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Promises, Promises

January 12, 1986

The campaign to choose a successor for Roger Hedgecock as mayor of San Diego is barely under way, but already it has provided some interesting moments. Consider, for example, the public commitments of two of the major candidates about how they will finance their campaigns.

City Councilman Bill Cleator, a businessman who spent $39,873 of his own money when he ran for mayor in 1983, has promised that he and his wife would not contribute more than $250 apiece to his current campaign--in the primary. That pledge apparently does not extend to a runoff, should Cleator survive the first cut.

Maureen O'Connor, who spent $564,250 of her own money in the 1983 race, used her announcement press conference to recall her first campaign for the City Council, when she spent only $9,000 and took no contributions greater than $250, even though there was no limit on gifts at that time. She also vowed not to take any money from developers, "because development projects should be based on what's right for San Diego and not on campaign IOUs." But as for using her personal fortune to finance her campaign, "It's too early to tell," she said.

Presumably the candidates are attempting to convey by these pledges a message about clean campaigning and independence, but the effect is to raise questions about their sincerity. If the people don't want to see candidates pour large sums of money into their campaigns today, what makes Cleator think they will appreciate it any more in the general election? And it is indeed a slight concession for O'Connor to forswear contributions from a source she knows will be much more generous to her opponents anyway, while knowing she has the ability to write herself a half-million-dollar check.

Then there is the case of the promises Councilman Ed Struiksma did or did not make before being chosen as acting mayor. Depending on whose version of events one accepts, the issues here have to do either with Struiksma's integrity or with his ability to communicate with reasonably intelligent people.

A majority of the council--including Gloria McColl, who may be the least political of them all, and newcomers Abbe Wolfsheimer and Judy McCarty--say they voted for Struiksma as acting mayor only after he clearly signaled that he would not use the post to run for mayor. But no sooner had he settled into the mayor's chair at the council dais than Struiksma was saying he had made no such promise and, in fact, was considering making the race. He acknowledged, however, that his council colleagues "could have thought" he had made such a promise because "running for office was not at the forefront of my agenda."

None of our quibbles with the actions of the candidates in the early days of the campaign goes to the heart of their qualifications to be mayor. But, after the events of the last two years, we think San Diegans are likely to put candor and being plain-spoken high on the checklist of attributes their next mayor should have.

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