By Doug Porter
What was supposed to be an epic, high-dollar struggle for the partisan upper hand on the San Diego City Council never came to pass. Odd-numbered districts elect representatives in 2016, and Republicans were hoping to gain a majority on the theoretically non-partisan body.
Of the five City Council districts having primary contests in June, only one will have a meaningful contest for the general election. In three (3,5,& 7) of those districts, there won’t even be a choice on the November ballot.
The city’s rules, giving an automatic win to any candidate with more than 50% of the vote in the first outing, are up for reconsideration via Measure K, which would allow the top two primary finishers to compete in November.
Today we’ll look at what’s left of the City Council contests.
June Primary Results
In District One, Barbara Bry finished first with 48.4% of the vote. Ray Ellis came in with 33.86%, followed by Bruce Lightner (9.68%), Kyle Heiskala (6.11%) and Louis Rodolico (1.84%).
Carmel Valley resident Ray Ellis will still appear on the November ballot, but suspended his campaign in August, saying he could not see a path to victory. Ellis cited a surge in registered Democrats, along with the “toxicity and the divisiveness at the top of ticket” as factors in his decision.
Thanks to Donald Trump and a solid Democratic party voter registration effort, Republicans will remain a minority on the city Council.
In District Three, Chris Ward (58.53%) bested Anthony Bernal (27.44%) and Scott Sandborn (13.86%). Conservative business interests threw money into supporting Bernal, who was a Democrat, but considered more ‘flexible.’ Some observers think the influx of cash was designed to draw labor money away from supporting Barbara Bry in D1. Whatever. It didn’t happen.
In District Five, incumbent Republican Mark Kersey, thumped his Democratic opposition, winning 70.47% of the vote. Frank Tsimboukalis (20.04%) and Keith Mikas (9.33%) brought up the rear. Kersey is considered to be a viable candidate to replace Mayor Kevin Faulconer when he is termed out.
In District Seven, incumbent Republican Scott Sherman (60.16%) won easily over Democrats Justin DeCesare (22.45%) and Jose Caballero (17.30%). After then-incumbent councilmember Marti Emerald chose to run for reelection in the newly created district 9 instead of district 7 in 2012, Sherman won the seat in the primary by less than 1%. This is a seat that theoretically could have been competitive in the general election this year.
District Nine, because no single candidate received a majority of the vote, is the sole remaining contest for the general election. Ricardo Flores (33.74%) and Georgette Gomez (30.16%) are on the November ballot. Candidates Sarah Saez (23.07%) and Araceli Martinez (11.89%) didn’t make the cut.
Why District Nine Matters
District Nine includes the communities of Alvarado Estates, City Heights, College Area, College View Estates, El Cerrito, Kensington, Mountain View, Mount Hope, Rolando, Southcrest, and Talmadge.
Running right through those communities is El Cajon Boulevard. North of that thoroughfare are idyllic urban villages like Kensington with modest single-family homes priced over $800,000.
Kensington has wielded the power in D9 since its creation because the residents there vote. In the 2014 November election, Kensington’s turnout was 30% higher than in the rest of the district.
Southward neighborhoods include City Heights, with real estate priced at less than half that amount. This, and surrounding areas have been the first stop for incoming immigrants from conflict zones for decades now. Crowded rental apartments are the norm. A multitude of languages are spoken. And idyllic is not an adjective that would ever be used to describe the street scenes.
When redistricting occurred following the 2010 census, District Nine was carved out with Latinos comprising 44% of the electorate. It was expected that the newly created district would give them additional clout, reflective of their increasing presence in the city.
A Back Room Deal?
Primary candidate Sarah Saez told reporter Ken Stone a back room deal was made, whereby Marti Emerald would serve just one term and make way for a Latino candidate in 2016.
From City Beat:
The other main candidate in the District 9 race, Georgette Gómez, 40, said a group of Latino leaders, including City Councilmember David Alvarez, told Emerald before the 2012 race: “We’re not going to run anyone against you, but you promise you will only run one term. And you’re going to support the person we think should be running in District 9.”
