By Doug Porter
One month ago City Councilwoman Marti Emerald made the surprising announcement via Facebook that she would not be running for re-election.
Emerald, who was considered a shoo-in for another term in District 9, endorsed her chief of staff Ricardo Flores as the ‘perfect candidate’ for 2016 at a press conference. A half dozen or so people think otherwise, as two additional candidates have already declared campaigns and numerous others have expressed an interest.
Today we’ll take an early look at how the race to replace her is shaping up in an overwhelmingly Democratic council district. I can just about guarantee this contest will be one of the more interesting and unusual in recent San Diego history. And remember, it’s early! The primary isn’t for another year.
Background: A Change of Purpose
Marti Emerald was a popular television journalist in San Diego for several decades and well known for her reporting on consumer issues. In 2008 she was elected to the City Council as the representative for District 7. Redistricting moved her into District 9 in 2012 and made her eligible to run for a third term.
She’s been one of the more consistently liberal voices on the City Council, wielding a great deal of power by virtue of her position as chair of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.
District 9 includes City Heights, Kensington, Talmadge and neighborhoods near San Diego State. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 26,000 to 9,000 in those areas, and Emerald has connected well with the emerging immigrant communities of San Diego.
A diagnosis of breast cancer slowed, but did not stop her. Emerald continued to preside over hearings even as she was undergoing chemotherapy. According to news accounts doctors told her she has an excellent chance of a full recovery.
Emerald said she came to the realization when she returned to work after a series of chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
“It made me think about how I spend my time and while I love what I do I love my family even more and I don’t have enough time to spend with them so I told myself when I’m back on my feet I’m going to change my priorities and that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
The decision by Emerald not to run took even party insiders by surprise. Local Democrats, who’d been focused on marshaling resources for the sure to be brutal contest to replace termed-out Sheri Lightner in District 1, now had another worry for 2016.
Dems Are Worried
A look at who’s running to replace Emerald shows why the party is concerned. It’s not just a question of any Democrat taking the D9 seat, but what kind of Democrat. Despite what the local “everybody knows” crowd would like you to believe, Democrats come in lots of flavors. And the large number of (would-be) candidates leaves open the possibility the local GOP can find prospect who might be willing to flip flop on key issues.
So let’s start with candidates (or wannabes) I believe are most likely to get a little back-door GOP support.
The Voice of San Diego has recently posted a multi-part series on the Neighborhood Market Association bigwig and El Cajon resident Mark Arabo. The guy doesn’t even live in District 9 (he has time to move in and qualify for residency).
Arabo is politically ambitious and apparently willing to change. He was against former mayor Bob Filner in the primary, with the NMA paying for some rather brutal mailers.
Flip Flopping on Filner
Here’s what I wrote for the OB Rag in June, 2012:
Over the past two weeks San Diego mailboxes have been flooded with mailers attacking Mayoral candidate Bob Filner from a group calling itself a committee called California for Small Business,” sponsored by the Neighborhood Market Association…”
…Another mailer has a grainy photo of the congressman in front of the Capitol, labeling him “out of touch” and implying that he did favors for donors. Yet another, sent to addresses in North Park, University Heights and Hillcrest, suggests that Filner is anti-gay. Filner has admitted that his position on issues relating to sexual orientation has evolved over the years, and is now counted upon as a reliably pro-gay congressman.
Two years ago the Neighborhood Market Association and two of its campaign committees paid a total of $14,000 in fines for failing to properly reveal their identities in political mailers they put out attacking the San Diego booze back in 2008. The group is aLa Mesa-based trade collection of liquor stores and markets run by Mark Arabo, a well known Chaldean Christian leader….
Then he was for Bob Filner, maybe. And here’s a snip from the VOSD series on Arabo:
In the fall of 2012, volunteers on Bob Filner’s mayoral campaign were in for a tasty treat. Two giant standalone freezers, the kind you’d find in a corner store, sat in the middle of Filner’s campaign headquarters. Inside were ice cream sandwiches, Dippin’ Dots, firecracker popsicles and so many other frozen goodies that the campaign had no fear of exhausting its supply.
The ice cream was courtesy of Mark Arabo and the Neighborhood Market Association, someone who worked on the Filner campaign who would only speak on the condition of anonymity told me.
