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— San Diego is in meltdown, but don't expect the backers of that alpha-male measure, the strong-mayor initiative passed by the voters, to hammer out a rescue plan. The corporate- welfare parasites behind Proposition F are losing potency and have nobody to blame but themselves. They met in secret over several years to carve out a proposal that was in their economic interest. Then, it appears, they have been maneuvering in secret to derail the narrowly leading mayoral candidate, write-in Donna Frye, who campaigned against San Diego's culture of secrecy -- and against corporate welfare.

Now that Frye is getting nationwide media attention, it is clear that any cabal to steal the election will have to be pulled off in the national spotlight. San Diego's government corruption and secrecy obsession, and Frye's charisma, have already been described in detail in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, and on national TV. The national press is on the lookout for possible election shenanigans here.

The merits of the strong-mayor proposal, if there are any, won't be discussed widely until the community finds out if the business overlords behind the initiative are covertly trying to overturn Frye's possible victory.

It doesn't help their case that the attorney who filed the first suit to toss out the election, Rancho Santa Fe resident John W. Howard, was on the board of the strong-mayor committee, is lawyer for the City Club run by Proposition F tout George Mitrovich, and was a supporter of Ron Roberts, who is doomed to a third-place finish.

Howard insists he never talked with Mitrovich, Roberts, or anybody on the strong-mayor committee before he filed his suit to stop the vote counting and claims he would say that under oath. But after filing the suit, he allows, "I called Ron and said, 'I don't want you to be blindsided; I have filed a suit protesting the election.' If we had a conversation lasting five minutes, I would be surprised." Then Roberts went on "redneck" radio and began talking like a candidate again while pretending to be on the sidelines along with Mayor Dick Murphy, who is running second behind Frye.

Howard claims he only consulted the people in his office, then went out and recruited a plaintiff, Thomas J. McKinney, an attorney who had voted in San Diego. "I have not received one penny from anyone, and haven't solicited funds," says Howard. However, he says that if two of the major corporate-welfare mendicants, Alex Spanos of the Chargers and John Moores of the Padres, offered to support his legal efforts, "unless I thought there was a conflict of interest, I probably would take it." And retired Marine general Michael Neil, an avid booster of pro-sports welfare, argued the case alongside Howard.

Howard's suit was strongly rejected in superior court Monday. There is another suit in federal court, but it could be sent to state court. Other people are threatening to sue. Two of the plaintiffs in the federal suit were supporters of Roberts, who backed Proposition F in late campaigning. In 1997, the attorney filing the federal suit, Blair Krueger, had told investors in a penny stock, Natural Born Carvers, that it was okay to peddle the shares in California because they were exempt from registration. The district attorney's office, in a case that sent one of the company's backers to prison, disagreed with that interpretation, but deputy DA Steve Davis thinks that Krueger was given bad information. Krueger claims he didn't represent company insiders.

The lawsuits claim that the city charter effectively bans write-ins, and the charter takes precedence over the municipal code, which has explicitly permitted write-ins for almost 20 years. More suits can be filed after the votes are certified. Whether the suits wind up in the appellate court or the state supreme court, and whether there are other suits filed by either side, politics will be a factor. Perhaps the best summation comes from Jim Mills, who for ten years was president pro tem of the California Senate. "Most judges are whores," says Mills. "People get to be judges by being political activists and don't leave that behind when they get on the bench. Still, it's hard to imagine a judge going behind an election. The judges in California right up to the supreme court have been very reluctant to undo any decision clearly made by the electorate."

Says former councilmember Bruce Henderson, "Through these suits, the powers-that-be that have brought on the city's problems have started the effort of demonizing Donna Frye to lay the groundwork for a later recall."

Whatever the courts ultimately decide, San Diegans want to know who will be financing and publicizing the lawsuits, however far they go. "I don't know who is behind it, but I don't believe it is just an individual," says Frye.

David Stutz, retired deputy district attorney, believes that "this secret clique that met together and came up with the strong-mayor concept" is behind the lawsuits, despite protestations to the contrary. "It's so transparent. Who are they kidding? How dumb do they think we are?" In a veiled society such as San Diego's, people communicate without saying a word to each other.

Few outsiders know the strong-mayor committee as well as community volunteer Norma Damashek, a vice president of the League of Women Voters. She attended committee meetings for months, although she was not representing the league. When she heard of Howard's lawsuit, she immediately concluded, "The people who are trying to stop the election process are the people who had kept the public out of participating in the strong-mayor formation. They don't trust the public. They want to keep the public out. They saw themselves as a shadow government with a strong mayor, but they are faced with another prospect, and they have no control over this person."

After attending many of the meetings, "I said openly that they did not represent all of the interests in the city; this was slanted toward business interests. Proposition F as it emerged was a work of business-community interests. It is a power elite that wants to run the city. They had a lot of money behind them."

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