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— For these reasons, the league opposed the measure because "It did not balance the powers between the mayor's office and the downtown business interests, which was driving the effort, and the needs of communities," says Damashek.

And guess who pointed out the problems of the strong-mayor proposal? None other than John Kern, Murphy's chief of staff. Murphy had been cool to the idea until the establishment told him this year it was his ticket to a second term. Among many things, Kern pointed out in a 1999 newsletter that the strong-mayor idea would not enhance accountability and its proponents were "trying to fit a new government form into the framework of the existing charter." Summed up Kern, "The whole effort badly needs a public airing. Too much is going on behind closed doors, and some of the results could be disastrous for the city."

Amen, says Damashek. To protect their financial interests, the strong-mayor promoters "refused to have a charter-review commission or reform commission that would have looked at the whole charter," she says. So now on the matter of the disputed election, the charter appears to be at odds with the municipal code. Maybe a reform commission would have noted that disparity. (Maybe not. Only a few in the city seemed to realize that cutting pension pay-ins while raising benefit pay-outs would lead to deficits.)

While the committee took its proposals to some community planning groups, "There was never any way for the public to sit down at the table and get their own needs taken care of," she says. And the strong-mayor idea "does nothing to increase accountability."

Kern noted in 1999 that strong-mayor proponents pointed to other big cities with such a structure. "True. Los Angeles, for example. Now there is a real role model for San Diego," wrote Kern sarcastically. Kern did not respond to Reader questions.

"L.A. is a broken city," concedes Steve Erie, professor of political science at UCSD, but it's not because of the strong-mayor system. Erie was one of the key figures behind the strong-mayor initiative, even though he is a liberal Democrat and believes that the "national press looking closely at San Diego is a wonderful thing in terms of reducing the kinds of backroom deals and corruption San Diego has had."

He disagrees with the critics of the strong-mayor concept. San Diegans "are virgins" who don't understand that the system actually provides for a strong council, too, as well as checks and balances, he says. "The establishment is divided. As to the question of a united establishment trying to steal the election from Frye -- I don't think that's happening."

Maybe they've kept it secret from Steve.

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