Tuesday, April 26, 2005 | In light of Mayor Dick Murphy’s resignation Monday, San Diego is buzzing with speculation of who will replace the embattled mayor and how his successor will be decided.

Councilwoman Donna Frye was the first to confirm her official candidacy should the City Council decide to hold a special election to replace Murphy. Besides Frye, several of the embattled mayor’s council colleagues and other well-known San Diegans have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Two more council members – Scott Peters and Brian Maienschein – along with former Port Commissioner Peter Q. Davis, County Supervisor Ron Roberts, former Police Chief Jerry Sanders, local attorney Pat Shea, Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman and former State Sen. Dede Alpert have all been mentioned by City Hall insiders as possible candidates to succeed Murphy.

In the past, the mayor’s assigned deputy mayor has stepped in to fill such vacancies, said Assistant City Clerk Joyce Lane. However, Councilman and Deputy Mayor Michael Zucchet begins a federal corruption trial May 3 that might not be finished by the time Murphy officially steps down July 15.

It’s unclear whether the council will indeed choose to call a special election as supported by Murphy; the council could appoint a mayor to serve until the next regularly scheduled city election in 2006. Murphy’s resignation date would allow the council to schedule a mayoral election concurrent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anticipated Nov. 8 special election for reform initiatives.

Local political consultant Tom Shepard, who has handled elections for Maienschein, Peters and Roberts in the past, said a primary would most likely be held in late summer. Assuming no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote in the primary, a runoff between the two highest vote getters would be Nov. 8. Lane said Shepard’s hypothetical was feasible, as long as the runoff was held seven weeks after the primary.

Murphy, Frye and Zucchet all publicly said they support a special election. Peters and Councilwoman Toni Atkins expressed hesitation about staging a public vote, saying they may prefer appointing a mayor to serve until the 2006 elections. The remaining council members did not immediately comment.

“I don’t think the council can just select someone to take on these problems for the next two years,” Zucchet said.

Atkins cautioned that council members that run for mayor may become distracted at a time when the city is facing a host of challenges: the stalled release of the city’s financial audits, federal and local investigations into the mishandling of the city’s employee pension program, the transition to a strong-mayor form of government, and an estimated $50 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

“Typically I would say I’m absolutely for it, but I’m just wondering how much the voters can handle right now,” Atkins said. “We need to have a discussion before any decisions are made.”

Atkins said she expects that the council will reach a decision on what to do at next week’s meetings.

“I think the council should be able to move on this with a week’s notice,” Atkins said. “We need stability right now and citizens are going to want to know what’s going to happen.”

Murphy said he selected July 15 because it allowed him to work with the council to finish a 2006 budget and will leave sufficient time for a special election.

To comply with open meeting laws, a letter of resignation would have to be received by the City Clerk’s Office by Friday at 2 p.m. for the council to make a decision. As of press time, no letter had been received, Lane said.

Citizens of San Diego who are registered to vote in the city and are age 18 or older must file their candidacy within the two-week period that ends two months before the election to be eligible, Lane said. Filing requirements include a $500 fee, the signatures of 200 San Diego voters, a statement of economic interest and a printable statement of candidacy in 200 words or less, she said.

Frye, Davis and Roberts campaigned to unseat Murphy in the 2004 election, but failed. Davis was defeated in the March primary and Roberts narrowly lost in November’s general election. Frye, a write-in candidate in the general election, was 2,500 votes short of defeating Murphy after 5,500 ballots cast for her were disqualified because their corresponding ovals were not shaded in.

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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