Part One of a three part series: Setting the Scene
By Doug Porter
There’s a special election coming up in San Diego on March 26th to pick a City Council person to represent the residents of District 4. Ho-Hum. Expect low voter turnout. Nobody cares, right?
Somebody cares. Somebody cares enough to send out smear mailers from a shadowy group trying to discredit progressive candidate Myrtle Cole. It’s getting nasty out there.
Voters in the 4th District are getting mail from a group called ‘San Diego County Voters for Progress and Reform’. Last they were heard of was last fall when they funneled $25,000 from California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee of Los Angeles in support of the failed city council candidacy of Republican Ray Ellis.
The mailers have the City of San Diego official seal at the top of the page and on the front of envelope. In bold type with a bright red background they say “Urgent City Message to Residents… Open Immediately”.
Last October former San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Jess Durfee said Ellis’ campaign broke state and local campaign ordinances by allegedly conspiring with that same ‘independent political committee’ to create a video for cable television. At a press conference Durfee accused them of funneling funds from the Lincoln Club, the Building Industry Association, and others to support various local candidates, including Ray Ellis.
LMA Advertising & Marketing lists the ‘Progress and Reform’ group as a client on their web site. They also handled the ‘San Diegans for Reform” group, the ones who made the grainy TV attack ads going after Bob Filner in last fall’s Mayoral race.
The return address on the envelope is the same one used by various candidates like City Council member Kevin Falconer. It’s mostly likely the offices of C. April Boling, who’s hired by a lot of GOP candidates to work as their treasurer.
The Importance of this Race
Maybe you should care, even if you don’t live in the district. This ‘meaningless’ election could change the face of San Diego politics and community development for years to come. Will our city continue with the ‘same old, same old’ or is change for our neighborhoods in the wind? These questions aren’t quite as simple as it seems when you look closely at District 4.
San Diego City Council President Tony Young announced his resignation from that elected office just ten days after the November elections, telling the news media he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to “serve the residents of the region in a special way” as CEO of the local Red Cross. Since Young is resigning with more than a year left in office (his term was to end in 2014), the City Charter says a special election must be held.
There are contradictions within the district that are at play, and it’s not easy to tell who’s representing what interests, both economic and cultural. Neighborhoods that were no-mans lands just a few short years ago are now facing the consequences/benefits of major development. Hell, WalMart’s even a player. And whoever wins this Council seat will represent the tie-breaking vote on a governing body currently evenly divided between political parties.
Although there is a minimal chance of a Republican winning in a district where only 19% of the voters identify with the GOP, there are lots of flavors of candidates to choose from among the nine people vying for this seat. The winner of the Special Election must get 50% of the vote (doubtful) or face a run off with the next highest vote getter within 45 days.
The sleeping giant in D4 is the Latino community, making up 42% of the population. Nearly 25% are Asians and Blacks now constitute just under 20% of the inhabitants. For now, however, the power remains with the African-Americans, whose organizational roots run deep and wide in the area. Six of the nine candidates in this council race are Black. And the smart money says one of them will emerge victorious.
Hanging in the balance is the political agenda of our newly elected Mayor, who in just a few short weeks has served notice that business will not be conducted as usual in town. Because turnout is historically low in special elections, the chances of a ‘ringer’ for the downtown/developer crowd slipping through are high.
We’re hoping you’ll read through this overview of the candidates and do the right thing by voting on the last Tuesday in March. Today we’ll set the stage with a quick rundown of the political situation in District 4. Parts 2 & 3 of this series will introduce you to the candidates and try to provide more context.
A (Too) Quick District 4 History
District 4 encompasses the neighborhoods of Alta Vista, Broadway Heights, Chollas View, Emerald Hills, Encanto, Greater Skyline Hills, Jamacha, Lincoln Park, Lomita Village, North Bay Terrace, Oak Park, O’Farrell, Paradise Hills, Redwood Village, Ridgeview, Rolando Park, South Bay Terrace, Valencia Park and Webster.
African-Americans settling in San Diego started out in the Julian area during the 1860s and 70s, reportedly because the concentration of Southern whites was lower than in other parts of the county. The historic Julian Hotel was the fulfillment of the aspirations of former slave Albert Robinson and his wife, Margaret.
As the city grew around the turn of the century, black enclaves sprang up in the downtown area. Restrictive covenants in property deeds (starting in the 1880s) and a resurgence of Klu Klux Klan activity (1920s) limited settlement in other areas.
The great depression brought even more overt racism and segregationist policies to Southern California. By the 1930s the migration out of downtown was in full swing. Industrial development in southeast San Diego made surrounding neighborhoods less desirable for more affluent white families, creating a void for minority families to move in.
A Community Develops in South
east San Diego
Black churches eventually became the institutions of power in the community. The NAACP (great history here) and other civil rights groups fought important battles against specific manifestations of racism. But it was the power of ministers standing behind Leon Williams who got him appointed and then elected in 1969 as the first Black member of the San Diego City Council.
The forces of segregation and racism remained strong in the city well into the 20th century. George Stevens first ran for San Diego City Council in 1965. He lived in Clairemont at the time and had to suffer through the indignity (not to mention fear) of having a cross burned on his lawn. Stevens ended up representing District 4 from 1991 through 2002.
For four-plus decades District 4 has been the ‘Black’ seat on the City Council. Charles Lewis and then Tony Young have continued that tradition, with each successful candidate having served on his predecessor’s staff at one time or another. African-Americans have held on to power in the district even as their numbers have declined to minority status for the simple reason of the alliances and coalitions built by pastors in the community.
The increasing influence of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation also threatens to upset the district’s political equation. With their massive investments in the community and big tent organizing philosophy, they seem to be more interested in economic development than cultural heritage.
Although it is very unlikely this election will change the racial status of the D4 councilman, the handwriting is on the wall. Sooner or later these newcomers to the community are going to organize to point where they’ll want one of their own in office.
Dr. John Warren, publisher of the 53 year old Voice and Viewpoint, articulated this concern in an editorial earlier this year, saying “this traditionally Black seat could change colors.” He went on to call out the names of potential candidates “who merely want to put their names on a ballot because of reasons other than the best interest of the community should not be engaged in this race.”
Dr Warren added:
For the community the issue is one of separating those who you know and like from those who will be most qualified to represent the district. But what should not happen is a splitting of votes and support behind so many fractured candidates that representation is lost to a lesser candidate with fewer votes because of the community’s failure to come together.
None-the-less, four of the five names mentioned in the editorial jumped into the race.
Tomorrow: Meeting the Candidates