Local Primary Races Starting To Take Shape
Friday, March 12, 2010
What are the local races and ballot measures to watch in the June 2010 Primary Election? We discuss the city council races that are up for grabs, the strong mayor ballot measure, and the county races to look out for.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): I’m Gloria Penner and I’m joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. Today, we bring you a special broadcast of the show from Rotary Club 33 at the Sheraton West on Harbor Island. We’ll be taking questions and comments from the audience here. And today it’s all about politics and education. We’ll focus on the June 8th primary election candidates, issues, and the political signals those races are forecasting. We’ll also hear some opinions from – about this week’s education news from San Diego city schools to Oceanside to east county. And the editors with me today are Scott Lewis, CEO of Voiceofsandiego.org. Scott, I’m so glad you could be with us.
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, Voiceofsandiego.org): Always a pleasure. Thank you.
PENNER: John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. Welcome back again, John.
JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Thank you, Gloria.
PENNER: And Barbara Bry, associate publisher and opinion editor of SDNN.com. Thanks for being with us, Barbara.
BARBARA BRY (Assistant Publisher/Opinion Editor, SDNN.com): Well, Gloria, thank you for inviting me to attend my own Rotary Club meeting.
PENNER: Okay, I wasn’t going to say that. Well, let’s begin with a look at the four San Diego city council seats that are up for election this year. In the June primary election either one candidate can win outright with 50% of the vote plus one, or there will be a runoff election in November between the top two vote-getters. The filing deadline is today. And two of the seats have no incumbents and will be filled by a new face on the council, so let’s start with those. District 6 is now represented by Donna Frye, who will be termed out at the end of the year. District 6 covers Mission Valley, Serra Mesa, Kearny Mesa, Clairemont, Linda Vista and Mission Bay. And with more Democrats registered as voters in District 6 than Republicans, we might very well expect that the Democrats are looking at that race rather joyously. So, Scott, that race has pulled in six candidates, a lot of candidates. Are there any with political or community experience that might benefit the candidate with the voters?
LEWIS: Well, obviously, Howard – Howard Wayne comes back to us from Sacramento and we’ll see if he can win another race locally. He seems to be the favorite but these things can change quite rapidly and I think that all eyes are on whether Steve Hadley, who is Donna Frye’s current chief of staff, can put together enough of a grassroots campaign. He’s a very low key guy but as a politician – any successful politician in the audience might know you certainly can’t be very low key when you’re trying to pull something like this off. And I think then the – there’s been some interesting news just in the last day or so. CityBeat, the news weekly, found some e-mails that Lorie Zapf, the Republican candidate, had sent to an anti-gay activist basically saying that she wanted to keep gays out of public office and keep them from imposing their agenda on the city and the county, and so that’s a tough stand for a City of San Diego voter and so she’s going to have a little trouble with that. That came out in the U-T after that and now she’s trying to damage control that, saying that she – everyone sends an e-mail sometimes they don’t want the public to see and she got caught with it and made public. So we’ll see how that works out for her.
PENNER: I find it interesting – We may as well stick with the Republican for a while. Barbara Bry, one political observer believes that Lorie Zapf, who Scott just mentioned and is a Republican, could actually pose a challenge based on some political fundraising success. How important is fundraising, let’s say, to a city council district race.
BRY: Well, Gloria, fundraising is important in every race but in a city council race, you know, building grassroots support, going door to door, can make up for lack of money because it’s a much smaller area than, say, in a congressional race or a larger race. But money, money is, you know, Jess Unruh said it, money is the mother’s milk of politics. It’s still true.
LEWIS: Well, you not only need money to compete with – but it doesn’t mean that the person with the most money wins. But I’ve always heard a good way to think about this and that’s that you need enough money to compete. You don’t necessarily need more money than your opponent, you just need enough to do the basics. And I think she’s coming close to that. It is an overwhelmingly Democratic district but she’s – she’s done a pretty good job, which is why this has been so damning, I think, in the last couple of days.