But this delicious gift never appeared on Filner’s campaign forms as required. Even the smallest of donations must be disclosed under the law. Arabo maintains he didn’t give the ice cream to Filner and doesn’t know how the candidate got it.
Arabo was against the minimum wage and now he’s for it. “Vote for Mr Flip Flop” would be a great campaign slogan for him. Sounds like he’s a perfect fit for the position…(if you’re a Republican)
And then there’s this (via VOSD):
Arabo’s biggest problem is the association’s campaign finance violations – there have been three from the city plus a warning letter from the state – and what he’s said about them. In short, documents show that he lied to the city’s Ethics Commission about the association’s activities.
What’s not for the local GOP to love?
Here’s the UT-San Diego quote worth noting:
A relative moderate, Arabo could get support from conservative and Republican groups.
“We don’t see it as an opportunity to elect a Republican, but we certainly see it as an opportunity to hopefully elect someone who is not so stridently liberal as Marti Emerald,” said Jason Roe, a Republican strategist who helped get Mayor Kevin Faulconer elected.
In case Arabo’s past proves to be too much of a burden, there is another stealth candidate in the works. I’ll leave the name out–he hasn’t formally declared– but this guy has been appearing as a supporter for Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s One San Diego (the blurry non-profit that’s not) at various community events.
He brought along one of the Mayor’s staff people to the East African Graduation ceremony in City Heights recently. And he’s got a name that will appeal to the immigrant community in that neighborhood.
The Middle of the Road
There are three traditional Democrats either declared or soon to declare.
I’ve already mentioned Ricardo Flores, chief of staff for Marti Emerald who’s been blessed by his boss to succeed her. As the councilwoman pointed out in her press conference last month, Flores already knows the district and how things are played at city hall. And that may his biggest problem.
There seems to be a subset of very vocal D9 constituents who have strong feelings about Mr Flores, and not in a good way. The words I’ve heard bandied about are “don’t trust him” and “I’ve been burned by him.”
In his defense, I personally know nothing about his politics or his work habits. Maybe this “feeling” stuff is sour grapes. Stay turned. Oh, yeah.. He just moved into D9.
Second out of the gate in declaring for the contest is Kensington resident Araceli Martinez, who declared candidacy against Emerald in the 2012 election and then dropped out. (Emerald won the primary contest with 72% of the vote).
Here’s all I currently know about her, from a 2011 KPBS article:
Araceli Martinez, who specializes in family law, will take on current Councilwoman Marti Emerald and Katherine Eaton.
Martinez is affiliated with several labor-backed groups, including the San Diego Middle Class Taxpayers Association that was formed to be a counterweight to the San Diego Taxpayers Association, which they claim is too closely aligned with the business community.
I’ve been told Caridad Sanchez has the insider track for Democratic Party support. Sanchez is District Director San Diego and Imperial Counties at US Senator Barbara Boxer’s office. (Boxer’s retiring.)
However, she has not committed to run.
From UT-San Diego:
Sanchez, the aide to retiring Senator Boxer, said she’s postponed her decision whether to run because she’s on maternity leave after recently giving birth.
“I’m giving myself a couple more weeks,” she said.
From her bio at the San Diego Leadership Alliance:
Caridad’s interest in public affairs developed from her experiences growing up in San Diego’s toughest inner-city neighborhoods. She remembers her mother, a housekeeper, working hard to provide improve their quality of life. Caridad and her mother, Cristina, actively participated in political campaigns and organized voter registration drives. Through these life experiences, Caridad developed an understanding of and deep commitment to improving her community and country.
Born in San Diego, Caridad grew up in the neighborhoods Logan and Sherman Heights. She graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in History and Political Science. Sanchez previously worked as a senior community representative in the office of United States Congresswoman Susan Davis in San Diego. She previously chaired the San Diego Cesar E. Chavez Commemoration Committee, is active in the San Diego Jewish Latino Coalition, the Chicano Democratic Association as well as the San Diego Leadership Alliance.
