SAN DIEGO – Mayor Dick Murphy (search) packed his belongings and bid farewell to his staff Friday, ending a rocky 4 1/2-year tenure that was cut short when he resigned amid a wave of scandal.
"This is a day of sadness, but you know, this really ought to be a day of pride," he told about two dozen employees at his last staff meeting.
A few employees wiped away tears but the mild-mannered Republican mayor appeared relaxed on what he called a bittersweet day. Murphy concluded his remarks by saying, "Thank you, God bless you and goodbye."
Eight months after being re-elected, Murphy is resigning in the midst of a federal probe of San Diego's deficit-ridden pension fund and with a federal jury deciding the fate of two councilmen accused of corruption.
In a blistering editorial Friday, The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote that the city is "far worse off" than when Murphy took office and the mayor deserves much of the blame.
"Dick Murphy leaves office today having acknowledged he is not the man to extinguish the conflagration that his actions and inactions helped to fan," the newspaper concluded. "For that, he deserves San Diegans' respect."
The 62-year-old former judge has said little about his decision to step down, but in an interview with The Associated Press, he said a post-election court battle over the vote count and an increasingly bitter tone at City Hall played roles.
Murphy was named the winner of November's election after a state judge tossed out thousands of ballots for Councilwoman Donna Frye (search), a write-in candidate who owns a surf shop. Ballots on which voters wrote Frye's name but failed to darken an adjoining oval were discounted.
A July 26 election is expected to produce a November runoff between the top two finishers. Among the 11 contenders are Frye, a Democrat, and Republicans Jerry Sanders (search), a former police chief, and Steve Francis (search), a wealthy businessman.
Councilman Michael Zucchet (search) is set to take over as interim mayor and serve until voters choose a successor. But Zucchet would be forced to relinquish public office if a jury convicts him of taking illegal campaign contributions from a strip-club owner. A federal jury began deliberating the case Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors also are investigating San Diego's pension deficit of at least $1.37 billion, largely the result of decisions in 1996 and 2002 to avoid payments to the retirement fund and, at the same time, enhance benefits.
Murphy refused to discuss ongoing federal investigations of city finances.
He said a Time magazine story that named him one of the nation's worst big-city mayors also weighed on his decision. He announced his resignation a week after the article appeared.
Murphy said he planned to take a six-month break before deciding his next move.
"I could teach. I could write. I could go back and, I suppose, seek my assignment on the bench," he said. "I just haven't decided."