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Decision '92 : SPECIAL VOTERS' GUIDE TO STATE AND LOCAL ELECTIONS : THE LOCAL CONTESTS : Change and Experience Are S.D. Mayor's Race Issues : City Hall: Rivals Peter Navarro and Susan Golding differ mainly in style and background.

October 25, 1992|BARRY M. HORSTMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a turbulent political season in which roiling voter disillusionment has fused with a fervent yearning for change, San Diego mayoral candidates Peter Navarro and Susan Golding offer voters choices that capture many of the overarching themes of Campaign '92.

Insider against outsider, change versus experience, "Year of the Woman"--dynamics that have dominated politics from the national to the local level this year--all can be found in the Nov. 3 contest to determine who will succeed Maureen O'Connor in the 11th-floor mayoral suite at City Hall.

Using the forthcoming change in the mayor's office as a platform for a debate over San Diego's future, Golding and Navarro, differing more in tone than substance, have blended candid, often grim assessments of the city's current problems with sanguine visions of its place in 21st-Century America.

"I believe San Diego can be a model for the country and the world, a symbol of what the term 'livable city' means in the next century," Golding says in her standard stump speech. "I want to work with you to create a city . . . which is really a vibrant collection of urban villages, each (with) its own unique character that creates building blocks for our city."

Navarro, meanwhile, delights in quoting a most unlikely source--baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige--in framing the election in more urgent terms.

"Satchel Paige said, 'If we don't change our direction, we're going to wind up where we're headed,' " Navarro tells campaign audiences. "And where we're headed in this city is toward an economy in shambles, toward city streets plagued by the worst kind of violent crime. . . We can still turn things around and give this city a very bright future. But the time to change directions is now, in this election."

With San Diego mired in a protracted economic slump not expected to ease until at least mid-1993, both candidates have offered ambitious recovery programs--among them, Navarro's "30-Day Economic Action Plan," Golding's inner-city "Marshall Plan" and similar proposals for expanding high-technology research and production.

The dominance of economic issues has posed a particular challenge for Navarro, who rose to political prominence by advocating managed-growth ballot initiatives widely criticized as constraints on economic expansion--a charge that he vehemently disputes as a development industry distortion. Still, though he now bills himself as the "jobs candidate" in the race, Golding argues that "jobs terminator" would be a more appropriate political moniker.

Golding herself faces a similar hurdle: persuading voters that she can create a "business-friendly city" without deleterious impacts on the environment and average taxpayers. Raising questions about Golding's ability to maintain that balance, Navarro charges that she would be "in the pocket of developers" after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from development-related interests.

Although the two differ on a handful of high-profile issues, the campaign has seen Navarro and Golding offer largely overlapping promises of robust economic growth, safer streets, a cleaner environment and a more responsive city government--leaving their differing backgrounds and styles as the most salient defining distinctions in the race. Jim Turner, a retired engineer, also is running as a write-in in the mayoral contest.

Recognizing his non-incumbency as the highest card in his political hand in a year marked by escalating public antipathy toward officeholders, Navarro, a business professor, repeatedly characterizes himself as "an agent of change" at campaign forums.

"I'm going to be a tough S.O.B. when I get in there and I'm going to shake things up," Navarro told one group.

And, though Golding, a two-term county supervisor, goes to lengths to emphasize that she is not a city official, Navarro--often blurring the lines dividing city and county authority--has sought to tar her with all of the region's economic and other woes.

"How many of you think that local political officials exerted leadership over the past eight years?" Navarro asks rhetorically at debates, a question that produces few uplifted hands in most audiences.

"How many of you think our local political leadership over the past eight years has adequately managed our growth and protected our environment? How many think you're safer in your home today than you were eight years ago. How many think that your environment's cleaner, that your job's more secure? If you can't answer yes to even one of those questions, my advice is to help me work with you to change direction."

Beyond defending her record as one of "quickly recognizing and moving to solve" myriad county problems ranging from crime to growth management, Golding also has relentlessly chipped away at Navarro's appeal as a political outsider.

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