Now that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders has exited office, we decided to ask civically active San Diegans to reflect on his tenure and the last seven years. Below are the three short op-eds we solicited about Sanders. We’ll have some more coming.

For our coverage of Sanders’ tenure, check out an evaluation of his financial promises, a review of city services under his leadership, an exit interview and a column about the fact he never liked his job.

Governing the Ungovernable

Ronald Reagan’s political strategist, Stu Spencer, advised San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson not to run for governor, saying, “California is ungovernable.”

When Councilwoman Toni Atkins pondered taking over as interim mayor until Jerry Sanders took office, I said, “Don’t do it. This place is coming apart at the seams and there is no upside for you.”

Atkins, now the second-most important member of the state Assembly, ignored me just as Wilson ignored Spencer. She governed the city with grace, intelligence and class.

The moral here may be that political leaders should ignore political consultants in these matters. It’s above our pay grade.

I was introduced to Jerry Sanders in his first days as a mayoral candidate. While he did not know me, I knew something unpublished about him. In 2004, Sanders and Steve Cushman agreed to urge a Union-Tribune editorial against a federal ban on same-sex marriage. Before the meeting was set, the U-T editorialized against the ban. But far before he was a candidate for office, Sanders stood ready to use his considerable clout to speak out for equal rights. I knew it, will never forget it and I would walk through fire for him any day.

Then he became mayor. Using a mystical combination of disciplined focus, raw power, compassion, intelligence and a delightfully foul mouth, Jerry held this city together with spitballs and paperclips. Seven years later we are healed at the broken places, and a stronger community because of his service.

I am grateful for the various civic duties entrusted to me by Mayor Sanders, but behind the scenes it has not been all roses. While he and I have very few differences on policy, I have not been a fan of his administration’s handling of process. But he got an undoable job done despite seven years of my private kvetching.

I continue as a great fan of Jerry Sanders, no longer just because of the equality stuff, but because he had the right stuff when San Diego needed it most.

Bob Nelson is a Unified Port of San Diego commissioner and has served on numerous local and national boards and commissions. He runs BNA Communications, an advertising and public relations firm.

The Mayor Was Never Late

Compared to the major accomplishments of Jerry Sanders’ tenure as mayor — restoration of the city’s credit rating, settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, reform of city finances, transition to the strong mayor form of government, reform of the pension system, implementation of managed competition for city services, construction of the downtown library, approval of financing for the Convention Center expansion, revitalization of the heart of Balboa Park and many more — the following personal observation may seem trivial. But it’s not.

In seven-and-a-half years of working with Jerry Sanders, I never once observed him arriving late for a meeting — and I believe most people who worked with him had the same experience.

Some elected officials assume their time is more important than anyone else’s, and think nothing of keeping people waiting. That approach reflects an elected official’s mindset: I’m more important than you are.

Jerry Sanders never thought his time was more important than the people he was meeting with. That’s why this seemingly inconsequential trait provides a window into what makes Jerry Sanders different, and why — after seven brutal years of budget cuts and reduced city services — he left office with a higher favorability rating from voters than when he was elected to the office in 2005.

Jerry Sanders truly believes he’s just a regular guy — no better or worse than anyone else. That comes across in personal interactions, in television interviews and in speeches: the self-deprecating humor; an ability to admit he screwed up; the courage to wear his emotions on his sleeve at times and to do what he thought was right, even when it was unpopular.

It was hard for most San Diegans not to like and respect Jerry Sanders. I include myself among them.

Tom Shepard is a Republican political consultant who ran Sanders’ mayoral campaigns and the campaign of new Mayor Bob Filner.

From Bikes Being Ignored to Getting The Wheel Rolling

A few years ago I didn’t know much about how city government functioned, but I was frustrated that my most passionate subject, bicycling, was all but ignored by the city, I wrote my first email to former Mayor Jerry Sanders in May 2009. I invited him to go on a leisurely bicycle ride with me and some friends with the hope that experiencing the city from atop a bicycle saddle would give him a newfound appreciation for this humble vehicle and its role in transforming San Diego into a more livable city. That email was met with silence.

It took me a while to gather up some nerve for further armchair activism because my next email went out in February 2010. The U-T had a write-up on how dangerous the bike path (sic) on Kearny Villa Road was and I implored the mayor to investigate why the resurfacing on the Kearny Villa Road’s bike lane was so slipshod. This too was met with silence. But this time I had the foresight to contact Councilwoman Marti Emerald, whose district encompassed Kearny Villa Road. I not only received a personal email from Emerald, but the problem was eventually rectified and played a role in how I began to approach bike advocacy.

Maybe the former mayor’s handlers did read my emails and relay the messages. I was pleasantly surprised when he announced the bike-share program earlier this year. Bike-share programs are not a subject I am deeply passionate about, but it certainly is an avenue to normalizing the bicycle in city life — something I am very passionate about. Even though it took a while, the former mayor finally came through. And while it wasn’t in a way I could have anticipated, I’m happy he finally got that wheel rolling.

Samantha Ollinger is a cycling advocate and executive director of

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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