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Wednesday, May 04, 2005 | As the ink dried on the ordinance calling a special mayoral election for July 26, the field of potential candidates started to take a more sturdy shape Tuesday with former police Chief Jerry Sanders’ decision to enter the race.

Sanders became the second official candidate to announce in the days of infinite speculation that have trailed Mayor Dick Murphy’s announcement last Monday to resign effective July 15. He joins Councilwoman Donna Frye, who announced her candidacy immediately after Murphy made public his decision.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, thrice defeated in city mayoral battles, plans to announce his intentions at 11 a.m. today in front of the County Administration Building.

Casting himself as a non-politician who has turned around a moribund police department and two troubled nonprofits, Sanders focused his first speech on San Diego’s need for a transparent government and strong leadership.

“What we need now is someone who will tell the people the truth, someone who will make tough decisions, someone who is committed to fundamental change, and someone who will accept responsibility for the outcome,” he said at a press conference in front of the downtown police headquarters.

A number of other potential candidates remained undecided, including: Stephen Cushman, port commissioner and automotive dealer; Steve Francis, health care executive and former Nevada state legislator; Peter Q. Davis, former port commissioner and investment banker; Juan Vargas, assemblyman and former city councilman; attorney Pat Shea; and businessman and City Hall critic Carl DeMaio.

Councilman Brian Maienschein and former state Sen. Dede Alpert decided against running this week.

Sanders is sure to make a strong run for support from the Police Officers Association, the union that represents more than 2,000 San Diego police officers and was one of Roberts’ marquee sponsors in the 2004 campaign.

He could make a compelling case for support from the other public safety union, the influential firefighters’ union. Sanders’ ties to the business community, where he’s seen as one of the few candidates with the potential to battle the popular environmentalist Frye, could also bode well for his candidacy.

Johnnie Perkins, director of governmental affairs for the Local 145 firefighters union, said his organization will interview all the candidates once they’ve declared and then select who to endorse.

“Everyone who’s in the race will have an equal opportunity to meet with us and compete for our endorsement,” he said.

Sanders spent 26 years in the police department, moving his way up through the rank-and-file to serve as chief from 1993 until 1999. He took credit for starting community policing and a 40 percent drop in crime during his tenure.

According to a biography provided at the press conference, Sanders took over United Way of San Diego County at a time of declining contributions and other troubles. He said donations increased by 20 percent during his tenure.

The biography also credits him with helping to revamp the local American Red Cross as a board member after controversies surrounding the Alpine fire.

“We turned all three of those organizations around. We can do the same thing at City Hall,” Sanders said.

Sanders has also been a founding partner and consultant for start-up companies in homeland security and infrastructure assessment. He and his wife, Rana Sampson, live in Kensington and have two college-age daughters.

The 54-year-old didn’t offer any specifics for his campaign, but he said he wouldn’t take any solution for solving the city’s myriad problems off of the table yet – including bankruptcy.

The primary election is scheduled for July 26. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff election will be held either Sept. 13 or Nov. 8. Whoever wins will inherit a city in the middle of structural budget problems, a $1.37 billion pension deficit and federal and local investigations into city finances and politics.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at

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