Gómez says that person was Flores—even though Flores didn’t join Emerald’s team until after the election. (Emerald beat Mateo Camarillo 72 percent to 28 percent in the June 2012 primary.)
Marti Emerald went through a bout with cancer since that election and says her decision to step down was not part of any deal. Again, from City Beat:
“I never made a pledge” to serve one term, she says, but suggested it wasn’t a secret that she didn’t plan to serve eight years in District 9 atop the four years she was in office as the councilmember representing District 7. “At every stump speech I gave, I told them: ‘Look, here’s my intention. And it was always to make myself obsolete. And build a staff that was so effective that I could step back and let this new generation of leadership step in.’”
Ricardo Flores, Insider
One week after announcing her intention to step down, Councilwoman Emerald endorsed the candidacy of her chief of staff Ricardo Flores to replace her.
Here’s the KPBS short version of his bio:
Flores, 39, moved to Kensington in 2015 with his wife, Deanneka. He lived briefly in City Heights as a child before his family moved to Jamul in eastern San Diego County. Flores attended Valhalla High School and went to film school at UCLA. Before joining Emerald’s team, he worked for San Diego Democratic Congresswoman Susan Davis, first in her district office, then as her senior aid.
Both campaigns have been focused on grassroots and door-to-door efforts since the primary, but I think this snip from a Union-Tribune editorial board pre-primary interview offers some insight into Ricardo Flores.
He was asked why he’d decided to make the jump from staffer to elected official:
Well, I think a lot of it has to do with being from the community. That’s very important for me, to go back and have the opportunity to really serve a community. I’ve been serving it for about a decade, right now District 9, but really just serving in this capacity. And a lot of it also has to do with just for love of the city of San Diego. I’m a second-generation San Diegan. I just feel like… you have an opportunity to do something that you think that could… it’s something to offer the community, not only in the district, but also the city at large. And then I think at a very micro level is to continue the work that we have been doing, I mean it’s really to continue on in those efforts because they’re very important to the community.
I believe that in a lot ways when we’re talking about the 30,000-foot-level in San Diego, it’s about building trust with the public. We’re kind of in a rebuilding mode. In order to do those rebuilding things, we have to be able to get the trust of the citizens back. And it’s in my DNA. My parents were teachers. You know, they gave back to the community as well. You know, my parents were here doing the… Chicano movement here in San Diego. It’s just the sense of kind of giving back and the sense that you belong and the sense of roots in the community that I think is… adds all that to…really kind of consider me to go out there and run and run for office.
As I said earlier this year in an article about the D9 primary:
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.”
As we proceeded through the primary season last spring, it became obvious that my initial analysis of Ricardo was missing one of his strongest attributes, namely his family’s long history of connections with Chicano political activism.
Looking through his list of endorsers it’s impossible to ignore the long list of activists who played an important role in the emergence of the Latino community as a political force.
The downside of his candidacy to many in the current generation of activists is the reality of tens of thousands of dollars supporting Flores’ candidacy through a Political Action Committee (Urban Neighborhoods for Ricardo Flores) funded by people with a history of supporting causes antithetical to traditional Democratic values.
The PAC funded robocalls featuring the voice of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
“I’ve worked with Ricardo Flores and trust his commitment to protecting our neighborhoods,” Faulconer said on one call. “Ricardo Flores will always put neighborhoods ahead of partisan politics…”
…Flores wrote in a Facebook post that he “did not seek or have knowledge of in advance” Faulconer’s calls.
“I have not met with him or sought out his endorsement,” Flores wrote. “As a lifelong Democrat, my goal is to further our Democratic values and improve the lives of all San Diegans, especially our working families. I look forward to earning the votes of residents in D9 whether they are democrat, republican, independent, etcetera and working with them to improve my community and our City.”
For more information:
Ricardo Flores – Councilmember Marty Emerald’s Chief of Staff. Mainstream Democrat, comes from a family with a history of Latino activism
Georgette Gomez, Activist
Georgette Gomez and Sarah Saez were both endorsed by the San Diego Free Press in the run-up to the primary.
As most of us are activists by nature (or accident), we’d had interactions with these candidates and were not willing to chose one over the other.
Here’s SDFP editor Brent Beltran’s background on Georgette Gomez:
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.
