By Larry Remer
I first met Murray in 1976 when I wrote a story for San Diego Magazine about San Diego’s “connection” to newly elected Vice President Walter Mondale. Murray and Elaine were relatively fresh from Minnesota and I was instantly charmed by Murray’s grace, wit and generousity of spirit — not to mention his strong Democratic commitment.
We became warm friends and allies in the cause of changing San Digeo.
San Diego was a “Very Red” town in those days and Murray managed to navigate the intricacies of local politics. I teased him relentlessly about his appointment by Pete Wilson to the Police Practices Commssion. He was, after all, a federal prosecutor. But, he played a very progressive role in helping to prod what had been a Redneck police force into a modern, community sensitive outfit.
In 1977, when I started Newsline, Murray was there at the very beginning. Advice. Financial support. Contacts. Assistance. We talked almost constantly during some periods. The Union and Tribune (we had 2 horrible dailies; as bad as Papa Doug on any day). Murray, along with other leading Democrats like Si Casady, Harvey Furgatch and Larry Lawrence, helped make Newsline “the” Democratic voice. Alan Cranston came to town and Murray arranged for an in-depth Newsline interview; and over the years Cranston became a Newline regular. Tom Bradley, then the Mayor of LA running for Governor. Murray made sure we had access. Evonne Burke. I could go on.
Every year, Murray was a principal sponsor of our annual fundraiser; and a great source of news, gossip and insight for our insider “TidBits” column.
Never a headline seeker, Murray preferred being behind the scenes. And he played a pivotal role in the single most important event that helped transform San Diego from Red to Blue.
Despite demographic changes, political power in San Diego was firmly in Republican hands well into the late 1980s. The key mechanism for preventing the election of Democrats and community-based candidates was the “at large” election scheme that forced Council candidates to compete for nomination in their District and then win a “citywide” run-off, where the power of GOP money and the Copley Press would dominate.
Murray helped every single effort to win District Elections, including the successful 3rd attempt in 1998 that was spearheaded by John Hartley (soon to be a Councilmember) and the Sierra Club’s Ruth Deumler – with political consulting provided by myself and Tom Shepard.
You see, Murray and I had started a “Democratic Lunch Bunch” in 1987. By then, Murray was running San Diego National Bank, and every month we’d meet in his board room to hear a speaker or discuss contemporary local political events and what to do. Throughout 1987-88, District Elections dominated our agenda.
Thanks to Murray, we pulled off one of the best “political press stunts” I have been a part of. Our argument in favor of District Elections was that it would cripple the power of Big Money to dominate city politics. We said that it cost what was then the astronomical sum of $200,000 to win a Council office under city-wide elections; which community-based candidates would never match. And we called a press conference to demonstrate that fact.
The clincher: we said we would “demonstrate” this discrepancy with $200,000 IN CASH at a press conference at the City Council chambers. Murray, of course, thanks to San Diego National Bank, provided the cash.
At the appointed time, the press were primed and ready. The armored car pulled up in front of city hall. The guards got out, their guns drawn. While two stood guard, the other two took out a dolly and unloaded bags of cash. Cameras rolling, they rolled the dolly, flanked by the guards, into city hall and up the elevators. (There were no metal detectors or security in these pre-9/11 days).
In front of the Council Chambers, we’d set up our stage. Mark Zerbe from Common Cause and a large scale to represent each side of a typical Council Election. The guards arrived on the Council floor and Mark unzipped the bags of money and piled the cash on the side of the table labeled ‘Special Interests’. The scale tilted that way (of course); and the other side, labeled ‘The Community’ clearly could not compete.
We led the news on every local station.
Murray, who was invited to attend the press conference itself, demurred. But I can tell you that he immensely enjoyed the coverage and, when District Elections triumphed in a close election, the result.
Our Lunch Bunch continued through 1990, with Murray among those helping to push the election of a series of Democrats to the Council and decisively break the Republican majority.
In the 90s and 2000s, he truly enjoyed the blossoming of Democratic power here and nationally. I remember going to Larry Lawrence’s Swearing In as Ambassador to Switzerland in 1993 in Washington, DC where VP Al Gore performed the honors. Larry treated his San Diego friends to a couple of days of parties and receptions, which Murray impishly called “Larry’s Bar Mitzvah”.
In the years he spent in La Jolla, working with Sol Price and most recently with Jack McGrory, I felt that Murray seemed to take a different kind of delight in politics.
Always insightful, funny, and a little jaundiced, Murray was, of course chagrined by Bush Jr., but very optimistic about the promise of Obama. He either sensed or hoped that America, by electing a Black president, had turned an important corner.
His insight as sharp as ever, his humor on a razor edge, I spoke with him before this last election where he particularly relished the conundrum Romney’s 47% remark had created for the GOP nominee. “Obama’s going to win,” he promised me. “It’s going to be all right.”
In addition to all his Democratic candidates and causes, Murray was a staunch supporter of the myriad school bond measures (MM, S and Z) that we ran over the years for San Diego Schools. Like the Greek proverb, Murray believed that a society truly grows great when old men and women plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit.
Rest in Peace, Murray.
Larry Remer is a Democratic political consultant whose roots in San Diego go back to the days of the San Diego Door, an alternative newspaper. He is regularly denounced by UT-San Diego as an evil monster. This article was originally posted on Facebook and is reprinted by permission.