BRY: Yeah, Gloria, and what she could do is force a runoff so that nobody gets 51% -- 50% plus one in June. But, as Scott said, you know, just having the most money doesn’t mean you’re going to win. We can look at, you know, the two campaigns that Steve Francis ran when he had the most money and he did not win to become mayor of San Diego.
PENNER: However, much of the money came out of his own pocket. It…
BRY: It doesn’t matter where it came from. He had it and he spent it, and he didn’t win.
PENNER: John Warren.
WARREN: Well, the money can also backfire on you if it comes from outside of the district because people at the grassroots level get the feeling that their interest is being bought from other areas and so that can be a hindrance but it has a lot to do with the competing candidates as to whether or not they know how to effectively use that kind of outside funding to their advantage.
PENNER: Let’s go back to the whole idea of affiliation, John. Although this is a nonpartisan election, Frye is well known as a Democrat and the council now has heavy Democratic representation on it. How will political affiliation play out in this election?
WARREN: Well, all, you know, they always say it’s nonpartisan but every election in San Diego is partisan. There’s no such thing. And I think that, you know, you look at the interests that are represented. The Democrats are concerned, shall we say, in terms of people and some local issues and the Republican interests might be viewed as being more concerned about big business. And so it’s a question of how those two things are played. And then we have this big factor with the Democrats now of labor dollars coming into the picture and there is some resistance to labor money. And so I think there’s a lot of this that will, you know – has yet to be seen.
LEWIS: Well, I think there’s some interesting developments. This’ll be the first year now with – as that the Republican Party filed a successful-so-far lawsuit that allows independent expenditures, some of the restrictions on them to be relieved, so you might see organizations like the Lincoln Club with a lot more power than they’ve had in the past. You see political parties, although they’re still trying to work out the rules after the ruling that the Supreme Court and the local federal judge made that allowed them to be more active directly with the candidates. You’re going to see some loosening in the restrictions that the Ethics Commission and the City of San Diego’s had on the – on city politics and I think that that might aid somebody like Lori Zapf or others who are trying to maybe battle the unions in a different way.
PENNER: I’ll turn to our audience and just ask you as you are positioning yourselves to vote if you are in the city of San Diego and live in either District 2, 4, 6 and 8, as you’re getting ready to vote, what are the considerations that you are looking at in order to make your decision? Is it party affiliation? Is it who has been the most successful fundraiser? Is it position on labor or business issues? So if you have a comment on that, I’d like to hear it. The San Diego Democrat Club has endorsed Howard Wayne, former assemblyman, over Frye’s Chief of Staff that you mentioned, Stephen Hadley. How important will endorsements be in this race? What do you think, Scott?
LEWIS: Well, again, they’re always good for getting more endorsements. I think that as you gather more and more then you become more of a legitimate candidate and it comes up. Again, an endorsement, just like money, isn’t going to put you over the edge but you have to have enough to be viable and that’s the key that they’re looking for.
BRY: Gloria, one thing endorsements can help with is getting volunteers out to help your campaign in terms of, you know, making phone calls, going door to door, canvassing, so that’s where endorsements can help you, too.
LEWIS: Well, I think there’s also an interesting pattern emerging among Democrats right now in San Diego. On the one hand, there’s always the sort of – the Todd Glorias, the Scott Peters of the city politics scene where they’re a little bit more consensus builders, more thoughtful as in trying to plot and organize their politics. And then there’s a wing of very much more frustrated people, and I think people like Stephen Whitburn, who might announce his candidacy for the county supervisors this afternoon, and people like Stephen Hadley, who’s very low key but also very frustrated and trying to reflect the frustration of voters more than just simply trying to be a leader in the void in the traditional San Diego sense I think.
PENNER: Before we turn to the District 8 that’s a south of downtown San Diego district, I’d like to sort of look at what you think might be the hot topics that will affect this election. What is it that the candidates are going to be talking about? What are they going to try to sway us with? John, what do you think?
WARREN: Well, I think the public’s primary concern is going to be the high unemployment rates that we have. Those who are in the city are going to be concerned about the deficit, the pension, and what the impact of that’s going to be in terms of both people who are employed and those who might lose their jobs.
