't trouble herself with such things.
As if to underscore the difference between her and everyone else in this game, Frye's chief of staff, Steven Hadley, whom she's endorsed as her replacement in the District 6 City Council seat, arrives at Maria's restaurant Downtown on Monday to fetch his boss, and he mentions that he's been ramping up his campaign since last June. See, Donna, that's how long normal people work a campaign. She shrugs again.
No, there would be no big scoop during our lunch meeting. Another journalist frustrated. The closest thing I got to a scoop was that she would make her decision before the filing deadline. Haven't told anyone else that, she says with a smile. Hey, great. Um. Stop the presses?
When's that deadline, Donna?
“Maybe February,” she says, clearly not counting the days. “I'd have to look.”
Frye says she goes back and forth when mulling the matter: There are days when she gets home, drops her bags and binders and declares, “No. Never.” Other times, she says to herself, “I have to keep doing this.”
So, where are you today, Donna?
“I don't know,” she says. Naturally.
Any politician considering a run for a new office weighs the impact on the family, and Frye's no different. She says she's still looking into how much the gig would eat into her time with her husband and her mom. But she also rolls her eyes when she realizes that if elected to the Board of Supervisors, she could find herself bogged down for years in employee-pension issues. The first thing she says to me on Monday, long before her chicken fajitas arrive, is this: Is it just her or does it seem like there hasn't been anything new going on at City Hall for, like, forever? Seems like budget deficits and pension problems on some kind of hellish loop. “It's like Ground Hog Day,” she says.
Moving over to the county and doing the same thing doesn't sound like a day at the circus to her. “I don't want to spin my wheels,” she says, adding that she needs to investigate the county's pension situation. “I do want to look at their actuarial analysis to find out how many billions [of dollars the county has] in unfunded liability,” she says, referring to a document that reveals how much money the taxpayers will have to pump into the county employees' retirement fund in order to keep it sustainable. “Because I suspect it's in the billions.”
Finally, some marginally newsworthy insight into her thinking, and it comes in the form of eye-catching terms like “actuarial analysis” and “unfunded liability.” Suh-weet!
Because Frye knows no other way of going about her job than diving headlong into the documents, she'd have to lose herself in the tall weeds at the county level, just as she's done at City Hall since 2001. But she'll do it only if she believes solutions are at hand. On that score, she says, she thinks it might be easier to find solutions to pension problems at the county than at the city.
What Frye needs is a job that meshes with her activist nature, she says as she recalls the grassroots clean-water and open-government wars she helped wage before she was an elected official. She notes that she'd be in the minority on social issues like medicinal marijuana (she'd favor complying with the voters' desire to provide it) and homelessness (she'd favor doing something—anything—about it), and she mentions that she'd form a majority with Supervisors Pam Slater-Price and Dianne Jacob on certain environmental and land-use issues. If you're keeping score in pro and con columns, those are all pros.
Monday night, wondering if maybe Frye had made a decision in the seven hours that had elapsed since lunch, I e-mailed her. No such luck.
“I'll know when I know,” she said.
Take your time, Donna.
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