Thursday, June 5, 2008 | A day after his difficult defeat, Steve Francis said he did not regret spending an unprecedented $4.7 million on his unsuccessful mayoral campaign, but also said that spending any more wouldn’t have made a difference.

Francis didn’t fault his campaign for the loss and said he wouldn’t have done things differently. Instead, he blamed the result on low voter turnout. He said his campaign’s polls had put Mayor Jerry Sanders in the mid-40 percent range before Tuesday night; he’d been polling in the low 30s. But Francis said the news shifted toward Sanders in the waning weeks of the campaign, as voters increasingly believed Sanders had the city on the right track — the result of the city’s restored credit rating and his Sunroad exoneration by the state Attorney General.

In the end, the undecided voters that Francis had actively sought turned to Sanders. Charles Gallagher, Francis’ campaign manager, said the campaign had hoped to capture two-thirds of the city’s undecideds. It did not.

As Francis contemplated his future after consecutive failed mayoral campaigns, Sanders geared up for his first full term in office after assuming the final three years of resigned Mayor Dick Murphy’s second term.

He chose an ongoing street repair effort at the corner of a Tierrasanta intersection Wednesday to launch his second term in office. There, as city workers poured hot, pungent asphalt onto Santo Road, he said San Diegans can expect him to continue repairing the city’s infrastructure, improving its financial controls and maintaining fiscal discipline.

He also wasted no time taking a dig at City Attorney Mike Aguirre. Noting that more than 70 percent of voters selected someone other than Aguirre in Tuesday’s primary, Sanders said San Diegans had sent the incumbent a message to stop obstructing progress at the city. “For the incumbent to get only 29 percent, I think that is very telling,” he said.

Sanders, however, stopped short of endorsing Superior Court Judge Jan Goldsmith, who advanced along with Aguirre to the two-person November runoff. The mayor had previously taken an anyone-but-Aguirre stance. While he said he wasn’t prepared to endorse today, he did give the impression that an endorsement of Goldsmith wasn’t far away.

The former police chief also said he would now be studying the remaining three City Council races to better get to know the candidates and likely endorse in those races.

A television reporter asked if Sanders planned any role for Francis in his administration. “No, I don’t plan on bringing him aboard,” Sanders said. Francis said he was willing to help the mayor any way he could, but acknowledged he had absolutely no expectation that his rival would turn to him for advice.

In a sit-down talk Wednesday afternoon, Francis described his future uncertainly. Since losing in 2005, Francis has been positioning himself to run again for mayor. Now, with that opportunity lost, he spoke with few specifics about his next steps. He said he wanted to spend more time on business-related issues and work on several boards he serves on. And he wants to take a vacation.

“I’m not going to go away,” he said, promising to rally around Sanders. “At this juncture, it’s a good idea to step back and not be critical of the mayor. He won the race fair and square. I’m not going to criticize him from the sidelines.”

Francis ruled out any run for elected office in the short-term, and similarly said he would never run for City Council or the state Assembly. He didn’t rule out a future run for mayor or the county Board of Supervisors, but said it was way too early to consider another campaign.

Francis credited the campaign with educating him and renewing his interest in a wide swath of issues. During the race, he focused on progressive issues, a shift that opened him up to criticism of being a “flip-flopper” after having run a strictly right-leaning race in 2005. Some labor unions and progressive groups did not endorse Francis because of concerns that he was not genuinely a champion of those issues.

He acknowledged that perception may have affected some voters. But he largely dismissed such criticism as “inside baseball” that did not resonate with most poll-goers.

He said he believed he still had a good relationship with the Republican Party and its leaders. Running against Sanders, a fellow Republican, wasn’t a miscalculation, he said. While he may have had the chance to garner the GOP endorsement in a 2012 election — without Sanders in the picture — he said he felt compelled to run now to help solve pressing issues at the city.

Instead, Sanders will have that opportunity with a second term. At his afternoon press event, Sanders said it was time to “return the city to greatness.” His most immediate goals are to have the City Council pass his 2009 budget and have it put his proposal for a new pension system on the November ballot.

In the coming days, he said, he and his team will sit down and plot their goals for the next four years. For now, Sanders said, he hasn’t had the time. He said he’ll run the city the way he has previously and carry a message of fiscal discipline.

“I think people saw steady progress at the city — not flashy progress, but steady progress,” Sanders said of his Tuesday victory at the polls.

Please contact Andrew Donohue directly at andrew.donohue@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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