Friday, September 30, 2005 | The city’s big business community further aligned itself with Jerry Sanders – and against Donna Frye – on Thursday, as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce broke with decades of tradition and chose to endorse a mayoral candidate.

That the chamber chose the Republican former police chief over the populist council woman would be little surprise if it weren’t such a rarity for the group to weigh in on an election at all.

It had been so long since the chamber had endorsed a candidate for local office that officials couldn’t say when they’d last done so or which candidate they had supported.

“This endorsement decision is about who we believe will make the best decisions that will be the most beneficial to the people of the city and our economy,” said Jesse Knight, Jr., chamber president and CEO.

Later in the afternoon, Frye assembled a group of female small business owners to show off her support among the smaller businesses in the community. A property manager, small developer and attorney testified to Frye’s accountability and financial plan for the city’s financial crisis.

“I’m here to support Donna because I think she has intelligence, perseverance and integrity, and I think those are all things we have sorely missed,” said Sandra Lawhon of Bankers Hill Limited, a property management company.

Also on Thursday, the campaigns filed their campaign contribution disclosures. Sanders nearly doubled Frye in both fundraising and spending between July 10 and Sept. 24, collecting $426,323 and spending $354,461. Frye raised $205,032 and spent $178,130 in the same time period.

National and regional unions also spent money on Frye’s behalf during the primary election and are expected to support her campaign again, although local unions have viewed both candidates with a jaundiced eye because of their plans to trim pension benefits.

Sanders has found a strong pocket of support among the ubiquitous downtown faces, drawing a pack of supporters that includes many lobbyists, attorneys and prominent business leaders. Frye’s contributors have tended to embody her grassroots background, with campaign donations from activists, teachers and social workers.

However, the simple stereotypical images of the surfer girl environmentalist versus the former police chief don’t necessarily hold true in this election, despite the party titles and endorsements.

Sanders, a moderate on social issues, draws healthy support from middle-of-the-road Democrats, many of them big names on the political scene.

For her part, Frye has assembled a coalition that includes a host of folks from the right as well. And those that know the small business owner say the idea that Frye is bad for business is just a bad rap.

“It’s not the evil businessman vs. the radical environmentalist,” said Robert Hellmeth, a public interest law professor at the University of San Diego.

Hellmeth said he believes Sanders brings more depth than the stereotypical police chief because of his top positions in charitable organizations.

Likewise, “Donna is not anti-business in any way, shape or form,” said Andrew Berg, government relations director for the National Electrical Contractors Association.

Chamber officials highlighted differences between the Frye and Sanders financial plans as one of the leading reasons for selecting the former police chief. They also cited Sanders’ leadership background, noting the changes he’d made as head of the Police Department, the United Way and on the board of the Red Cross.

“It is our feeling that his leadership style, suggested solutions to the issues, and his approach to problem solving makes him the best candidate for the next mayor of San Diego,” said Michael Murphy, chairman of the chamber board and president and CEO of Sharp HealthCare.

Murphy said the candidate would bring progress over polarization – touching on one of the complaints of the group of strong anti-Frye opponents in the business community. He also used Sanders’ announcement of a transition team as an example of his decisiveness.

Chamber officials said the decision was not a partisan one. However, they did acknowledge that Frye has rarely aligned herself with their interests in her time on the council.

“Historically, she has not been on the same side as us on many issues that we have been as an organization – that certainly plays a role in people’s minds as they think about the candidates,” said Knight, who did commend Frye for being more pro-business since the campaign began.

Still, a Frye administration would likely shake up the appointments on the Planning Commission and the Centre City Development Corp., the two organizations with vast influence on the development undertaken throughout San Diego. Her administration surely would be less friendly with developers than previous administrations.

She also has said she would revisit past development agreements if elected mayor to monitor if developers have contributed what they had promised in the contracts.

“The chamber definitely sees a big difference between how the two would treat the business community,” said Berg, who sits on a number of the chamber’s committees. He stressed that his opinions weren’t necessarily those of the chamber as a whole.

Although the chamber’s decision was out of the ordinary, it was debatable how much it actually means.

“I don’t think it means much of anything,” Hellmeth said.

Knight said the chamber had done polling that showed some voters were interested in knowing the chamber’s opinion.

Some thought the endorsement could even help Frye among some voters, especially if those voters see the chamber as party to city government’s deterioration.

“There may be some folks out there for whom the chamber endorsement tells them they need to vote for Donna Frye,” said Lisa Briggs, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. “The folks who would find the chamber’s endorsement positive would be the same folks that would be voting for Jerry anyway.”

Two of the five members of the chamber’s special candidate interview committee had already contributed to the Sanders’ campaign prior to voting Tuesday to recommend the endorsement to the full board. The chamber board approved the endorsement Wednesday.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at

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