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San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye is well into her last year in office and yet she is still keeping people on the edges of their seat.
Will she run for county supervisor? Who knows? I couldn’t even get her to say why she would want to run for that post let alone whether she would.
Alison St. John, the political reporter for KPBS, wrote the other day on Twitter that the decision is keeping Frye up at night.
That doesn’t mean Ron Roberts is resting easy. At least he shouldn’t. He knows very well what Frye can pull off in a short time. He probably still believes (and he might not be wrong) that Frye’s write-in campaign for mayor (whether it was legal or not) cost him in 2004 the chance to reach his dream of winning that office. There was only one tracking poll of any kind that year, and it had shown Roberts gaining on the incumbent Dick Murphy right up until that late September day when Frye spontaneously decided to jump in.
Even as a write-in candidate, she got more votes than both of them. But about 5,000 of her votes were thrown out because her supporters hadn’t properly filled out a small bubble next to where they wrote her name. Murphy remained in the job until the coming summer, when he resigned.
She probably will not wait to do a late write-in campaign this time around. Time is already getting short and actually choosing to do a write-in campaign is kind of like putting on a huge fur coat before a marathon.
The truth is, I kind of miss Donna Frye. I don’t get to write as much as I used to and I don’t get to City Hall as much as I did. So it may just be me. But she used to do fun things like hand out insider documents, boycott closed sessions, demand major reforms and ask a relentless stream of questions that earned her the enmity of some city staff but the passionate support of some residents who responded instantly when she decided to run.
Sure, she still questions and she fights. But she dialed something back.
Her critics have always said one thing more than any other: That she only opposed things, never proposed them. It’s a common refrain around here: “Meh, it’s easy to criticize but hard to do.”
But there’s a reason so many people gathered as many votes for her as they did when she ran that write-in campaign: You always knew that she was trying to do the right thing. Even if she was wrong, you knew she wasn’t trying to play a game, she was trying to do what she felt was right. And she did propose something big during her 2005 campaign for mayor: she proposed a tax increase, a reorganization of pension benefits and a series of financial tweaks every bit as thorough (and lacking) as her opponent, Jerry Sanders. She was lampooned by an opposition — and a newspaper — who treated the suggestion that we raise any revenue in this town as some sort of brutal attack on our common sense of justice.
And now the mayor is struggling within the chains he helped link together. You bitterly oppose taxes, you’re stuck when you have to govern. And now the city is dissolving.
Would Donna Frye have been better? I don’t know. She can, as she is displaying, be indecisive at times. She inspired people by standing up to others leading the city. But who do you stand up to when you’re the boss?
So I thought it was time to check in with Frye.
To catch up on what I’m doing with these Q&As, you can read the intro here along with the interviews with: Marco Li Mandri, Marco Gonzalez, Lorena Gonzalez, Dianne Jacob, Gil Cabrera, Tom Shepard, Carl DeMaio, Kathy Keehan, Murtaza Baxamusa, Kevin Carroll and Walt Ekard.
Have you dialed it down lately? You seem to be less visible than before. Perhaps that’s a misconception I have?
Yes, as far as the media I have held fewer press conferences, but I haven’t dialed down my work load. Besides working on the budget, pension and open government issues, I have been focused on a variety of environmental issues such as ensuring a safe, clean and reliable water supply. As chair of the Natural Resources and Culture Committee, I docketed monthly hearings on the Indirect Potable Reuse Demonstration Project to keep that moving forward and our committee passed a variety of water conservation measures including sub-metering of multi-family properties, new landscape requirements and a Level 2 Drought Alert that included behavioral modifications rather than the proposed water allocation methodology.
Clean energy was also a big issue. I led the push to include public participation in determining how $12.5 million in federal stimulus money would be spent for energy efficiency and co-chaired a working group to establish policies and priorities for the city of San Diego. This committee process was one of a handful throughout the state that included any meaningful public input.
Other important environmental concerns included citywide issues (passing a resolution to support state legislation to protect the seals, establishing the Mission Bay Park and San Diego Regional Parks Oversight committees, and approving sewer and water infrastructure projects) and District Six issues (dedicating Sefton Field Park as open space, opening the Ruffin Canyon Tunnel and completing the Ocean Beach to Hotel Circle Bikeway along the San Diego River).
You have posited that you believe there are employee retirement benefits that the city could try to get rid of outside of bankruptcy. You’ve watched a lot of things happen in this regard. What, specifically, do you think can be changed?
It’s not just a matter of getting rid of benefits. Sometimes it’s simply ensuring that the benefits are in compliance with the municipal code — for example whether DROP is cost neutral. If it is, there should be no cost to the taxpayers. If it isn’t, then it needs to be changed to comply with the law of our city.
I’m not going to ask you whether you’re going to run for county supervisor — you’ll probably want to decide how to break that news in a different space — but I will ask this: Why would you want to be a county supervisor if you did?
I’ll answer that when I announce my decision.
What is the most disappointing thing about Mayor Sanders’ tenure? What’s the most inspiring?
The most disappointing thing is how difficult it is to get accurate information in a timely manner. The most inspiring is our lunches at Maria’s.
You’ve got another year in your term on the City Council, you going to try anything interesting?
What decision will you be paying attention to the most in the coming year and who will be making it?
There is no one decision to which I will be paying the “most” attention. I pay close attention to as much as possible, especially when it involves the public and their quality of life.
To answer the question, I am always interested in decisions made by the public and seeing how they will vote in June, particularly the race for my council seat, strong mayor and term limits for county supervisors.
In addition, I was very heartened by the recent decision by voiceofsandiego.org to stop allowing gutless and anonymous comments and instead requiring that people to identify themselves. I hope that others in the media follow your lead and help restore accountability to the public dialogue.
Who is the most promising leader in San Diego these days and what do you think he or she might do in 2010?
The first person who comes to my mind is Steve Hadley, my chief of staff (Hadley is running for Frye’s seat). I have endorsed him because I know he would serve the people well and be a responsible public servant. The other leader is actually a couple — Pat Shea and Diann Shipione. I don’t know what they might do in 2010, but it’s always interesting and fun to find out.
What else are you looking forward to in 2010?
I am looking forward to lots of things including: getting up in the morning, unknown challenges, hard work, learning more, numbers that add up, helping people, optimism, humor, more civil dialogue and open government, my mother’s cooking, surfing with my husband, Skip, on the new board he made for me, seeing Peter Sprague and Kevyn Lettau in concert, and a better economy and good health for everyone.
Frye’s rank of major projects in San Diego by priority:
Priorities are constantly changing based on circumstances, but as a rule public works projects come first (sewer, water, streets, sidewalks, deferred maintenance, etc.) followed by the projects which are discretionary and would just be nice to have.
Her rank of major problems by their worry:
I am most concerned about problems that impact the public health, safety, and welfare and all of those require adequate funding. So I would have to say budget shortfalls are the greatest concern and the other problems are all interrelated. Some that you did not mention are energy, trash, and development and those are also of concern.
— SCOTT LEWIS