Dick Murphy announces San Diego mayor candidacy at Mission Trails

Soccer parents show up

— On the day Judge Dick Murphy officially announced his candidacy for mayor of San Diego, a lazy Santa Ana wind meandered through Mission Gorge. In the main parking lot at Mission Trails Regional Park, a volunteer wearing a bright orange safety vest directed traffic. Bunches of green and white balloons tied to parking bollards and light posts marched up the hill toward the Visitors Center amphitheater. Outside the amphitheater's entrance, middle-aged ladies in green slacks and white shirts sat behind a table. They signed people in, distributed visors and water bottles, and passed out "Murphy for Mayor" campaign buttons. "It's going to be a hot one," one of the ladies laughed, her forehead glowing with sweat.

As the sun rose higher, the amphitheater's brown cement rows filled with almost 200 Murphy supporters. Handheld placards reading, "Point Loma for Murphy" and "Alvarado Estates for Murphy" and "Scripps Ranch for Murphy" bobbed above the crowd. In the chaparral growing right up to the theater's edge, insects hummed, and each warm breeze bore a breath of manzanita and rosemary and sage.

To the right of the stage, Murphy chatted with campaign staffers, friends, and family members. Dressed in camel-colored slacks, a navy blazer, light blue shirt, and dark patterned tie, Murphy inclined his head to be heard over the Patrick Henry High pep band playing onstage. As the band wound up a percussion- and brass-heavy rendition of Santana's "Oye Como Va," the band members began to chant, "Dick Murphy for mayor." The crowd clapped along while the band marched off.

As the sound of drums faded, Murphy and his family moved out of the shadows and sat on folding chairs set up center stage. Good-looking in an upper-middle-class Southern California way, Murphy's one son and two daughters, all 20-something, gazed out at the crowd from behind dark glasses. Murphy's wife Jan looked like a soccer mom emeritus in blue-and-white checkered shorts, a white T-shirt, and a dark blue vest with gold buttons.

Si Coleman, a longtime Murphy friend and recent campaign volunteer, approached the microphone. "On behalf of the Murphy for Mayor Committee, I'd like to welcome you," Coleman began. "With your help, we'll take Dick Murphy from these rustic surroundings," Coleman gestured toward Mission Gorge's dramatic scarps behind him, "to the upper echelons and awesome responsibility of the mayor of San Diego."

The crowd applauded. Coleman introduced the men's choir from Murphy's church, San Carlos United Methodist. About a dozen older men sitting in the front row stood and walked to the stage. Accompanied by a woman playing a portable electronic piano, the King's Men sang "America the Beautiful." When they'd finished and the applause had died down, one of the men stepped forward. "We're here today to boost our fellow church member, Dick Murphy. For the occasion, we've written some special words to a tune you might recognize. See if you can figure it out." After a downbeat, the choir broke into "Hey, Look Him Over," sung to the tune of "Hey, Look Me Over." Murphy chuckled at the lyrics.

When the choir had retaken their seats, Si Coleman introduced Clair Burgener and city councilmember Judy McCarty, the two honorary cochairs of the Murphy for Mayor Committee. Burgener, a longtime San Diego politician, waved from his folding chair behind Murphy. Judy McCarty stepped to the microphone. Dressed in a softly tailored light-green suit, McCarty glanced at her notes. "It's so clear here today," she began. "Clear like Dick's vision for San Diego." McCarty, who was elected to the city council seat Murphy vacated when he became a judge in 1985, listed some of Murphy's political accomplishments and focused on Murphy's involvement in the establishment of Mission Trails Regional Park. "We don't need to enact more laws," McCarty concluded. "We need to elect people of integrity and honesty like Dick Murphy."

The crowd applauded again. Si Coleman replaced McCarty at the microphone. "For those of you who don't know me, I used to be a political activist," Coleman said. "But during the last seven or eight years, I've become a cynic. I've seen too many politicians who made promises. Then once they got into office, they forgot all about their promises and could only focus on getting reelected. When was the last time you voted for someone you truly esteemed, not someone you considered the lesser of two evils?" Coleman ran through Murphy's qualifications: undergrad at University of Illinois, a master's from Harvard Business School, law degree from Stanford, attorney in private practice, San Diego City Councilman, Municipal and Superior Court judge. "It's my pleasure to introduce to you the next mayor of San Diego, Dick Murphy."

Murphy rose from his seat. The crowd rose with him. He let the standing ovation go on for a minute. "After that speech," he looked at Coleman, "I should just sit down." Laughter rippled through the theater.

Murphy thanked his campaign volunteers. He thanked the politicians and judges who'd come out to support him. He introduced his family then launched into his campaign speech. The speech, with a few minor variations, closely resembled a speech Murphy had given several weeks earlier at a small, private fundraiser. He talked about his plans to deal with traffic, city investment in neighborhoods, and crime. At the speech's conclusion, Murphy said, "My vision for San Diego in 2020 is a San Diego for San Diegans. Where the freeways aren't parking lots, we have neighborhoods we can be proud of, and we can say we live in America's safest city. With your help and God's help, we can do that."

The crowd rose again. Speaking later on the phone, Murphy explained the campaign kickoff's purpose. "The first purpose is to define the essence of the candidacy, to explain why you're running," Murphy said. "Secondly, it's an event that volunteers can attend. Many of the people who do data entry at campaign headquarters or stuff envelopes either can't afford or choose not to come to expensive fundraisers."

According to Murphy, his primary source for volunteers was a list of friends he'd accumulated over the years. "There are the people I met when I was on the city council," he said. "Maybe I fixed a pothole on their street, so they remember me. I also coached 20 sports teams when my kids were growing up. So I've got the parents of 300 kids to call on. My wife was very involved in school activities, Grad Night and PTA types of functions. She's got a whole circle of contacts.

"I also belong to a church with 1000 members," Murphy continued. "One Sunday, the minister of our church had a public blessing of the campaign at each of the services. He called Jan and me up to the front and said, 'I'd like to let you know that our good friend Dick Murphy is running for mayor.' Then he said a prayer asking for an honest and good campaign. We followed up with a letter to all the members of the congregation from the lay leaders of the church asking for support. At least 100 members have signed up as volunteers."

Murphy estimates the campaign has about 1000 volunteers. "That's if you add up everybody who says they'll do something. It could be putting a sign up in their yard or hosting a coffee in their home or sending postcards to ten friends urging them to support me or making telephone calls at the campaign headquarters."

Back at the amphitheater, Glenn Erath, a local radio personality, closed the kickoff with some song parodies. When Erath had finished, the crowd broke up and headed toward the Visitors Center. Murphy moved into the shade and was surrounded by volunteers and reporters. A Channel 8 news camera circled the candidate for a better angle.

Inside the Visitors Center, a multipurpose room had been set up for the kickoff reception. Plates of homemade cookies sat arrayed on folding tables alongside a giant container of lemonade. Volunteers hovered around the tables chatting. "Try these," one man said to his friend. "Sandy made them. They're called World's Best Cookies. A pound of butter."

Outside on the walkway leading to the parking lot, an older woman paused in the now-oppressive heat. "We've known Dick for 20 years," she said. "He coached our granddaughter's soccer team. Our Stephanie was good friends with Dick's daughter Shannon. We've just gotten involved with the campaign." She leaned a little closer. "Dick's the only real candidate. The rest can ppffffttt," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

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