Before Election Day, backers of the campaign to enshrine the city of San Diego’s strong mayor form of government downplayed the margin they believed the ballot measure would pass by. The campaign’s top strategist, Tom Shepard, said he’d be happy with percentage returns in the high 40s once early results were available. 

But the strong mayor measure erupted with more than 60 percent support when mail-in ballots came back a little after 8 p.m. and stayed there throughout the evening. The proposition had 60.47 percent support with just over a third of the city’s precincts reporting.

The strong mayor campaign raised more than $500,000, had strong backing from the development community and one big endorsement from Mayor Jerry Sanders.

“I think people want to see a big city, have a big city form of government, one where you actually have accountability,” Sanders said. “I don’t think people want to go back to the bad old days that we had before this.”

Strong mayor puts the mayor in charge of the city’s bureaucracy and preparing the budget instead of a city manager. Mayors as far back as Pete Wilson in the 1970s attempted to implement the system in San Diego, but San Diegans didn’t give their approval until 2004 amid widespread voter discontent during the city’s pension and securities scandal.

But the 2004 vote was a narrow victory, with supporters winning with just 51 percent of the vote. The election installed the strong mayor system for a five-year trial period.

This time, supporters poured huge dollars into the campaign with more than a third of campaign’s donations coming in the election’s final two and a half weeks. Opponents, led by City Councilwoman Donna Frye, raised no money, instead relying on a combative press conference and an argument that the strong mayor system costs more.

The strong mayor system now is permanent, and the city will add a ninth council district for 2012 and increase the number of votes required for a City Council override of the mayor’s veto. Once the new district comes into existence, the council will need six votes to override a mayoral veto instead of the current five.


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