SAN DIEGO – Voters picked a former police chief to be mayor of San Diego in the hopes that he can restore some law and order to an unruly mess at City Hall that sent the last mayor packing.
Jerry Sanders, a mild-mannered Republican who touted his experience turning around troubled organizations, will have his hands full with a $1.37 billion pension deficit that has triggered federal investigations of the nation's seventh-biggest city and fueled talk of bankruptcy.
"The city's problems won't be solved in eight weeks, they won't be solved in eight m told cheering supporters Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Sanders had 146,640 votes or 54 percent, while Councilwoman Donna Frye had 124,071 votes or 46 percent.
Sanders, 55, led the San Diego Police Department as chief from 1993 to 1999 and later held leadership positions at the American Red Cross and United Way local chapters. He hired a veteran local political consultant who helped two former Republican mayors win office. His fiscal recipe includes freezing salaries and hiring, potential layoffs, outsourcing some services and selling pension bonds.
Frye, a Democrat, said she will go back to work on San Diego's problems on the city council where she has often been a lone dissenter and a fierce advocate for open government.
"We need to come together, we need to unite and we need to work together," Frye told supporters as she conceded.
Frye, 53, who owns a surf shop and is married to the legendary surfer Skip Frye, was almost elected mayor in November 2004 in a write-in bid that garnered her 34 percent of the vote in a disputed contest. She lost to Republican Dick Murphy only after a judge refused to allow more than 5,500 ballots on which voters wrote her name but failed to darken the adjoining bubble.
Murphy resigned in July — only seven months into his second term — after failing to tackle the pension mess.
Frye finished first in the July primary with 43 percent of the vote, short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Sanders finished second with 27 percent and Steve Francis, a Republican businessman who quickly endorsed Sanders, captured 24 percent.
Frye began her political career with the support of San Diego's surfing community became more polished in recent months, replacing her familiar hairstyle parted straight down the middle with a dyed haircut she calls a "mayor-do." She may have hurt her chances by suggesting she might ask voters in tax-averse San Diego to approve a half-cent sales tax increase. Frye also spent much of her campaign trying to dispel her image as a lightweight surfer chick.
Voters also cast ballots in two council districts to choose replacements for Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza, who were convicted in July on federal corruption charges. They are due to be sentenced Thursday.