Saturday, July 09, 2005 | Thomas Knapp is the area supervisor for several local McDonald’s restaurants, all of which boast on their outdoor signs that the fast-food behemoth is credited with “over 1 billion served.”

Knapp, 35, is one of the 11 candidates running to replace Dick Murphy as San Diego’s mayor, and he’s hoping the city’s voters award him the opportunity to serve the 1.3 million San Diegans better than they are now. The lifelong San Diegan thinks he can teach City Hall a thing or two about customer service, cleanliness and quality – all concepts he works hard to maintain at his restaurants.

“They need someone who understands the value of a dollar,” said Knapp, who resides in Serra Mesa.

San Diegans, he feels, aren’t getting the service for which they pay.

“Everything I do at work affects my own bottom line; that’s my job,” he said. “As mayor, everything I do at work will affect the taxpayer’s bottom line; that’s going to be my job.”

Knapp, a Republican, started working at McDonald’s soon after graduating Clairemont Christian High School. He was promoted to area supervisor in 1996, overseeing the point-of-sale receipts and day-to-day operations of several restaurants.

He expects his employees to work efficiently and, as mayor, he would do what he could to make sure city workers are holding up their end of the bargain. Knapp believes that the City Council and public employees are not serving the city efficiently or honorably.

“They’re there for themselves,” he said.

Knapp wants to roll back $700 million to $800 million worth of pension benefits he, City Attorney Mike Aguirre and other mayoral candidates believe were created illegally. As a long-term solution to the city’s fiscal problems, he believes San Diego’s government is not leasing its public land at fair-market value and that its expense sheet is “riddled with waste.”

Streamlining city work, which could include privatizing the jobs of municipal employees’ jobs, is Knapp’s answer to righting the city’s financial course.

“If we have to privatize work to run the city in the best way, then we aren’t doing our job. Then again, if we have to, so be it,” he said.

Lynn Brown, who has worked for Knapp for five years as an assistant manager at the McDonald’s at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, said she hopes her boss, if elected, will run City Hall like he runs his restaurants.

“He does things in a businesslike and personable manner,” she said. “He listens to people and gets right on top of things.”

Knapp wants to be on top of the city’s pension problem within his first few days of office. He believes a public information campaign, speaking to citizens through the mass media, will force leaders of the city’s unions to back off their fight for the benefits he believes are illegal. He believes public pressure will force the unions to give in.

Raising taxes and filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy are not options he wants to consider, he said.

“A city like San Diego cannot condone it,” he said.

On other issues, he said he will do everything in his power to keep the Mount Soledad Cross where it is, and that he’d like to reinstate the 6-to-6 after-school program because it helps working parents who are helping fund other government services through the tax dollars the generate by working. He also supports building a power plant in the county to keep up with growth.

A career in politics has been on Knapp’s mind since his school years when, upon winning an award, a teacher called him “senator.” He has become more interested in government lately, following the headlines detailing the city’s recent struggles.

“He’s always talked about it,” said Bart Daniel of San Marcos, who has known Knapp since elementary school. “When he ran for mayor it wasn’t really a shock as much as it was me saying, ‘Wow, you’re really doing something about it.’”

Knapp – a recent divorcee who describes himself as a “35-year-old kid” that enjoys film, electronic gadgets and his Ford Mustang – said he puts the odds of his election at 50-to-1.

Since launching his candidacy, he’s learned a thing about politics.

“If you don’t have money, you’re not invited to stuff, which is part of the problem,” said Knapp, who has made a handful of yard signs promoting his campaign. “If I won the lotto last week and had $45 million to spend: Yeah, my chances would change.”

Still, he wants to tell voters the story about his penny-profit line of work, a valuable experience for whoever is steering the city.

“If I become mayor, I’m trading in one job where I work 9-to-5, six days a week, for another job that I will work equally hard at. I don’t think the other candidates can say the same thing.”

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at evan.mclaughlin@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips.

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