- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 20, 2004

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The election count for mayor of the nation’s seventh-largest city ended Friday with incumbent Dick Murphy leading by 2,205 votes, but a court challenge could keep alive the write-in candidacy of a maverick city councilwoman and surf-shop owner.

A Superior Court judge will be asked to consider whether to count ballots on which voters wrote council member Donna Frye’s name but failed to fill in an adjoining bubble. The county registrar of voters has said California’s election code prohibits tallying such ballots.

Seventeen days after the election, Mr. Murphy has 157,459 votes to 155,254 write-ins verified for Miss Frye, according to the registrar. Ron Roberts, a San Diego County supervisor, had 141,505 votes.

Mr. Murphy declared victory on Friday night before cheering supporters. He said he doubted that legal action would change the resultsadding, “Even if the courts got involved and ruled the other way, we won the mayoral election.”

Miss Frye, however, did not concede. Campaign lawyer Marco Gonzalez said Mr. Murphy was acting prematurely.

“I think it’s an embarrassment that a former Superior Court judge would claim victory when he knows full well that thousands of San Diegans who voted for Donna Frye have yet to have their votes counted,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the League of Women Voters of San Diego asks that all ballots be counted. The suit said “thousands” of voters wrote in Miss Frye’s name but neglected to fill the optical-scan bubble.

Voter Registrar Sally McPherson said Friday she did not know how many ballots had a blank bubble with Miss Frye’s name written in.

Retired Judge Charles Jones had been scheduled to hear the lawsuit tomorrow, but on Friday, another judge granted Mr. Murphy’s request to remove Judge Jones from the case. Bob Ottilie, an lawyer for Mr. Murphy’s campaign, declined to explain why.

The decision made it unclear when the lawsuit would be heard. All 124 judges on the San Diego Superior Court bench were recused from the case on Thursday.

The campaign was a dreary rematch of a 2000 contest between Mr. Murphy and Mr. Roberts, both Republicans, until Democrat Miss Frye jumped in less than five weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Miss Frye, 52, promised to breathe some “aloha spirit” into City Hall and end a culture of backroom deals as the seaside city of 1.3 million people plunged into one of its worst financial scandals ever.

Voter disgust helped Miss Frye, who was the lone dissenter in a 2002 City Council vote to enhance retirement benefits for city employees. That vote — one that Mr. Murphy, 61, later said he regretted — further weakened the city’s underfunded pension plan and drew sharp criticism in a city-commissioned investigation into whether the city hid bad news about its finances.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department are investigating the city’s financial practices.

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