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O'Connor Won't Seek Reelection : Politics: In a surprising State of the City address, the San Diego mayor says she will instead work for City Hall reform.

January 09, 1990|ARMANDO ACUNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In a surprise announcement during her annual State of the City speech Monday night, San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor said she will not seek reelection when her term expires in 1992.

O'Connor, who at age 25 was the youngest City Council member ever elected in San Diego and now is its first woman mayor, said she will not seek another term, so she can push for 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 include 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 powerful 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 the small town of her youth 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. A Democrat in a city long dominated by Republicans, O'Connor did not rule out a future in the Legislature or Congress, although she said she now has no plans to run for higher office.

Almost as soon as O'Connor made her announcement, speculation began as to who might try to succeed her and whether her lame-duck status might hurt more than help her as she lobbies for her reforms.

Several names surfaced immediately, including those of Councilmen Bob Filner and Ron Roberts. Filner, who criticized the mayor's State of the City address as having a "lack of substance to solve the real issues of the city," said he is only interested in what is happening at City Hall in 1990. He said he had no forewarning about the mayor's decision.

Roberts said that the mayor had told him she was thinking about not running for some time and that her announcement Monday night was not a surprise to him. But he said his first political priority is being reelected to the council in 1991.

Others praised the mayor for bowing out of office for the purpose of pushing change at City Hall.

Lawyer Miles Harvey, who has served as a volunteer on various City Council-appointed boards, most recently the sewer system task force, called her decision "a wise one."

"I think it's a sincere statement," he said.

Lee Grissom, head of the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, a group that has seen its access to the mayoral suite at City Hall shrink since O'Connor took over, said that "the logic behind the decision is very sound. . . . She's right, if she stayed it would appear to be self-serving."

The mayor's speech differed markedly from her past State of the City addresses. For one thing, it was the first time O'Connor had delivered the annual address at City Hall. In past years, she has used outside facilities such as the Old Globe Theatre and the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater as symbols for her vision. Two years ago, she proclaimed the "Year of the Arts," followed last year by the "Year of the Child."

Before making her startling announcement not to seek reelection, O'Connor outlined a package of reforms to combat what she described as a creeping "fatigue" settling on local government. In some respects, the speech was vintage Maureen O'Connor.

In keeping with her image as a populist and maverick, the mayor bashed the politicians in Sacramento and Washington, where she has more than once been greeted as an arrogant outsider.

"We have all tried to communicate . . . to our governments in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., in several ways and on several occasions. Little or nothing worked, because little or nothing works in our capitols anymore," she said. "Our own political houses of government, at the state and national level, are near paralysis. Our governments are increasingly unresponsive to the people's needs. Our bureaucracies and statehouses have become monuments to fatigue, where the 1980s answer to everything domestic is, 'You can't.' "

In an effort to combat this view of government, O'Connor offered her reform package, which she said she wants San Diego voters to respond to in May in a special mail ballot.

The package includes all the suggestions made by the city's charter review committee, which last year's City Council substantially rejected despite a promise to put all the measures recommended by the committee to a vote.

Among those recommendations are:

- Giving the mayor veto power.

- Increasing the number of council districts from eight to 10.

- Requiring voter approval before the city can sell or exchange more than 80 acres.

- Restricting commercial development at Mission Bay Park.

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