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Thursday, April 28, 2005 | The City Council convened Wednesday in a formation likely to become familiar beginning July 15, the day Mayor Dick Murphy officially vacates his post.

Councilman Scott Peters presided over his seven council colleagues in a mayor-less committee hearing on the city’s transition to a strong-mayor form of government, learning on the fly how to manage the nuances of a public hearing in council chambers. This first meeting of the new committee had been planned before Murphy’s resignation announcement Monday, and he wasn’t to serve on the committee.

The unofficial tally came in Wednesday, and it appears a majority of the council members and Murphy support holding a special election to replace the mayor rather than appoint a successor to serve until 2006. That means it is likely that from mid-July through either November or December – whichever date is chosen for a general election – the council will roll through its myriad financial and investigatory challenges without a leader elected citywide.

Also Wednesday, Murphy chief of staff Tom Story handed in the mayor’s resignation letter to the City Clerk’s office, completing the formalities of his premature departure.

The letter, addressed to City Clerk Chuck Abdelnour on the mayor’s official stationary, reads: “I hereby resign as Mayor of San Diego effective July 15, 2005. It has been a distinct privilege and honor to serve as Mayor of this great city for the last four-and-one-half years.”

Murphy scheduled a special hearing for Monday to consider the question of a special election or appointment for his successor, as well as an item on labor negotiations. A spokeswoman said Murphy, who supports the special election, plans to vote on the direction the council will take to fill the vacancy.

Under the city charter, the council can either appoint a successor to serve until the next regularly scheduled municipal election, which is 2006, or choose to hold a special election.

A mayor selected in a special election would serve out the remainder of Murphy’s second term, which expires in 2008. Because of the number of possible candidates being talked about at the moment, it is likely a primary election would be necessary to trim the candidate list down to two.

Two election plans are currently being discussed. One would have the primary in September and the general Nov. 8, the same date as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anticipated special election. The other idea would be to have the primary election Nov. 8 and the general in late December.

A general election is necessary if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

During the hearing Wednesday, the council voted unanimously to name Peters its presiding officer through the transition to a new form of government that begins Jan. 1 and moves responsibility for the city’s day-to-day management from the city manager to the mayor.

Peters assured reporters and his colleagues that he wouldn’t seek the mayoral position.

“I am not a candidate for mayor either through appointment or special election,” he said.

If a special election is called, Zucchet would preside over the council in his role of deputy mayor from July 15 until a new mayor is selected by the voters. The title is normally largely ceremonial, but if Zucchet’s trial isn’t finished by July 15, he would face the prospect of leading City Council meetings in the throes of a high-profile trial.

Supporters of an appointed mayor say the city can’t handle another distraction as it moves through an unprecedented period in which it faces a $50 million budget shortfall, an estimated $2 billion in pension debts and federal and local investigations into city financial disclosures and politics.

Supporters of an election say voters need to select the man or woman to guide them through these troubles that has a mandate from the majority of voters.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at

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