Friday, May 27, 2005 | City Councilwoman Donna Frye secured her spot on the July 26 mayoral ballot Thursday, using the occasion to demonstrate what she called her “first act of fiscal responsibility.”

Would-be mayoral candidates must submit the signatures of 200 registered voters and $500; they can also submit 2,200 signatures in lieu of the $500 fee. Frye submitted more than 4,000 signatures Thursday to the City Clerk’s Office.

“We have engaged the public and asked them to participate, saving our campaign $500,” said the clean-water activist and surf shop owner.

In other mayoral developments, anti-tax activist and retired financial planner Richard Rider announced his candidacy and attorney Pat Shea pulled papers and is said to be seriously mulling a run. Shea is a close advisor to City Attorney Mike Aguirre and husband of pension whistleblower Diann Shipione. He has also helped Frye in the past.

Former police chief Jerry Sanders and health care executive Steve Francis have also declared their intentions to run. Candidates must submit the requisite signatures, fees and ballot statement by Friday evening to qualify.

The July primary will be followed by a runoff in the fall if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the votes counted.

Frye, who will focus on fiscal restoration, open government and public participation in this truncated election cycle, also laid out her plan Thursday for dealing with a pension deficit estimated to be between $1.37 billion and $2 billion. The political machinations that led to the deficit, as well as the city’s failure to disclose it to investors, are at the heart of ongoing local and federal investigations.

“That this solution is not just about numbers. It’s also about people, and how those numbers affect them every single day in their daily lives. Because every number has a story and we need to make sure the story behind the number gets told, but also understood,” she said.

Among the points of her “Frye-way” pension proposal:

– Appoint Shipione to the retirement board and require every pension trustee to attend an ethics class on their role in the retirement system.

– Continue to push the retirement board to waive the attorney-client privilege, which would open up documents to investigators probing the pension system. Frye said if the board resists, appointees who will grant the waiver should replace current trustees.

– Direct the pension actuary to use a more conservative set of accounting standards, which many pension critics say would reveal an even deeper pension deficit.

– Rollback benefits that are determined to be illegal as a way to pay down the pension shortfall.

Frye said she would bring the updated pension numbers to union members and make the case that they must accept benefit rollbacks for the greater good of the city. The city could avoid bankruptcy if such a deal was made, she said.

“I really believe we can get people to the table and work things out to avoid that,” said Frye, who suggested that she would be highlighting the other financial pitfalls facing the city of San Diego throughout the campaign.

Sanders and Francis have also proposed eliminating benefits deemed “illegal” through negotiations with the labor unions. None of the candidates has specifically identified which benefits they believe to be illegal, though City Attorney Mike Aguirre, an ally of Frye’s, has opined that all benefits dating back to 1996 are illegal and void.

Pension-benefit costs have doubled since 1998.

Frye nearly won the November mayoral election after launching a write-in candidacy only five weeks before the election between Mayor Dick Murphy and county Supervisor Ron Roberts. A court tipped the election in Murphy’s favor after ruling that more than 5,000 votes cast for Frye were invalid because voters failed to shade the corresponding oval.

Murphy announced his resignation last month, effective July 15. Now, in a matter of six month’s time, Frye has gone from being the long shot to the front runner in an election that comes in the midst of San Diego’s largest modern municipal crisis.

Frye also announced the support of Sen. Denise Ducheny, former Assemblyman Howard Wayne, the League of Conservation Voters and the San Diego Sierra Club.

“This is truly a grassroots effort, and it’s one that’s going to be done with heart, with enthusiasm, with honesty, with dignity, and with courtesy and respect for all of the other candidates so that we can actually have a real discussion about what’s wrong,” Frye said.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at

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