updated 7/20/2005 6:22:57 AM ET 2005-07-20T10:22:57

For about one-fourth of residents in this city of 1.3 million, there’s no one to call about that nasty pothole or unsightly graffiti.

There are now only six occupied City Council seats, down from nine last week. And don’t complain to the mayor — he resigned. His replacement? Well, nobody is quite sure.

Leaders in the nation’s seventh-largest city are hard to find — literally — following a stunning 72-hour chain of events that left many wondering why City Hall was caught so unprepared.

Mayor Dick Murphy left office Friday in the face of deepening turmoil at City Hall. His replacement, Michael Zucchet, was convicted of fraud and other charges Monday and he resigned the next day. Fellow councilman Ralph Inzunza was found guilty of the same charges and plans to resign, his attorney said.

'Everyone is stunned'
Members of the City Council are vanishing so quickly that the odds of getting anything done are shrinking. Five votes are needed to pass legislation.

“Everyone is stunned,” said Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach Main Street Association, a business group in Zucchet’s district.

Zucchet, 35, fought back tears Tuesday as he explained that he was leaving a job he loved because he felt it was the best thing for his district.

“It pains me greatly that some people will infer that I am somehow giving up or making an admission of some kind. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

The council appears to have been operating on the assumption Zucchet would be acquitted. Two weeks before the verdict, at least two council members said they had not considered the potential fallout from Zucchet’s conviction. Councilman Jim Madaffer said at the time he believed Zucchet would be found not guilty.

City Attorney Michael Aguirre said he asked Zucchet to consider such a worst-case scenario, but the councilman rebuffed the request to vote on his backup, saying more time was needed to notify the public.

Unprepared
Carl Luna, professor of political science at San Diego’s Mesa College, said the lack of a Plan B shows the council doesn’t have its act together and deals with tough problems by hoping they go away.

“They had a 50-50 shot that it was going to go either way so they should have been prepared,” Luna said. “Unfortunately, they are way out of their league.”

A federal jury convicted Zucchet and Inzunza on Monday of taking payments from a strip club owner who wanted to lift the city’s “no-touch” rule that prevents dancers and patrons from touching in nude clubs. They will be sentenced in November.

The six remaining council members picked Councilwoman Toni Atkins to perform the mayor’s duties. On Tuesday, Aguirre said Atkins would remain mayor pro tem until next week, when the council reconsiders an interim replacement. A July 26 mayoral election is expected to require a Nov. 8 runoff between the top two finishers.

The city still has plenty on its plate. Among other things, the city manager is leaving after less than two years on the job and the U.S. Attorney’s office is continuing its investigation of the city’s deficit-ridden pension fund.

Much of former Mayor Murphy’s staff was at work Tuesday — even though the boss is gone. The remaining council members promised to pick up the slack for voters who no longer have a representative.

Getting to a person in charge has not been an easy task, as researchers for the RAND Corp. found out earlier this month.

They’d been commissioned to do a $150,000 report on a voter-approved measure to transfer power from the city manager to the mayor.

When the researchers tried to interview then-Mayor Murphy, he was unavailable. And when the report was done, researchers didn’t even bother to contract Murphy, then in his final days.

“By that time it was clear to us that he wasn’t engaged,” said Kevin McCarthy, co-author of the report.

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