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Carol Lam

The no-nonsense ladies of the Wednesday Club meet for lunch and learning at their own clubhouse near Balboa Park - a narrow one-block street off Fifth Avenue that, for 92 years, has defied vehicular traffic.

On the day I visited them recently, like most citizens, they sought answers about what has been going on at City Hall. They wondered who has messed up, where it had all gone wrong.

Our conversation quickly came around to the little known role of a diminutive San Diego woman in her forties, Carol Lam. She became United States attorney for this district three years ago and issued a blunt warning that she intended to prosecute white-collar crime. A lot of civic embarrassment could have been spared if City Hall had been listening to Carol Lam then when she said, "There are cretain types of cases that if the U.S. Attorney's Office doesn't step in, they won't get prosecuted.

Carol is a gentle-voiced Chinese-American mother of four and a Stanford graduate. She has played violin with the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra. But 15 months ago she led a posse of federal agents into City Hall, seizing computers and files in the offices of mayors and councilmen as evidence in subsequent corruption charges against three city councilmen. Her wiretaps had been in place at City Hall for more than a year, listening in on our mayor and city council.

Like most good federal attorneys, Carol Lam remains discreetly out of public view and usually seeks to avoid the news. But we need to know about her, to remind ourselves that our civic embarrassments are being caused by those whom we have elected or appointed to public office.

They are the result of human frailties, of the old alibi that everybody's doing it, that probably, in politics, we can get away with it too. This mess is "just politics", people still tell me. But that's a cop-out. We've had politics in this city for more than a century without a mess like this. This is not just politics. It's a blight on a beautiful city. The laws have been her all along.

We are dealing with the future of a region that we have come to love, but is making a public fool of itself. Carol Lam is charged with seeking to enforce these laws, or bringing lawbreakers to trial. And now a new city attorney, Mike Aguirre, is also making forceful inroads against city hall corruption.

Lam and Aguirre carry the trust of our forefathers, who founded an America in which they meant to escape such corruption and to provide equal opportunity for all. In San Diego, our trust of government is at stake.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.