In her second try for the office that she narrowly lost to Roger Hedgecock in 1983, Maureen O'Connor has waged a campaign centered on her guiding tenet that City Hall has all but become the private province of moneyed special interests, particularly the development industry.
In the process, the former two-term San Diego city councilwoman argues, City Hall has become too remote, inaccessible and unresponsive to the average citizen.
"For too long, money has done the talking at City Hall," the 39-year-old O'Connor said. "If I'm elected, the special interests will be out and the community will be back in." O'Connor's campaign slogan is "Nobody's Mayor But Yours."
Reinforcing that theme, O'Connor has trumpeted her refusal to accept campaign contributions from developers as a means of ensuring that land-use decisions will be "based on the merits, not on who gave the most money to whom." She also has proposed that council members be disqualified from voting for one year on any development involving companies whose workers cumulatively donate more than $1,000 to them. To prevent communities from being "caught off guard" by proposed developments, O'Connor has suggested that amendments to community plans be reviewed only once per year.
In addition, O'Connor constantly reminds audiences that she adhered to a self-imposed $125,000 spending limit in the February primary and has pledged to spend less than $175,000 in the June 3 runoff--restrictions that she hails as "a bold experiment to end the craziness" of spiraling campaign costs and to make slick media campaigns subordinate to grass-roots politicking. Critics, however, characterize the spending limits as merely a tactical gambit by a politician who entered the race with strong name identification from the more than $780,000--including more than $560,000 of her own money--that she spent in 1983.
Regardless, O'Connor's strategy has proved to be a public relations coup in an election necessitated by Hedgecock's conviction on campaign-law violations. Councilman Uvaldo Martinez' indictment on charges stemming from alleged misuse of his city credit card also provide a perfect backdrop for O'Connor's oft-stated pledge to "restore honor and integrity to city government."
Seeking to stimulate increased public involvement in civic affairs, O'Connor also has promised to spend every other Saturday at City Hall meeting with individuals informally on a first-come, first-served basis, to visit neighborhoods throughout the city at least one day per month and to conduct more night council meetings.
"I want to do away with some of the mystique of City Hall," O'Connor said. "People should feel that they can walk in the front door like anybody else, that City Hall isn't just for the big special interests."
Even her opponent, Councilman Bill Cleator, confesses grudging admiration for O'Connor's choice of a campaign theme.
"A lot of people out there feel they've been cut out of the process and she's managed to tap into that feeling," Cleator said.
The overriding choice in the mayoral election, O'Connor contends, is one between "business as usual at City Hall and change."
"If you're happy with the way things have been going at City Hall and in the city, you should vote for Mr. Cleator," O'Connor said in Southeast San Diego. "If you want to see some changes, you should vote for Maureen O'Connor. . . . That will take us down a less predictable course. But change can be exciting. And the community will be in charge of City Hall, not the other way around."