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San Diego Mayor to Step Aside : Politics: Maureen O'Connor, the city's first woman mayor, says, 'I came in as a maverick and I will go out as a maverick' in 1992. She plans to lobby for campaign and ethical reforms.

January 09, 1990|ARMANDO ACUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In a surprise announcement, Mayor Maureen O'Connor said Monday night she will not seek reelection when her term expires in 1992.

O'Connor, who at age 25 in the mid-'70s was the youngest council member ever elected in the city and who later became its first woman mayor, said she will not seek another term and instead will devote her time to pushing for a series of fundamental campaign and ethical reforms at City Hall.

"I think the citizens should know I won't be personally benefiting" from any of the proposed changes, which includes strengthening the office of mayor in the nation's sixth-largest city, the 43-year-old mayor told reporters.

"I came in as a maverick and I will go out as a maverick," said O'Connor, who has established a reputation of opening City Hall to the common citizen while at the same time keeping the city's business establishment and residential developers, two traditionally powerful interests, at arm's length.

In the process, however, O'Connor has been criticized for running a city with complex urban problems as though it were a small town and for spending inordinate time and energy on specific pet projects, such as the recent Soviet Arts Festival, while ignoring other pressing problems.

As for what O'Connor will do when her term expires, the mayor said she does not know, saying only that she will stay involved in community affairs.

The mayor, a Democrat in a city long dominated by Republicans, did not rule out a possible future in the Legislature or Congress, though she said she has no current plans to run for higher office.

O'Connor's climb up the political ladder began in 1971 when, as a gym teacher at a Catholic school, she went to City Hall to complain about the treatment a troupe of Mexican-Indian performers had received during a city celebration. She got the runaround and angrily vowed to seek a seat on the City Council.

Armed with a borrowed library book on political campaigning, the long-shot jumped into the race, relying in part on "the Maureen Corps," a large group of student volunteers. She won, and stayed for eight years, in time becoming part of then-Mayor Pete Wilson's inner circle, despite Wilson's Republican Party allegiance.

After leaving the council, O'Connor remained active on various boards and commissions. But before giving up her seat, she married Robert O. Peterson, the millionaire founder of the Jack in the Box restaurant chain and a man 30 years her senior.

In 1983, she lost a bitter race for mayor against Roger Hedgecock, who was later convicted of felony campaign disclosure violations. When Hedgecock was forced to resign in 1986, O'Connor ran again and was overwhelmingly elected to complete his term.

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