Interestingly enough, Georgette received the official endorsement of the San Diego County Democratic Party in the general election. Prior to the June primary, the party declared Gómez, Flores and union leader Sarah Saez as ‘acceptable’.
The Union Tribune editorial board asked Georgette Gomez about why she was running for office:
I’ve been in the community for over 15 years. I’m a homeowner. I live in Azalea Park in City Heights and ever since I moved there I’ve been very active in the planning groups. When we still had redevelopment, I was part of the redevelopment area committee. I used to be part of the Southeastern Planning Group as well. So I’ve been very involved. I graduated from San Diego State. I went to work for a nonprofit, environmental health coalition where I’ve been directing public policy work. So I’m very familiar in how the city functions in terms of policy, policymaking, how responsive they are to the community being that I’ve been very involved in planning groups. And this opportunity came and after talking to many community members, different friends and family members, I knew that I had something to bring. Just because of my story, being very grounded in this district, but also very engaged in the city planning process and in policymaking.
There’s a lot of frustration at the community level that the city really isn’t doing much for our neighborhoods and there’s a lot of work that we have to do to move a project forward. So I figured, I understand how it works. I understand policy. I have ideas in how to move the city forward so I’m gonna do this and I have the support of the community, I have the support of my family.
Gomez’ candidacy is also notable in that she’s Gay. Here’s a snip from the LGBT Weekly interview with her, where they asked her about her personal experiences:
My entire life has been devoted to representing and giving a voice to those who have none or are being ignored. As a daughter of immigrant parents, and a first generation Mexican American lesbian woman, I’ve learned the value of hard work, perseverance and the importance of being involved in my community. This is why, after graduating from SDSU, I became a community organizer and this led me to being elected to the local planning groups first in Southeastern San Diego, then the City Heights Area Planning Committee. Here, I fought for our neighborhood’s fair share of infrastructure money. I’ve also served on the Area Redevelopment Committees when they existed, and I am very involved with community garden projects and generally around my neighborhood. I’ve always sought to be connected to my community, and this is what best suits me to being the best representative for our District.
For more information:
Georgette Gomez – Executive with Environmental Health Coalition. Progressive Democrat with ties to environmental activists, Latino and LGBTQ communities.
What we have in the November D9 contest are two Democrats, who are both Latinos. And it can be difficult, based on policy positions, to tell the two apart. The activist community, as we have learned, is divided on these candidates.
Despite what the local “everybody knows” crowd would like you to believe, Democrats come in lots of flavors. The downtown establishment types seem to believe–or so Flores opponents said in the primaries– he might be willing to flip flop on key issues.
Not so, say Flores supporters. They believe his family history activism and his work inside the council make him the more effective choice.
Gomez has more than a family history of activism. She’s walked the walk. And that’s why many activists support her.
The Big Debate- September 24
Georgette Gomez and Ricardo Flores will take part in a debate on Saturday, September 24th at Voice of San Diego’s Politifest.
Eyes on District 9
Theater, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Moderated by Tarryn Mento, KPBS
City Council District 9 candidates Georgette Gomez and Ricardo Flores will talk about their visions for this diverse San Diego district. The debate will be moderated by KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Tarryn Mento.
Notes: Our endorsements will be included in our General Election Progressive Voter Guide, published shortly after mail-in ballots are delivered in October.
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: The contest for City Attorney. We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next five weeks.
Lorena Gonzalez, Badass Mom
Best Fundraising Email of the Day. And, believe me, I get them all. This one comes from the Lorena Gonzalez’ college-age daughter.
On This Day: 1916 – Adelina and August Van Buren finished the first successful transcontinental motorcycle tour to be attempted by two women. They started in New York City on July 5, 1916. 1918 – Eugene V. Debs, labor leader and socialist, was sentenced to 10 years for opposing World War I. While in jail Debs received one million votes for president. 1992 – Dr. Mae Carol Jemison became the first African-American woman in space. She was the payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. Also onboard were Mission Specialist N. Jan Davis and Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mark C. Lee. They were the first married couple to fly together in space. And, Mamoru Mohri became the first Japanese person to fly into space.
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