"The report also failed to disclose that by 11 October 2001 the audit staff of the City had determined that the investment portfolio of the City's pension plan had dropped significantly," Aguirre charged. "Finally, the possible triggering of the City's duty to make a sizeable balloon payment to the plan was not mentioned.... [This] failure...raises serious questions of misconduct by City officials."
With rumors of federal indictments making the rounds, the Murphy bubble was about to burst.
On Friday, April 15, Aguirre called for the mayor to quit, blaming him for the city pension board's failure to waive its attorney-client privilege and aid the investigation into the pension scandal. Then, in an issue released Sunday, April 17, Time magazine named Murphy one of the three worst mayors in America.
Murphy called a Sunday news conference in the driveway of his home to denounce the Time story, and he vowed to fight on.
Furious Murphy insiders privately blamed the media-savvy Aguirre for setting up the mayor by shopping the story to the magazine. A small number of pundits came to the mayor's defense. Los Angeles Times correspondent Tony Perry made light of "the tizzy that this set San Diego in" and argued that the Time hit on Murphy was little more than a publisher's gimmick. "The mass magazines, as you know, love lists," Perry told a KPBS radio audience. "The five best schools. The ten best doctors. Five things your wife wishes you knew about the bedroom and won't tell you.... It's not really serious journalism."
But Perry was in the minority, and the media drumbeat grew louder.
On Monday, April 18, a U-T story included a quote from chamber of commerce vice president Mitch Mitchell saying that the Time piece would "fuel the call for him to step down."
On Tuesday, April 19, the U-T published an editorial ostensibly aimed at Mike Aguirre and his call for Murphy's resignation. The paper said Aguirre "should pipe down -- for his own sake, and for the sake of the city." But it also lambasted the mayor. "Who cares what Time magazine says? Wall Street, for one. The banking industry for another. And, of course, there's the private sector, specifically all those businesses who normally might have been extremely receptive to a pitch that they set up shop here but which may now think twice. Orlando, here we come."
By Wednesday, April 20, there were rumors in the U-T newsroom that the paper, which rarely does political polling, had commissioned Directions in Research, a Kearny Mesa firm, to gauge Murphy's standing and that the mayor had fared badly. (The paper later revealed that the poll had been conducted between April 18 and April 22.)
Reports began circulating that the newspaper wanted Murphy out and had sent him the unfavorable poll results to make its point. All the while, the poll remained unpublished.
On Sunday, April 24, the U-T turned the screws ever tighter. "Recall whispers grow louder," said the headline on a front-page story written by the paper's crack political reporter, Philip LaVelle. "Will the growing legion of Murphy critics have the nerve to roll the dice in a high-stakes political gamble, one in which the outcome would be far from clear?" the article asked. "If so, will Murphy go the way of former Gov. Gray Davis, recalled in 2003 after presiding over California's energy crisis and huge budget deficits?"
Then LaVelle got to the point. "There's also this Machiavellian possibility, according to several sources: Business leaders who have lost faith in Murphy might use the threat of a recall to force the mayor, whose approval ratings are anemic, to resign."
The story provided the name of only one possible "business leader" interested in toppling the mayor, bayside hotel magnate Doug Manchester, who didn't return the paper's calls. Others with "means to write six-figure checks," the story said, were "keeping low profiles." There was still no mention of the poll, completed two days earlier.
The next day, Monday, April 25, at 10:15 in the morning, Murphy emerged from his 11th-floor inner sanctum to announce he was quitting. "When I ran for reelection, I had hoped that my second term would be as productive as the first term. But that now seems unlikely," he said in a quavering voice. "It's clear to me that the city needs a fresh start."
Padres owner John Moores, the principal beneficiary of the $300 million public subsidy for the downtown ballpark championed by Murphy, did not defend the mayor. "I don't really have a whole lot to say on this one." Neither Murphy nor his aides offered an explanation of what had transpired since his defiant pledge to serve out his term made just a week earlier.
The next morning, Tuesday, April 26, the U-T rendered its verdict. "In resigning only four months after being sworn in for a second term, Murphy has served the city's long-term interests. He deserves credit for reaching the agonizing personal decision that he was not the right mayor to steer San Diego through the turbulent waters that lie ahead. His resignation took courage."
And what about that U-T poll? It finally appeared in the newspaper on Wednesday, April 27, under the headline, "Poll shows public has little faith in City Hall." Sixty-one percent of respondents said Murphy was doing a bad job, with just 28 percent approving and 11 percent with no opinion. Fifty-eight percent thought the mayor had "breached public trust." The story went on to say that as poll results "were being tabulated last weekend, Murphy was meeting with his family and political advisers to chart his future."
The mayor was dead. Long live the mayor. That would be Jerry Sanders. Two thousand five was the year he was created. Not Sanders the ex-police chief, former public-charity administrator, ever-ready tuxedo-clad socialite who appears often in Burl Stiff's Union-Tribune La Jolla party notes (ten mentions and counting, according to Nexis). That Jerry Sanders has been around for 55 years. Actually, it seems longer.