WARREN: And I think they’re going to be – Those issues are going to drive the debate rather than the candidates driving the debate.
PENNER: Especially since we heard the news that our unemployment rate in San Diego…
PENNER: …has risen to 11%...
PENNER: …up a full percentage point.
PENNER: Yes, Scott.
LEWIS: Well, I think that the, you know, the issue that should drive these debates is the fact that the city is not fundamentally set up to take as much money in as it’s fundamentally set up to spend. Now, whether we – whether they change that by cutting how much it’s set up to spend or whether they change that by making things more efficient or whether they change that by raising taxes, that fundamental debate is the one that will guide everything that goes forward. And the city and every candidate has to wrestle with the options that are on the table and the options that simply aren’t.
PENNER: What chances are there that these candidates will actually confront that very tough issue?
LEWIS: Well, this is what’s interesting. Now we have district elections, they’re focused on their neighbors and so do their neighbors care about this or do their neighbors care about more local issues, more hyper-local issues? And I think that that’s – On the other hand, everything about this fundamental imbalance at the city is being carried over to the neighborhoods. Now we’re seeing what I would call a dissolving city where if you care about a skate park, if you care about a park or if you care about anything in your neighborhood, you are now responsible for taking care of it, whether philanthropically or by forming something like a maintenance assessment district. And they’re going to have to deal with that.
BRY: Yeah, Gloria, what I think people, you know, whether rightly or wrongly, I think what they’re most concerned about is the services in their neighborhood, the park, the library, whether there’s a pothole on their street. And I would like to see more people thinking holistically about the city as a whole and what it needs to do to be solvent but I think people generally think about their neighborhood first.
PENNER: Okay, well, let’s quickly, before we move into our break, take a fast look at District 8. Amazing, 9 candidates vying to replace Ben Hueso. Ben Hueso, of course, is president of the city council. So there are 9 people who would really like to have that seat and Ben Hueso has decided not to run for reelection because he is going to run for State Assembly. What is it, John, about District 8 that attracts so many contenders?
WARREN: Well, the community has always been a politically active one, and a lot of that is based on the demographics. I mean, that is a district out of which most of the Latino leadership that’s ever surfaced in the city has come from that area. That’s an area of great change, the redevelopment, a lot of the activities that were started under Vargas’ watch in terms of the city council, so there’s a great deal of political agitation and sensitivity there and there’s also a big mixture in terms of income and politics and interest levels that make it very difficult for the people to just come to one mind and rally behind one or two particular candidates. So I think it’s a very healthy thing that there is such a diversity of candidacies. ‘
PENNER: Diversity, indeed. And we’re going to talk more about District 8 when we come back. What we’re going to do now is take a very short break and then we’re going to return to this special program here at Rotary Club 33 at the Sheraton West on Harbor Island. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m at the roundtable today at the Rotary Club 33 meeting with John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, Barbara Bry from SDNN.com and Scott Lewis from voiceofsandiego.org. We’re talking a little bit about local politics and then we’re going to move on to state politics because today is the last filing day for candidates to get their names in and on the ballot. We were talking about how many candidates have come out for District 8. I think the interesting thing for me is that we have so many relatives of people who are politically connected who have come out for District 8. Barbara, we have Ben Hueso’s brother…
PENNER: …who is running, and so is the uncle of Ralph Inzunza, who resigned from his council seat five years ago after a federal corruption charge conviction. Do those relationships give these candidates an advantage in District 8?
BRY: Well, in one case it might and in one case it might not, and I won’t comment on which is which but I think the audience can probably figure it out. I mean, I think the fact that Ben Hueso’s brother is running and Ben has, you know, good roots in the community and has been an effective fundraiser certainly should help his brother.
