Steve Francis responded this afternoon to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ mid-morning attack with an assault of his own. He specifically criticized San Diegans for City Hall Reform, a political action committee with strong ties to Sanders as being “the biggest pay-to-play system the city has ever seen.”

The committee, which championed two of Sanders ballot measures in 2006, continued to raise thousands of dollars after the election for an unknown cause from donors with business in front of City Hall.

Francis criticized the committee’s work before and after the election, pointing not only to its continued existence but the $1.2 million in “special interest money” it raised in advance of the vote. “It’s all about using soft money to promote the mayor,” he said.

Francis, though, was one of the committee’s supporters, donating $10,000 in March 2006.

“When I saw this was nothing but a scheme to promote Jerry Sanders, that’s when I walked away,” Francis said.

He continued to spend money promoting the initiatives, however, paying for $100,000 worth of radio spots up until Election Day. Francis suggested those expenditures were different. “I didn’t put that money through the system,” he said.

This cycle, the committee has been active in promoting the mayor’s proposed changes to the city charter.

Francis and Sanders go face-to-face this afternoon with the other mayoral candidates at 4:30 p.m. at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at University of San Diego.

ROB DAVIS

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