Tuesday, July 19, 2005 | The mayoral debates drone on. Pay attention. They afford us our best chance to avoid awful blunders such as those that have now brought this city to its knees.

The decision each of us must make requires us to project what we see and hear in these debates into the long, hard four-year term ahead and ask: Which candidate can pull this city back up on its feet? And which one best understands the depth of this crisis?

The candidates may think they are in a popularity contest, but they are running for the most difficult years of their lives. Every working hour will be out there in public, not just hours sitting in the highest chair at City Council meetings, but dueling with lawyers and judges, accountants and investigators.

Through it all, they must deal also with the persistent pressures of inquiring public and the media, who will be striving this time to atone for past oversights that allowed the present chaos to develop unheralded.

One candidate will become the first San Diego mayor to assume strong administrative powers, rather than to be simply an exalted member of City Council. One will be asked to lead this city out of its worst economic debacle.

Not everyone is competent to serve as CEO of a major business and deal with a board of directors of more than a million people. Voters will profit from a look at a new book called “Cut Out for the Job.” It is a biography of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.

It is clear to us now, and even to the retired mayor Dick Murphy himself that he was not cut out for the job.

When Giuliani was first elected, New Yorkers were disgusted with the corruption of their city, much as San Diegans are now. They elected a mayor who promised the city the psychic equivalent of a 12-step program in order to regain its willpower, the ability to solve its own problems.

We in San Diego need to regain our willpower. As U.S. News and World Report tells the world this week, in yet another civic embarrassment for San Diego, “a torrent of scandal … has left San Diego’s reputation in ruins.”

We could explain to the world that we simply weren’t paying attention. But that excuse didn’t get us by in grade school. And it won’t now.

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