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Voters in Council Districts 2 and 8 head to polls Tuesday

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, polling booths will open yet again in the city of San Diego. Two city council seats are up for grabs - in District's Two and Eight. After a busy year last year --with elections in January, July and November --local voters may be tired. But turnout will key. Interest groups across the region know the winners will help decide how San Diego gets out of its current fiscal crisis. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.

At stake is who will replace former city councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza. They were forced out of office last summer after being convicted of corruption.

At stake also is the balance of power on the city council. This is more crucial than ever, since the council will have to make some of the hardest decisions in its history, in order to pull the city out a financial tailspin. There's a lot to lose and no-one's sure yet who's going to lose it.

Officially, these are non- partisan races, but as in the mayor's race last year, political party has a lot to do with where the endorsements - and the campaign cash -- are coming from.

The candidate who has raised the most money by far, over $400,000, is Republican Kevin Faulconer. His Democratic opponent is Lorena Gonzales. She's raised more than $100,000.

They're running in District 2 which includes the Beaches, Point Loma, Mission Hills and the all important Downtown. Many of Faulconer's backers are the same business and development interests who succeeded in getting Jerry Sanders elected as mayor. Faulconer is open about his allegiances.

FAULCONER: "I'm a supporter of the mayor's plan of recovery, it's an aggressive plan, if we implement this I think we're going to be able to turn the corner."

Under the city's new strong mayor form of government, the mayor, or CEO makes the budget but the city council is the legislative body and has to sign off on it.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, offers no guarantees she'll back the mayor's recovery plans.

GONSALEZ: "Yes, the mayor has some good ideas absolutely, but I'm not going to carte blanch just say yes, I think the voters in District 2 don't want someone who's just willing to say yes, they want somebody who's willing to take that framework and to work out the details."

Gonzales says the devil will be in the details. For example, Mayor Sanders proposes to contract out some city services, something Gonzales says raises the risk of corruption, a concern that's far from theoretical, following former San Diego congressman Cunningham's recent fall from grace.

GONZALES: "We need to make sure if we do it, that we have those safeguards, that people who are bidding on those contracts can't get the city council candidates or mayors."

Both Faulconer and Gonzalez have labor union backers, but Faulconer says Gonzalez is trying to protect public employees. Faulconer says his experience in private industry as a public relations executive is more relevant than Gonzalez' work in the public sector as an environmental attorney.

FAULCONER: "I think we need somebody who hasn't been part of government, I think, right now, what's more important is somebody with a business background, because of the 1 and a half billion dollars pension deficit."

That looming deficit is at the heart of the beast that's facing city elected officials, both in the immediate future and for some time to come. District issues will almost certainly suffer one way or another as the city struggles to avoid bankruptcy. Defending district services like parks, libraries and neighborhood police will be one of the core dilemmas of the new city council.

That's a core issue for the other candidates in tomorrow's election. The 8th District includes the neighborhoods of Golden Hill and Barrio Logan, as well as the border communities of San Ysidro and Nestor. Ben Hueso and Luis Acle are competing to represent the district, where median income is low and neighborhood resources slim. Acle blames former city councilman Ralph Inzunza for failing the people.

ACLE: "Our district has a history of not getting respect at city hall, we haven't had a strong representative with strong ethical views We need to put things back on track so people will have confidence in our representative."

Acle is the Republican in this race. But he has raised only about a third of the money of his Democratic opponent, Hueso. He attacks Hueso as an insider who has ties to the powerful family of disgraced councilman Ralph Inunza. The Inzunza family is under a second cloud as Ralph's brother Nick, the mayor of National City, has reportedly withdrawn from his state Assembly bid, following allegations he is a slum lord.

But Hueso says he is untainted by the Inzunza scandals. He, in his turn, accuses Acle of political expediency. Only a year ago, Acle defeated Hueso to be elected to the San Diego city school board. Now, Hueso says, Acle is turning his back on those voters:

HUESO: "And he let them down, he said he was going to serve out his term he had no hidden agenda and he immediately used his position to run for higher office."

Acle's strategy may have backfired on him, as in this race, his campaign contributions have remained low. Hueso on the other hand has raised over $100,000.

Voter registration in both city council Districts, Two and Eight, leans Democrat, and voters put Democrats in office last time round. But it remains to be seen if tomorrow's election will change the political equation on city council, affecting whatever recovery plan is forged to bring San Diego out of turmoil. Alison St. John, KPBS news.



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