OP OneWorld: The First Husband?
By Chris Dixon
Skip Frye’s surfboard factory takes up a tiny slice of a nondescript industrial park on the eastern side of Interstate 5, not far from San Diego’s Mission Bay. In his jumbled, photo cluttered workspace, this 63-year-old born-again impersario turns out gleaming surfboards that a Union Tribune writer recently likened to Stradivarius violins. It seemes an unlikely spot for Stradivarius, and an even more unlikely spot for a man who may soon find himself the First Husband of one of the finest cities in the nation. First husband? Why yes. Though it may still be a week before final results are in, and even longer before lawsuits are settled, Skip’s wife Donna is poised to become the first “write-in” mayor of San Diego.
Last week, I had the good fortune to work on story for the New York Times on Donna’s mayoral candidacy. Part of the job was to head down to Skip’s shop and interview him. The short, ruddy-skinned Frye welcomed me in Converse hi-tops, a long sleeve t-shirt and flowered shorts. Adorning the walls, were rows of longboards that would make even the most militant shortboarder drool. And hanging taped to the wall of his shaping bay were two words: THANK GOD. Directly underneath them, a picture of Donna. Only a short quote from Skip appeared in the Times’ story, but he had a great deal to say. After he hung up the phone with the umpteenth call from the media, I asked him if his wife’s five-week write-in campaign had been a tough one. Here’s the rest of the story…
Skip Frye: It’s been difficult. There’s been a lot of labeling. I mean to begin with, we’re Democrats, so immediately you’re left-wing devil worshippers. You know what I mean? They don’t realize that there are some born-again Christians on the Democrat side. All this labeling, it’s way out of control. If you go back in terms of presidents, Jimmy Carter was born again, and he was a Democrat.
Chris Dixon. Being a born again Christian yourself, are you getting people in your church or religious community who are saying derogatory things?
SF: No, not really. But there is that side of it. I haven’t really been to church in about four weeks. I haven’t been able to get there because of one thing or another. We had a neighbor die right next door in the course of this election. It was kind of a surreal day, because the services were on election day — out on Point Loma. The reception afterwards was at the submarine base, which the last thing out before the tip of Point Loma. So we got out there to the end, and we didn’t have a sticker, and it was a military family — he was a Marine. So we got hung up at the top and had to sit there for a good half hour overlooking the panorama of San Diego on election day. I was really kind of digging on it. It was just kind of a time of peace and quiet, and plus, with a funeral, when you’re facing life and death, it always makes you focus on what’s real in life. It was a pristine day, crystal clear, and there was just the realization that my wife might be mayor of all that.
CD: So you were with Donna while you were sitting out there?
SF: Yeah, Donna, her mom and I. The guards were holding us up and her mom was ready to court-marshall ’em because we were already late. To me, it was just kind of neat sitting there, and I mentioned it to Donna, ‘God, you might be mayor of all that.’
To me, God orchestrates everything. He sets it all up, and whoever’s going to win, I believe he’s going to put in there for a purpose, whether it’s my wife, or Dick Murphy again.
CD: What did she say when you made the comment?
SF: Nothing, she was just trying to keep mom calm. (he laughs)
CD: Let’s back up to when she all the sudden decided to run. How much of a conversation did you have with her. Did you encourage it?
SF: I just kind of follow her lead, because I know she is a very intelligent person. It’s kind of amazing how when I first met her, how she’s grown into where she is now. She totally keeps amazing me with her intuition, her perception and her intellect. I kind of wonder, what am I doing here? (laughs again) You know, I’m just a simple surf guy. I don’t know, it’s like I mentioned on TV, it’s kind of a surreal scene for me. And then you know, another sidebar to this is that surfing still doesn’t get its due as far as its respect. In the old days, I could see that because it was a bunch of rough people, but now it’s doctors and lawyers and maybe (now he really laughs) even a mayor!
CD: Is it time for San Diego to have Donna as a mayor? I mean, several years ago, San Diego had Bilbray who put himself out there as the surfing congressman.
SF: Well, of course my wife had a huge battle with him as far as the clean water situation. I mean, his head came up out of the toilet in our surf shop. It was to get a point across more than anything. She uses humor quite a bit with her issues because things get so serious. Politics in general, we’ve just been through a big election and the presidential race, I think it turned a lot of people off. The whole he said, she said thing. You’ve got to be able to carry a positive line. Of course, you’ve got to respond to allegations, but eventually, that’s all it becomes. One thing I’ll say about the mayor in this whole thing, Murphy took the high line. I gained respect for him through this.
CD: Does he have much blame in the San Diego pension fund’s financial mess?
SF: Well, again, I’m just a simple surfer, but he’s steering the ship. He’s got to take some of the blame.
CD: The buck stops here.
SF: Yeah. It’s like when my wife stopped going into closed sessions and stuff. (note: in protest over what she said was unreasonable secrecy in city council, Donna boycotted meetings that she felt should have been open to the public) It was hard for her sometimes — 8 to 1 votes and people thinking she was just being negative, but she was really doing what she thought was best for the city and taxpayers and the people.
CD: What were some examples of 8-1 votes?
SF: Well, a lot of times, she hadn’t collected enough information to vote on an issue. A lot of times, they’d just feed you information a day before and expect you to vote on it. Today, going into city council for example, she went in with a stack of materials four feet thick. In my experience and just looking at it, I don’t think a lot of other city council members do that kind of homework. I think they’re just like, how are we supposed to vote? From the special interests or whatever. I know Donna drives ’em nuts down there because she’s always asking these questions and it just blows their cover, or it’s just like, oh man, they can’t slide it right through. Because if she doesn’t think it’s right then she stands up.
CD: That can’t always be easy for her.
SF: At times it’s been hard, because she and the mayor don’t stand eye to eye on a lot of issues and even fellow councilpeople. When you’ve got all that against you, sometimes the comments from colleagues are ugly. And she’s come home kind of distraught and discouraged. And a couple of times I’ve asked her, ‘are you sure you still want to do this?’ And she’s like, ‘oh yeah.’
CD: I was down interviewing some guys down at South Coast Surfboards earlier today and she sure seemed to have their respect. Does that make a difference in dealing with some of the negative she gets from the council?
SF: Oh yeah. The stoke of the people keeps her going. And it was never more evident than in this campaign. I mean, I’m surprised she didn’t win by more — just from the feedback we were getting. There was one old guy on the phonebank and he was calling 150 people a day all around the city. And he said that 80 percent of the people he talked to were like, yeah, yeah. Of course, you never know about that until you sign the line and vote.
CD: How hard was it to get Donna elected the first time for City Council?
SF: Each campaign got a little easier, but the first one it was like pulling eye teeth — trying to get people to know who she was. Of course, as you got close to the beach, a lot of people knew her for her environmental stances. That’s how she got stuck into the council thing in the first place — she got so well known for her environmental work, and she got things done. She got a clean water bill passed and water quality monitoring of all the main beach sites in California — especially the places that were seen as being polluted. She’s still getting a lot done. And it’s just amazing that here we are with her on the verge of being mayor.
CD: Do you think people underestimate her?