Wednesday, November 09, 2005 | Former police Chief Jerry Sanders claimed an honor Tuesday that no candidate has been able to in three recent elections: He got more than 50 percent of the vote in a mayoral race.

And he did it after enduring what he called “the most thorough” debate on City Hall finances in San Diego history.

With 94 percent of the votes counted, Sanders had garnered 54 percent of the votes compared to City Councilwoman Donna Frye’s 46 percent.

A near constant schedule of face-to-face arguments in which both candidates described an incredible financial crisis in city government preceded Election Day. Which one of the two could best solve that crisis became virtually the only theme of the campaign.

Sanders said that voters had ultimately chosen “a new path.”

“They’ve chosen to make ethics and customer service the foundation of a new culture at City Hall,” Sanders said.

And he said taking that path would solve the city’s myriad problems.

“It’s a path that will lead to financial stability, transparent decision making and a restoration of public trust in city government,” Sanders said.

The bar for success – and failure – is certainly set.

Sanders was the favorite in the race going into Election Day – a victory cake had already been prepared before the polls were even closed. And around Sanders’ campaign headquarters, people began talking about the election as a victory only minutes after the polls closed.

But in his remarks, Sanders reflected quite a bit on the civic conversation that had taken place before the election about the state of the city’s faltering finances.

His head campaign advisor, consultant Tom Shepard, said it was a “wild ride.”

“We engaged in the greatest debate in the city’s history with Donna over the finances and the future direction of the city,” Shepard said. “I think it was an extremely healthy debate and I think voters had a better chance to make an informed decision in this race than they’ve had in recent history.”

Sanders and Frye emerged from a field of 11 candidates who had hoped to replace former Mayor Dick Murphy. In April and under a cloud of controversy and chaos that had defined city government since last year’s election, Murphy announced that he was resigning from the post.

The Sanders campaign – now a transition committee – announced that it would be holding a press conference Wednesday morning “to outline his agenda.”

And also Wednesday, Ronne Froman, the woman slated to take over the day-to-day operations of City Hall under Sanders’ lead, will submit her resignation to the local chapter of the Red Cross where she serves as CEO.

Sanders’ aides, who had refused to make Froman available to the public in the last weeks of the race, said she would take questions on Thursday.

At midnight, Sanders received a call from Frye, who was conceding the race. Into the phone, Sanders joked with Frye about the end of a marathon of debates and competing public appearances.

“We won’t be able to be together every day anymore,” Sanders told her.

Sanders said he and Frye talked about meeting soon. He said two former foes would be able to get along “just fine.”

“She was just very classy,” Sanders said after he got off the phone with Frye.

In her concession speech, Frye was equally positive about the future.

“It’s been a long campaign. It’s been an interesting campaign,” she said. “I look forward to working with Mr. Sanders, the City Council and the city attorney to get San Diego back on track.”

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