LEWIS: I – What’s interesting about District 8 always is the networks that are in charge. I mean, they’ve been sort of, you know, handing power back and forth in an interesting way and now they’re challenging each other. And I think that this is a very interesting development and I’m excited to see how it comes out. You know, District 8 has a lot of challenges. There’s no supermarkets in what would be considered Logan Heights. There are, you know, what’s with the Mercado project? You know, a lot of businesses moved there based on the idea that they were going to succeed with that project and now some of them like Chuey’s fell apart. And I think that there’s some really interesting issues down there that we’re all going to be paying attention to. Now, David Alvarez, a lot of people thought that he would have the upper hand in this race but now he’s being outflanked in some ways, so it – I’m very excited to see how it comes out.
WARREN: I’d like to…
WARREN: …add that Nick Inzunza brings his own particular set of politics, having been a city councilman in National City and he represents a movement and the family had a great involvement in terms of politics there, so to many people in District 8, that movement might be seen as an effort to relocate a family dynasty and, therefore, bring some additional rejection.
PENNER: Okay. Well, before we leave local politics, on the ballot is another measure that might bring out quite a few votes or people may just say ho-hum. Of course, I’d like to find out whether our audience here at Rotary feels that this is a ho-hum measure or not. It’s called the strong mayor form of government and it will be on the ballot in June and it will make that form of government permanent and it will also add a 9th council district to the council and it will also give the power to the council of overriding a mayoral veto with a two-thirds vote. So how effective do you think this will be at bringing out the voters?
LEWIS: Well, I, for one, love this debate. It’s like watching a tennis match. And I turn this way and there’s a great shot and I turn this way and there’s a great shot. And, you know, it’s a very wonky, complex discussion but if you get into it, it’s the very foundation of our future as a city. Do we want to be a city that hires a professional to run the operation and then lets the politicians squabble with him or her? And – Or do you want to be a city that is led by somebody with a vision that you put in that spot for 8 years or more and – or eight years, and tell him, you know – or her, to…
BRY: Well, four years at a time…
WARREN: Yeah, yeah.
LEWIS: …to take us somewhere and to switch out the leadership team of the city every four or eight years. And I think that this is – this drives to the heart of what kind of city we want but I think fundamentally it comes down to whether you’re in the strong mayor form of government or a weak mayor form of government, it’s the mayor that decides. It’s the type of mayor that you have. Pete Wilson was supposedly in a weak mayor system but he was a very strong and visionary person and whether you agreed with him or not he took the city where he wanted.
PENNER: What do we have now?
LEWIS: Uh, we have…
LEWIS: …a little bit less of the vision, I think, than some people would hope for in the sense of here we have a situation where 18 months we’re promised a recovery package for how the city’s going to get out of this mess, and yet there’s nothing. There’s no plan of how the neighborhoods are going to receive or recover from the situation that they’re in and I think a lot of people want somebody to at least say here’s my plan, what do you think?
PENNER: You can have a strong form of government but what good is it if you have a weak mayor, basically? Is that correct?
PENNER: I mean, that’s…
LEWIS: I think that’s the thing. I mean, and I’m not saying Jerry Sanders is weak. He could probably, you know, beat me up pretty good. I’m saying that he’s – he has not laid out a vision about where we’re going and what we’re going – how we’re going to get there. And I think that that’s the purpose of a strong mayor is to have that vision and have the tools at hand to put it together.
PENNER: Okay. John.
WARREN: I have a fundamental disagreement with Scott.
WARREN: I think part of the problem here is that people do not understand what a strong mayor form of government cons – what it is or how it works in relationship to a weak mayor. A weak mayor form of government, which is what we in effect had with the council and a hired city manager allows that city manager to bring recommendations. A strong mayor form of government allows that mayor to make suggestions. The problem that we have with San Diego is that we were not prepared for this quasi-strong mayor form of government because it’s not really strong. There were other things that should’ve been put in place such as at-large council seats, election of the chairman of the city council, separate and apart from election as a member of the council. These things have been done in other cities and the form of government has worked very well. The citizens here cannot make a decision on which form of government…
WARREN: …based on the monetary problems of the city. They have to understand fundamentally what each form represents and then they can make an intelligent decision, and they have not been given that opportunity, and I think Donna Frye made this observation recently. And so here we’re going into putting into place permanently something that we still don’t fully understand.