Monday, February 28, 2005 | Mayor Murphy will resign, some City Hall insiders now predict. Mayor Murphy himself scoffs at the idea.

Mayor Murphy does not appear to believe he has done anything wrong. He has had no knowledge of wrong; he has not seen the letters warning of wrong, nor been told of wrong nor the letters warning of wrong. He was at work that day, as he is every day, but he didn’t see them.

Was the departed chief of staff, John Kern, clairvoyant enough to stop Murphy’s mail? Or was Mayor Murphy escaping, as Mayor Maureen O’Connor used to do, for a movie matinee? Murphy remains immaculate, except in the sense that there seem only a few who still believe him. And Kern: He quit to go out there and raise money for Murphy’s defense fund, right? I wonder what testimony Kern will spin about these years under a federal court subpoena.

Mayor Murphy will be recalled, some big-time, angry groups say. But they won’t go to the trouble and expense of gathering signatures if anything easier works. Such talk comes from the angry (most of them in behalf of the city’s reputation and its economic future) and from the frightened (many of them nervous City Hall insiders who fear being drawn into federal investigations).

At this moment there seem only two moving forces at work in this scandal.

One, of course, is the diminutive but icy cool Carol Lam, the United States attorney, the one who planted the wiretaps inside City Hall for 22 months. (Is it an insight on City Hall that no one at City Hall suspected their phones were tapped during 22 months?). The other moving force is the voluble city attorney, Mike Aguirre, who won office by the thinnest of margins. It is a memory that invites speculation on how differently this might be playing out if the new city attorney had been a former deputy from the office of the former city attorney, Casey Gwinn, whose reported counsel to City Hall looks worse every day. The specter of civil or criminal fraud charges now lies over some who were in the Gwinn office.

Nothing summons up Mayor Murphy’s illusory view of his duties more charmingly than his repetitive complaints that City Attorney Mike Aguirre should not be criticizing actions that he took on advice of Gwinn, who has mercifully disappeared into his chosen field of family counseling. For a former judge like Murphy, this defense must seem thin ice indeed. If Gwinn advised Murphy that he was doing no wrong, that was then. We have a city attorney now who insists that following bad legal advice from a former city attorney is no excuse for breaking the law. In Murphy’s years in court, I looked in sometimes as a reporter. I can hear him telling some poor blighter: Getting bad advice from your lawyer is no excuse for breaking the law.

If Murphy weren’t a judge, this whole sloppy scenario wouldn’t seem so ripe for TV.

Some good can come of this, I promise. It will take time, far more time than we should have to be involved in such intrigue. I still believe in the laws of our land, and so do you. For every ugly explosion like this in government – or in anything else that I’ve experienced – there comes a reactionary wave. We should give more attention to those we elect, and follow what they do. The local media absolutely must get up their courage to do what media are supposed to do: Be nosy; Be unafraid of established power; Anticipate trouble, and warn of it; Be prepared to accept criticism when media is right; Speak out; If warned not to challenge some existing administration or some advertiser, look for a better job.

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