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California and the West | ELECTIONS / SAN DIEGO MAYOR

Political Focus on Cleric, Football--the Whole 9 Yards

Concerns over Chargers' contract and a monsignor's denunciation of one candidate add spice to the usual campaign mix of traffic, growth and fiscal issues.


SAN DIEGO — After a high-spending campaign that seems to have sparked limited public interest, voters Tuesday will choose two finalists for mayor, a job that carries few powers but great expectations.

Polls and political maneuvering suggest that the two top contenders are Peter Q. Davis, a wealthy banker and former redevelopment agency board chairman, and county Supervisor Ron Roberts.

Councilwoman Barbara Warden and Superior Court Judge Dick Murphy are given the best chances of nudging aside one of the front-runners to grab a spot for the November runoff.

Further back are Councilmen Byron Wear and George Stevens, followed by six other candidates, all hoping to succeed Mayor Susan Golding, who is blocked by city law from seeking a third term.

For the most part, the campaign has dealt with the familiar San Diego issues of growth, fiscal prudence, traffic, beach beautification and potholes. But football has also been in the air.

Davis, Roberts and Murphy have used television commercials to pound the City Council for cutting a deal with the Chargers, under which the city agreed to reimburse the franchise for unsold tickets in exchange for the team's promise to remain in San Diego.

The deal may have seemed like a good idea when the Chargers were winning most of their games and drawing capacity crowds. But in the last two seasons, the team's fortunes and attendance have declined, forcing the city to pay out more than $6 million last year.

Davis and Murphy complain that the money used for the ticket guarantee could be spent on libraries or neighborhood improvements. Roberts warns that the Chargers' contract with the city is so loosely written that it could allow the team to flee San Diego for Los Angeles or another city that has no National Football League franchise.

In the final days of the campaign, the Chargers showed their gratitude to Warden for defending the team's contract with the city by plunking $10,000 into an independent campaign on her behalf. Such independent efforts are not governed by the city law limiting individual contributions to candidates to $250 and banning corporate and group contributions.

A poll released last week by the local NBC affiliate and the San Diego Union-Tribune showed about 45% of voters still undecided, even though more money has been spent on television advertising and other campaigning than in any other primary election in local history.

Davis has spent a record $1.2 million of his own money on a television advertising barrage that began in October. The ads have presented him as a take-charge chief executive officer who helped rescue the city's downtrodden downtown.

Roberts, a former City Council member and failed mayoral candidate in 1992, has spent about $700,000 in contributions. Of the top six candidates, five are Republicans; Stevens is a Democrat.

The heaviest of the city's heavy political hitters have yet to express preferences among the candidates. Golding, former Gov. Pete Wilson, former Mayor Maureen O'Connor and the Union-Tribune editorial board have remained neutral.

Roberts received an endorsement from baseball great Ted Williams. Former Gov. George Deukmejian sided with Murphy.

It was an eleventh-hour announcement of opposition, not support, that could have the most impact on local voters.

Catholic Msgr. Joseph Carroll said that if Davis is elected mayor, he will retire as president of the St. Vincent de Paul Village, the city's main provider of shelter, food, medical care and other services for San Diego's growing homeless and working-poor population.

Carroll, a popular figure in town whose endorsements are coveted by politicians, said Davis, as chairman of the city's redevelopment agency, has fought for nearly a decade to block the monsignor's efforts to expand his program.

Carroll said Davis seemed to take an instant dislike to him and his program without ever visiting the 900-bed shelter, which has been praised by officials in several presidential administrations as a model in private-public partnerships.

The 59-year-old Carroll said his health "could not sustain eight more years of intense battle with Peter Q. Davis." He endorsed Wear.

The hard feelings between Carroll and Davis spring from Davis' support for neighboring residents who complained that Carroll's programs were attracting drunks, drug users and other undesirable people.

Davis said Carroll has shown that he has a "chip on his shoulder" when asked to help control the "street toughs" around St. Vincent's.

"Father Joe has a feeling that it's his way or no way," Davis said.

Other candidates hoped that the Carroll controversy might work to their advantage.

"Elect me so that Father Joe won't quit," Murphy said at a televised forum.

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