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Thursday, June 23, 2005 | Mayoral candidates Jerry Sanders, Steve Francis and Donna Frye fielded questions from community members Wednesday evening in a forum that attempted to bring other issues into a race that has so far focused mainly on San Diego’s financial problems. Among the major issues raised were affordable housing, job creation and public services.

The event was arranged by the San Diego Organizing Project, a nonpartisan grassroots organization representing a diversity of religious congregations throughout the city. The meeting was not a debate – candidates were not able to respond to each other’s statements – but a forum, where pre-selected audience members testified and asked a question on a particular issue. Each candidate was then given a chance to respond, though their positions on the topics were outlined on a sheet given to audience members ahead of time.

Though the debate seemed intended to shift the direction of the race, candidates rarely strayed from familiar territory in their answers. Each seemed to play a single card in response to a variety of issues.

Businessman Steve Francis alluded to the city’s pension fund problems in many of his answers.

“There is money in city government – the City Council just threw it away,” he said.

Asked about the need for more affordable housing, he said he knew that the price of housing in San Diego was “outrageous,” and that the solution was to make it easier for builders to construct more housing by “streamlining” the permit process.

Former police Chief Jerry Sanders highlighted the ties to the community he says he made through experience in law enforcement. He said that getting police officers and city employees to volunteer and help youth in their community was a good way to address safety concerns.

“Every time you’ve asked myself or the police department to do something, we’ve done it,” he said.

All the candidates seemed to agree with speakers that city infrastructure was lacking, especially in certain areas.

“The older communities should not look different from the suburban communities with regard to infrastructure,” Sanders said.

Councilwoman Donna Frye repeatedly enumerated her previous achievements at City Hall, including helping to pass a living wage ordinance – the mention of which drew loud applause from the audience. She said that updating the public facilities financial plan was crucial to improving infrastructure around the city, because it would pave the way toward making developers pay for their share of city services, potentially easing the strain on the city budget.

Despite earlier calls from SDOP leaders to increase city revenue, Francis said higher taxes would drive important businesses, and therefore jobs, away from San Diego.

Sanders also emphasized creating a “stable environment for businesses.”

Frye said she would go to a diversity of sources, including the state and federal governments and redevelopment funds, to pay for city services.

The candidates’ answers were ostensibly responding to a “prophetic statement” released earlier Wednesday and read before the religious forum. The statement, crafted by religious leaders in the organization, outlined goals the SDOP would like to see accomplished under the next mayor, such as a shift in city officials’ priorities.

“We envision a city government led by elected leaders who hold each other in mutual respect, despite philosophical and political differences and self interests,” the statement said.

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