July 8, 2005

Francis Wants Outreach to Hispanic Business … but Focus is on Pension Crises

By E.A. Barrera

Mayoral candidate Steve Francis said the next mayor must reach out to the Hispanic community in San Diego, bringing Hispanic-owned companies into the process of doing business with the city.

“We have the largest border crossing in the world. More than a quarter of all San Diego residents are Hispanic. I hate the term “quotas” and don’t want to guarantee future city contracts to Hispanic owned business, but of course we need to reach out to the Hispanic community and bring them into the process. That’s just common sense,” said Francis.

Steve Francis and Donna Frye at a recent debate.

Francis made his brief comments on how he would work with the city’s Latino community following a June 29 mayoral debate organized by the San Diego Retired Employees Association. Despite the more than 300,000 residents of San Diego with Latino backgrounds, the issues of Hispanic outreach, employment, rent and housing costs, education and the conditions of schools within the city’s neighborhoods have largely been ignored by the candidates in this special election to fill the vacancy created when current Mayor Dick Murphy quit his post last April.

In a half dozen debates during the past two weeks, the five primary contenders for the office of Mayor - Francis, Donna Frye, Jerry Sanders, Pat Shea and Richard Rider - have spoken extensively and repetitively about what they see as the causes of the city’s $2 billion pension meltdown and how they would fix the financial crises if elected. Francis has said the city needs a complete audit of its management practices and told the audience of retired city workers during Thursday’s debate that he would organize the Mayor’s office like a corporation - with himself as the chief executive officer and a city manager acting in the manner of a chief operating officer.

“They say that you can’t apply business practices to government. Well I disagree. What this city needs is someone who has true business experience - has never been part of this city’s government - to come in and shake things up,” said Francis. “We can challenge the status quo at city hall and save millions through cutting out those positions that are inefficient.”

A recent series of public opinion polls have put Francis third in the race behind 6th District City Councilwoman Frye and former SDPD Chief Sanders. A resident of the city for the past 18 years, Francis came to San Diego from Las Vegas, where he served as a Republican member of the Nevada legislature in the early 1980s. He and his wife Gayle moved to San Diego and organized AMN Healthcare - a travel nurse staffing service provider.

“That business now has nearly 7,000 employees nationwide, enjoyed revenues of $629 million in 2004 and is projected to see revenues over $650 million in 2005,” notes Francis on his campaign web page.

Francis has served on the board of Father Joe Carroll’s “Villages” for ten years as well as the board of directors for the San Diego YMCA. He has also been a sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and Children’s Hospital. Prior to entering politics, Francis sought a career in the hotel business. He earned a degree in Hotel Administration from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and worked for Cesar’s Palace before getting elected to the Nevada state Assembly while still in his twenties.

His claims to being an outsider to San Diego politics have often been challenged by his opponents. His campaign supporters include many old war-horses of the Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger efforts, including George Gorton, Craig Benedetto, Doug Manchester and Carolyn Dorsey. He has recently spent over half-a-million dollars in television ads and has reportedly loaned himself close to one million dollars in a race for a job that pays just over $100,000.

His campaign has produced a glossy, 28 page document - complete with beautiful pictures of San Diego’s harbor and beaches - to promote his plan for getting the city out of debt. The plan’s central premise is that local labor unions shook down the city council and Mayor - both Murphy as well as his predecessor Susan Golding - for pension benefits and retirement monies that were both “illegal” and “unpayable” and according to Francis, need to be renegotiated.

“If I were a city worker or a retired city employee, I would be outraged by what has happened,” said Francis during Thursday’s SDREA forum. “The labor unions asked for too much and the city gave them too much and now city workers are getting blamed for this mess. It is a cruel hoax on the city workers and everybody on the council is to blame.”

Francis opposes the city going into bankruptcy, calling that step “running away from our responsibilities” and has repeatedly declared that he will not raise taxes to solve the problem.

“Do you want a Federal bankruptcy judge to make the decisions about our financial condition or do you want newly elected officials? The question is who do the voters trust and the problem is the current culture at city hall. They have engaged in gross negligence,” said Francis. “We need to cut the politicians pay, perks and office budgets by 20 percent until we get out of this mess. I won’t take a salary until we get out of this financial crises. I’ll cut the Mayor’s staff as well, and I will never be a part of the City’s pension program.”

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