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Tuesday, July 05, 2005 | It is election month in San Diego, and one of these candidates will be the mayor that tries to lead this city through the worst years of our civic history. The bad years will not be over when the new mayor takes office. They will be just beginning.

I look at these candidates and hear their hopeful, proud patter and wonder if they have read what happened to the city of New York in 1975. I wonder who among them has any idea what they are trying to get into.

It took New York’s city government six years after the 1975 crash to make the city bondable again – to stay out of jail, to win back the ability to borrow money to keep New York moving, to convince the world’s toughest bankers that the custodians of city government were prudent and would stay in business.

It took those six years to renegotiate every contract that the city of New York had signed with its labor unions, with its lenders, with its contractors, with the state and federal governments and with its own citizens.

I wonder in San Diego how many of these candidates understand what inevitably lies ahead – are ready for that, are wise and smart enough for that, are durable enough to go through even four punishing years like those six that New York endured.

The tone that disturbs me with some of these candidates is that they and their consultants have worked up nice little talks about their experience, their own triumphs, their personalities and their allies.

But they are not running for Miss or Mr. America. They are not in a popularity contest. One of them will become the first mayor in San Diego history to exercise the prerogatives of a chief executive officer under the new strong-mayor system. One of them will be the first mayor asked to lead San Diego out of the biggest mess in its history.

And then I remember how enthusiastic I was six years ago about the candidacy of a superior court judge whom everybody admired, Dick Murphy. I was a Non Grata at City Hall then because I had been writing about critical pension deficits being built up by the city and union labor. I got my information from a neighbor named Diann Shipione. (People told me she must be making that stuff up.)

I was delighted in Judge Murphy’s great sacrifice in leaving a lifetime position in the courts to serve his city. He was good, I wrote, because it would take a judge to clean up City Hall.

So remember, as you hear the candidates, try to move them forward in your mind and see if they could lead in the rebuilding of a broken city. Ask yourself if they could handle having both sides angry at them for doing the right thing. They must be strong to lead this city through these next four years.

This column appears courtesy of KPBS, over which it was heard on July 1-2.

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