It all played out with the dramatic flair that often accompanies San Diego politics.

After Mayor Jerry Sanders failed to put together a compromise ballot measure over the summer, Councilwoman Donna Frye played mayor for a week. She took the measure’s reins publicly and, with lots of help, hammered out what is now Proposition D.

The mayor jumped on board after weeks of silence. His support took Proposition D from being a Democratic/labor initiative to a bipartisan one and eventually a true coalition after he worked to win concessions that brought the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. on board.

The two even did a playful back-and-forth robocall together.

It was an interesting twist for the two politicians who’d battled in the 2005 mayoral election for the right to be the one to fix San Diego’s deep-seeded financial problems.

Now, their legacies are forever intertwined. And tonight, we will go a long way to writing those legacies.

Here’s how I put it in my August story about Frye’s role:

The trajectory of two legacies looks quite different now.

Until this week, Frye looked poised to end her elected career as a spirited fighter, but one without a signature victory. She’s an activist, environmentalist and open-government advocate who won over a passionate following with independence and a touch of rebellion.

But she was often the 1 in the 8-1 or 7-1 council votes and was lampooned for just being against things. Her loss column includes two failed runs for mayor, one that had to be decided in court. As her term expires this year, Frye’s supporters remain stung that she did not challenge a vulnerable Ron Roberts for his county supervisor seat.

Sanders, on the other hand, faced a rapidly closing window to put anything on the 2010 ballot and the stark reality that he would be a lame duck by the time the next election came around. With his bet on incremental change and a continued booming economy having failed, there also existed the real possibility that he would be now passing the city’s deep financial problems on to his successor in two years. He risked being best known for his about-face on gay marriage.

If the proposition passes, surely we will have to wait to see if it does indeed solve the city’s problems and if the politicians do indeed make the promised cuts. Frye, for one, won’t be at City Hall anymore after this year to have any control over that. But Frye and Sanders have assembled a strong coalition and have been the first elected officials to really at least put a vision for how to solve the city’s crisis in front of voters.

If it loses, it’s back to the drawing board for Sanders. He’ll be forced to dramatically cut city services (unless he was bluffing during this campaign). That will raise the risk that he’ll leave office without having solved the city’s problem and with a government providing significantly fewer services than when he took over.

Frye will still go down as the rebellious activist without that high-profile, signature victory.

Please contact me: or 619.325.0526. Follow me on Twitter: @AndrewDonohue.

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