The Morning Report
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | As Donna Frye stepped away from the podium in the Westgate Hotel’s Versailles Ballroom on Tuesday night, there was another figure ready to step into her shadow. As Frye was swallowed by a mass of supporters, Phil Thalheimer, chairman of San Diegans for the Mount Soledad War Memorial, pounced up in front of the cameras and began reading from his Proposition A celebration speech.
“These numbers are exactly what we had anticipated, we are absolutely elated,” announced Thalheimer. “The people of San Diego have spoken loud and clear.”
At about that point, some of those people – several dozen Frye supporters – began, indeed, to speak loud and clear, chanting “Donna, Donna, Donna,” so that Thalheimer’s words were lost in the noise. Immediately, supporters of Proposition A began their own chant in competition, shouting “Prop A, Prop A, Prop A.”
It was a war of words that summed up much about an election night that was not exactly nail-biting for either proponents or opponents of Proposition A. Rather, the results were more a confirmation of what many people in the room – what many San Diegans – already knew.
Supporters of Proposition A came out in force, garnering almost 76 percent of the vote. The efforts of Thalheimer and other cross supporters to get out the vote in favor of Proposition A were successful way beyond their expectations, easily surpassing the two-thirds that were needed to pass the initiative.
One would have expected attorney James McElroy, who has been vocal in his opposition to the proposition, to be a little upset. But on Tuesday night, all he could do was shrug and smile.
“There is not one iota of difference yesterday than there will be tomorrow in the legal significance of this case,” said McElroy. “Not one iota, and this is a legal case; it’s not something for the voters.”
Mount Soledad Memorial Association representative Bob Phillips, whose organization built and maintains the monument, said the group has consulted with many legal experts that have all said that transferring the cross to the federal government does not change the fact that it remains unconstitutional.
Add to this the fact that San Diego County Supreme Court Judge Patricia Cowett is still to rule on whether the city of San Diego indeed owns the memorial, including the cross, and is therefore entitled to give it away. The implications of the proposition are by no means clear.
But one thing, however, is clear. No matter how dim, there is a glimmer of hope now shining on the memorial that was not discernible before the July 26 vote and would certainly have been extinguished altogether had the proposition failed.
City Attorney Mike Aguirre previously advised the City Council that a “Yes” vote on Proposition A would essentially make no difference to the constitutional legality of the cross. He maintained that view on Tuesday night, but tempered it by saying that there remained a chance, however slight, for the cross to navigate its legal quagmire.
“It’s not a slam-dunk question,” said Aguirre. “There’s a legitimate constitutional issue and it’s just going to be resolved by the court. … Now the courts will make a judgment about whether it’s constitutional, and it could go either way.”
The aim of Proposition A’s supporters was to save the cross from what was almost certain: removal from the top of Mount Soledad. As far as they are concerned, they have succeeded in that task and, for now, that’s all that matters.
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