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San Diego mayor seeks to focus on ‘what God would want me to do’

SAN DIEGO (BP)–The mayor of one of the largest cities in one of the nation’s most liberal states is relying heavily on his faith in Christ.

“Basically, I see myself as an instrument for God and I try to do what God would want me to do in the office I hold,” said Richard Murphy, the evangelical mayor of California’s second-largest city and the nation’s seventh-largest city.

Three days before Super Bowl XXXVII, Murphy spoke candidly about his faith in Christ during a Baptist Press interview.

“I do rely on my faith in Christ” for leading the city, Murphy said. “I pray for guidance in everything I do. I believe it’s important to maintain a strong relationship with God.”

Murphy believes that faith and government can work together for the betterment of a community, noting that he fully supports President Bush’s faith-based programs. Murphy also supports the president’s outspokenness on issues involving faith.

“President Bush has commented a number of times about how he relies on his faith in God to make decisions, and I think it is entirely appropriate for a politician to share about his faith in the public arena,” Murphy said.

His colleagues at city hall apparently agree. Murphy said San Diego’s city council members respect his position on faith. And in the ever-partisan world of politics, Murphy broke through the barrier by finding a common faith-based denominator: One of Murphy’s closest allies is George Stevens, who recently left office as deputy mayor — the post to which Murphy, a Republican, named Stevens, a Democrat, forging a political and spiritual friendship on the council.

“George was most outspoken about his faith in God,” Murphy said, noting that Stevens also is a Baptist minister. “In many ways, faith-wise, I operated in his shadow. He often spoke of his faith at council meetings.”

Murphy said he and Stevens “had a faith-centered existence. Our position was, if you see all people as the children of God, then we are all brothers and sisters and I look to George as my brother.”

So how does an evangelical Christian wind up mayor of a major city in a liberal part of the country?

“I think it has to do with the fact that San Diego is a nonpartisan ticket,” Murphy said. “Your party affiliation does not show up on the ballot. City elections are nonpartisan. Quite frankly, potholes are not Republican or Democratic issues.”

As for the council, Murphy said the members line up along traditional conservative, moderate and liberal lines. However, Murphy has built a coalition in spite of the divisions.

“Issue by issue, George and I had more in common with each other than we did not have in common,” Murphy said. “Interestingly enough, we both endorsed the same candidate for the state legislature.”

Congress should consider working toward the same common ground, Murphy said.

“We need less partisanship in Congress and less partisanship in the state legislature. People need to be free to vote their conscience and not necessarily party line.”

San Diego is a diverse city. The population falls into four major categories — 50 percent white, 25 percent Latino, 13 percent Asian and 7 percent black. Murphy said he believes that race relations in his city are “pretty good.”

“Again, I believe faith plays an important role in race relations,” Murphy said. “I think that faith-based people are much more likely to embrace diversity and ethnicity because they understand God loves everybody.

“I wouldn’t say that all vestiges of racism have been eliminated,” he said. “We’re a city that is a city of immigrants. We are a mini melting pot of America right here. People here if not embrace diversity, have no objection to it.”

Murphy has seen several opportunities during his political career to promote Christian values.

In 2002 Murphy served as chairman of National Bible Week and encouraged mayors across the nation to proclaim Bible Week in their municipalities.

As a candidate for mayor, Murphy took a bold stand in support of family values by supporting Proposition 22, an initiative that would have denoted marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“I support Proposition 22, the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California,” Murphy said at the time. “I oppose same-sex marriage.”

“The traditional American family has eroded enough in American society,” Murphy said. “We should do nothing further to undermine that institution. I see no reason to sacrifice years of Judeo-Christian heritage on the altar of political expediency and correctness.”

Murphy’s road to the mayor’s office started in the judiciary. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Harvard University and Stanford University Law School, he served as a Superior Court judge prior to taking office.

Murphy served as an officer in the U.S. Army, as the San Diego marketing director for Bank of America and as an attorney at the law firm of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps. In 1985, he was appointed Municipal Court judge by Gov. George Deukmejian. In 1989, the governor elevated him to Superior Court judge where he presided over hundreds of complex criminal and civil trials.

Murphy and his wife, Jan, have lived in San Diego more than 30 years and have raised three children here, Brian, Shannon and Kelly. In his spare time he coaches youth soccer, softball, baseball and basketball teams. The Murphys are active members of San Carlos United Methodist Church.

As for the outcome of Super Bowl XXXVII, Murphy believes in playing it politically safe.

“I’m the mayor of the host city and it calls for diplomacy,” he said, noting that the Oakland Raiders are fierce rivals of the San Diego Chargers. That said, Murphy said he was pinned down on the issue during a news conference.

“I hoped that Tennessee and Tampa Bay would be in the Super Bowl,” he said. “I thought it would bring to town a lot of people who would spend the week and have a good time. I was mildly disappointed that Tennessee didn’t make it.”

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes