Monday, Feb. 12, 2007 | Like so many San Diegans, I am a great admirer of Jerry Sanders, the man. By the values he projects and the standards he aspires to, he has strengthened our sense of confidence in our elected officials and is a person whose integrity is unassailable. Having spent more than two decades as a policeman, “a cop on the beat,” he developed an affable manner and a willingness to listen and engage a diverse range of people that is quite remarkable. However, Jerry Sanders, the mayor, and the city and citizens of San Diego, now face a set of unique challenges which demand qualities of leadership and decision-making that will test his prior experience and his reservoir of courage. Mayor Sanders must now rise to the occasion and stretch his abilities because the challenges we now face are as complex and profound as those recently addressed by Governor Schwarzenegger in his State of State address. And like the governor, Jerry Sanders has the same opportunity to deliver bold and innovative leadership.

There is no doubt that the kind of bold action this city’s fiscal survival requires will generate a mixed reaction from the citizens of San Diego. It will also challenge those men and women who so profoundly impact the decisions that affect our city. I am not talking about our elected officials, whose courage and innovation will also be tested; I am referring to the men and women of our downtown business and economic development community who seem to endlessly rotate through this city’s key unelected leadership positions. Good citizens all, and equally committed to the success of our city, they profoundly influence and shape San Diego’s agenda. However, they are but one, albeit legitimate, point of view.

In order for Mayor Sanders, and the city of San Diego, to succeed, our civic leadership must broaden their scope and more actively encourage and welcome dissenting opinions and fresh ideas. The infusion of new blood to stimulate the dialogue and aid the development of practical solutions is vital, and we need an inclusion of leaders outside the business, tourism, labor and development community. We need to bring into Mayor Sanders’ circle of advisors leaders from high tech, important cross border issues, education and leaders from our growing diverse communities of immigrants — fresh faces with fresh ideas.

Mayor Sanders must first face up to the dire economic circumstances that threaten the present and future of San Diego. He must make the tough calls necessary to implement a plan to resolve our city’s problems now, not pass them on at high interest rates to future taxpayers. It may be painful, but pain delayed is pain with compounded interest. It was exactly this kind of fiscal maneuvering in the past that set our city on its present course to economic ruin. He needs to introduce innovative business practices and make hard financial and budgeting, and even taxation decisions, which will be unpopular with many, but absolutely critical to the sustainability of this extraordinary city. It would not be a bad thing for him to step forward and tell the people that he intends to put the future of this city above his political future in order to do the right thing.

A positive first step would be for Mayor Sanders to bring key representatives of the diverse interests previously mentioned together in a “no holds barred” face to face discussion aimed a nothing less than developing what San Diego has been too long without: a coherent, integrated, and far-seeking vision and strategy for the future of our city. San Diego is a city possessed of the gifts of greatness and yet it seems unsure of its place in the state, our nation, and the international community. We are no longer a “small town” and Mayor Sanders must take the lead in developing a vision and plan that includes and coordinates the many talents of our greatest local assets: our universities, technology clusters and our robust cross border industries. We have the talent; we need to rise to the challenge. We need Jerry Sanders, the man, to be the mayor who will break the mold, challenge the status quo and aggressively meet the challenges confronting us.

Wade Sanders is a local attorney and political commentator for local and national media. He can be reached at wade2000@cox.net. Or send a letter to the editor.

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