The Activist Contingent
In case you haven’t figured this out already, D9 is about as Blue as you can get for San Diego. (There is no truth to the rumor that the local GOP club holds its meetings in a closet)
And you should also realize that SD Free Press (and me personally) have a lot of dealings with activists in this part of the city…just so you know where we’re coming from…
Georgette Gomez declared her candidacy for Marti Emerald’s seat earlier this week. SDFP editor Brent Beltran was on hand to cover the announcement:
Georgette has been active and engaged in City Heights as a member of various boards and projects since she’s lived there over the past eight years.
She helped bring the first Farmers Market to City Heights, helped secure over $20 million for walking, biking and public transportation improvements in D9 and helped develop an ordinance that allows urban gardening in the city.
“Our neighborhoods are still not receiving the same resources as communities north of 8,” says Gómez. And we “don’t have the quality of life of other neighborhoods.”
She’s also been heavily involved in Barrio Logan through her work with the Environmental Health Coalition, where she is Associate Director of their Toxic Free Neighborhoods campaign. She was also very active in the formation of the update to the Barrio Logan Community Plan and lead the Yes on B & C campaign which was crushed at the ballot box through lies perpetrated by maritime industry and money from San Diego’s elite interests.
Finally, Sarah Saez, whose activist roots date back to the Occupy movement is considering a run for the D9 seat.
In recent years she’s been working as an advocate and organizer with the United Taxi Workers of San Diego(UTWSD). They won a huge victory not long ago when the medallion system of licensing was ended, freeing up local taxi drivers from a semi-feudal system where they worked long hours for low pay in sometimes unsafe vehicles.
There was a solidly entrenched busy owners group defending the status quo, where a small group of medallion holders made huge profits. They had plenty of lobbying power and lots of inside connections to protect their interests.
Saez was involved in organizing more than 2000 drivers, most of them immigrants from East African countries (sometimes at war with each other), into a cohesive political force able to win public support for their cause. What started as an ad hoc effort ended up garnering the support of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council for a previously unrecognized group.
Saez says that, if she chooses to run, she will not be running as a Democrat, but as an independent.
A Democratic Forum
The Democratic Woman’s Club of San Diego is staging an event concerning the District 9 race at 7pm on Monday, May 18th at at 4089 Fairmount Ave. in City Heights. Georgette Gomez, Sarah Saez, Caridad Sanchez and a representative from the San Diego Socialist Campaign will speak about discovering the needs of the community.
This isn’t an event being staged for the media. It’s an opportunity for folks to meet and hear from some candidates. Event Facebook Page.
Baja Farmworkers Update
Local supporters of the farmworkers struggle in San Quintin have announced a press conference and protest at the Whole Foods in Hillcrest at Noon on Monday, May 18th. (Facebook event page)
The location was chosen because Whole Foods carries berries from Mexico packaged under the Driscoll label. Until or unless the current grievances are settled, a boycott of that company’s products is planned.
There is an update from KPBS indicating that things are looking promising in San Quintin, but, as we learned before, these deals have a tendency to fall apart after the media walks away.
At the end of an 18-hour meeting Wednesday, federal and state officials signed an agreement in Ensenada, guaranteeing everything from social security to formal union status for the workers. Officials said if growers can’t meet farmworkers’ demands of a wage increase from about 120 pesos ($8) a day to 200 pesos ($13) a day, the federal government will make up the difference.
But that doesn’t mean it will happen. The federal government recently announced spending cuts of about $8 billion for this year, plus an expected $9 billion for next year to deal with plummeting oil prices. A labor ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said paying the shortfall in wages would be “a last resort” for the federal government, and that it will work with growers and farmworkers to find another solution…
…The farmworkers pick berries, tomatoes and cucumbers in an agricultural valley called San Quintin, about 200 miles south of the border. Most of the produce that grows along this 50-mile stretch is shipped to the U.S., including San Diego. The workers are organized under a group called Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional, Estatal y Municipal Por La Justicia Social.
On This Day: 1917 – The Library Employees’ Union is founded in New York City, the first union of public library workers in the United States. A major focus of the union was the inferior status of women library workers and their low salaries. 1941 – Joe DiMaggio began his historic major league baseball hitting streak of 56 games. 1970 – Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green, two black students at Jackson State University in Mississippi, were killed when police opened fire during student protests.
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