Thursday, October 20, 2005 | Mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders wielded a television and his opponent Donna Frye armed herself with a six-foot chicken. Wednesday they dueled – which one did the most damage to the other wasn’t entirely clear.

But Sanders probably reached more voters.

The former police chief unveiled two television commercials directly attacking Frye, a city councilwoman. One was a product of Sanders’ continuing effort to link Frye to the origins of the city employee pension crisis currently consuming City Hall. The other again highlighted Frye’s suggestion that the city may have to ask voters to approve a higher sales tax.

Frye’s campaign spokeswoman said she had no plans to run any television commercials.

But the candidate said Wednesday that she would take advantage of “free media” like the press conference she held after Sanders’ press conference. She said Sanders was “living in the past” and deceiving voters by promising to fix the multitudinous financial problems the city faces without a specific demonstration of how his plans add up.

“What I’m here today to ask is, ‘Please Jerry, show me the money.’ Are you too chicken to show the people the money?” Frye said.

If there was any lingering doubt about whether the mayor’s race would take on a more acrimonious tone, it was eliminated Wednesday.

Sanders’ aides handed out copies of a 2002 report from former Mayor Dick Murphy’s Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances to buttress claims that Frye had been “warned the city’s pension plan was in trouble” before she signed off on early versions of a controversial pension deal that year.

She later voted against part of the now-notorious arrangement – known as Manager’s Proposal 2 – and became an early and persistent critic of the pension fund’s management.

The 2002 arrangement allowed the city to continue underfunding its pension system at the same time city employees were granted enhanced pension benefits. The pension system is now facing a shortfall estimated at more than $1.4 billion.

Whether the Blue Ribbon Committee actually warned the city not to do something like Manager’s Proposal 2 is not certain.

After all, businessman Dick Vortmann wrote the pension section for the committee’s report. Months later, he approved Manager’s Proposal 2 as a member of the city’s pension board.

The Blue Ribbon Committee warned the city that it was pushing the costs of the pension on to future taxpayers and asked that the city study the problem further.

Since early in the campaign, Frye has contended that the moment she learned the city’s retirement board was in trouble, she began a long-standing effort to reform it.

Not good enough, Sanders said.

“Many of those benefits she voted for later became long-term benefits and she voted for those after the Blue Ribbon Commission warned her about that,” Sanders said.

Frye said Sanders’ move was meant to distract attention from what she said were holes in his plan to address the pension problem.

Most specifically, she said, Sanders planned only to deal with the pension costs of yet-to-be-hired city employees and that any savings his plan will generate will only help the pension fund in the future.

Sanders’ financial recovery plan includes a passive approach to the legal efforts to roll back the pension benefits of current city employees and retirees. But he proposes to radically alter the pensions of future employees – a move that would generate savings in the future, but leave city employees with far different employment benefits than their future peers.

Despite previously holding open the possibility that tax increases may be necessary at some point, Sanders has recently contended that under no circumstance would he raise taxes.

And Wednesday, he said Frye had made it clear that taxes were more than a last resort in her plan.

Frye’s suggestion that the city increase its sales tax by a half-cent is the “foundation” of her plan, Sanders said.

Standing next to a large yellow chicken and addressing Sanders directly, Frye asked how his plans would fill the large financial hole at City Hall.

“What are you afraid of, is it because your numbers don’t add up? Or is it because the numbers you do have show there will be no savings immediately?” Frye asked.

Please contact Scott Lewis directly at

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