Republican businessman Steve Francis directed blows at Mayor Jerry Sanders from both the left and the right today, announcing his long-expected candidacy for mayor with an emphasis on environmental issues and the pace of the mayor’s financial reform efforts.

It was a decided shift for Francis, who battled Sanders exclusively from the right in the 2005 special election and cornered him into adopting a strict “no tax” pledge. Francis distanced himself a bit from that stance today. He instead sounded a lot like Sanders did at the start of the 2005 campaign, saying he’d institute a number of reforms before even considering a tax increase.

If today’s press conference is any indication, it seems like these will be the issues Francis will try to hammer home on the campaign trail:

  • City Finances: Francis argued that Sanders had only completed a few of his 22 campaign promises on financial reform. He said the mayor has taken too long in instituting promised reforms such as a streamlining and privatization of certain City Hall functions.

    “The mayor recently said during his State of the City address, ‘Look how far we’ve come.’ I say we haven’t come far enough and it’s taken way, way too long,” Francis said. He didn’t offer many specifics on how he would undertake the financial reform different, saying that he would’ve performed the streamlining and privatization quicker.

  • Sunroad: It’s clear Francis will try to play up last year’s scandal over Sunroad’s office tower in Kearny Mesa, mentioning it several different points in his speech and promising: “There will be no Sunroad scandals while I’m mayor, I guarantee it.”
  • “Special Interests”: It’s a common political theme and it apparently won’t be any different this year. The independently wealthy businessman, who spent about $2 million of his own cash on his eight-week campaign in 2005, said he will refuse campaign contributions. He also said he would introduce an ordinance on the first day of office to prohibit political consultants from lobbying the politicians they helped elect. (That’s a not-so-veiled dig at Sanders campaign consultant Tom Shepard, who also runs a lobbying firm.)

    Francis also said he’d forbid lobbyists from sitting on boards and commissions and would only accept a salary of $1 a year.

  • Environment: The businessman said San Diego needs to be a leader in protecting the environment, such as working to become a carbon-neutral city.

On the whole, Francis appeared to shed much of his previous hard-line conservative exterior. His bound “Vision for San Diego” booklet even contained an epigraph from John F. Kennedy: “We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now.”

With all the bad-mouthing of the mayor, I asked Francis if he wished he would’ve endorsed Councilwoman Donna Frye instead of Sanders after finishing third in the 2005 primary. “Yes, I do,” he said. “… I think she would’ve been a better mayor.”

However, it was clear that Francis would also hit Sanders from the right, as well. Francis said it was “inappropriate” for the mayor to have let his personal connections to his daughter and staff influence his decision not to veto a measure supporting gay marriage. Francis’ campaign staff said he supports civil unions, but not gay marriage.

Check back later for more, including a response from the Sanders camp.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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