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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Night of the living dims: why Donna Frye should concede

Losing San Diego mayoral write-in candidate Donna Frye so far has not taken any actions to contest the election. She did not request a recount; instead an attorney representing Fyre voters, joined by the local media, did. She has not filed an election contest lawsuit.

Even though she has not proactively taken measures to challenge the election her refusal to concede is keeping this dispute alive. For the good of the city, Frye should call off her supporters and concede the election.

Here's why:

Litigation will be divisive, regardless of the result.

Already the barometers of public opinion in San Diego are rising. Local radio devotes hours to the election dispute with impassioned voters on each side calling to make their points and belittle their opponents. The "Letters to the Editor" section of the local newspaper is dominated more and more by the topic. Protestors have hit the streets demanding that every vote be counted.

All this before an election lawsuit has been filed.

Her hollow mandate.

Even assuming the unlikely occurs and Frye convinces a court to give her the election, she would have a hollow mandate for governing.

If adhered to, San Diego's Charter provides a mandate to the winning mayoral candidate. That's because the charter contemplates a primary election with multiple candidates but a general election with only two. Limiting the general election to two candidates ensures that any mayor is elected only after first getting through the primary and second after receiving a majority of the vote in the general election. The ability to claim majority support among the voters strengthens the mayor's position vis a vis the members of the city council who are elected by district.

This year, however, the charter didn't work because Frye avoided the primary election and was allowed to run as a write-in candidate in the general election. Thus, the current mayor, Dick Murphy, won with roughly a third of the legally cast votes. If Frye's suit were successful, she would be declared the winner by a court with roughly a third of the votes, and with the decisive votes coming from legally questionable votes. She would not be able to claim support from a majority of the voters.

Although Frye's platform of reform is popular in San Diego because of this city's catastrophic situation, that reform platform is not hers alone. Newly elected City Attorney Mike Aguirre also ran as a reformer and he won by going through a primary election and by winning a majority of the votes city-wide in the general election. The reform mandate would be his to claim not hers.

Mitigate harm to the city.

The financial and political situation in San Diego is catastrophic and requires the mayor and council to pull together and address the problems together. The events since the election have already put a cloud of illegitimacy over the head of Mayor Murphy. In the minds of many voters, he should not be the mayor because they believe the invalid write-in votes for Frye should be counted. Whether there's is a legally tenable position is irrelevant. What matters is that a substantial number of San Diego's voters believe the current mayor was not re-elected.

Frye's strength as a politician has been that she appears to put the interests of the city above her own. She has been a minority vote on the council, an opponent of the establishment, and an outspoken critic of the actions that got the city into trouble. Calling off her supporters and conceding the election will solidify that image in many voters' minds. Frye would be seen as putting aside her own personal ambition to be mayor in favor of moving forward and bringing the city together to work on the huge problems facing the city.

Setting the stage for the 2008 mayoral election.

A significant consequence of proceeding with a lawsuit will be to limit Frye's voter base to the minority that already voted for her. She received only a third of the votes in the general election. With passions running so high on the issue, the chance of permanently alienating the two-thirds of voters who voted against her is high. If her lawsuit were to succeed the damage from that might seem less consequential with each additional day she serves as mayor. A successful term as mayor would improve her chances at re-election in 2008.

However, Frye's legal case for challenging the election is a difficult one to make. The law is strongly against Frye's position so losing is a likely outcome. Come 2008, she'd have to overcome the distaste of many voters over her decision to drag the city through a contentious and needless lawsuit.

Also important to Frye's prospects in 2008 is the fact that Mayor Murphy is ineligible to run in 2008 due to term limits. The other losing candidate in the general election, Ron Roberts, is a career politician with a long record who has tried more than once to be elected mayor and failed. Frye, on the other hand, is at the beginning of her political career. She has a strong base of support among voters concerned about San Diego. She made an incredibly strong showing for a novice political candidate running as a write-in.

If Frye were to concede the election and encourage the city to move forward and come together to solve its problems, she would be the candidate to beat in 2008.

-tdr

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