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District 4 Residents Respond To Myrtle Cole's Poor Election Performance

July 19, 2018 2:23 p.m.

Two years ago, San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole made a comment that could lead to her political undoing.

Related Story: District 4 Residents Respond To Myrtle Cole's Poor Election Performance


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

One of the biggest surprises in the June primary election was how few votes San Diego City Council President Myrto Cole received. In fact she got six fewer votes than her challenger Monica Montgomery. The two will now face off in November.

Kate PBS investigative reporter Claire Gosar looks into why Cole performed so poorly two years ago city council president Myrdal Cole made a comment that some say could lead to her political undoing.

There's more black on black shootings in our nation than ever before.

Coal represents District 4 which covers neighborhoods such as Oak Park Encanto and Paradise hills. It has the largest percentage of African-Americans in the city according to census data. Many in her district say they heard called justifying police shootings of black people.

There's no new blood coming of age son Assaye and Disha for south San Diego and are wanting a more representative more of a radical stance that speaks to the issues that affect them as well.

Aaron Harvey is a community organizer in southeast San Diego. He says Coles comments were the beginning of a surge of activism among the younger generation activism that in part focused on unseating Cole.

So there's always been some type of dissatisfaction towards Moscow. It was just like.

She says there before the comments they figured they'd wait and support a more progressive candidate.

At the end of Kohl's term but the fact that she made those comments users gave law enforcement a green light to kill me because a lot of the stops are casual encounters oftentimes result in the death of a black male. And you landed on.

The black black people on why they're being racially profiled and things like that.

I think that's kind of OK. Now you have to go.

Coles campaign didn't respond to multiple interview requests from Cape PBS. She did apologize in the weeks after she made the comments and said she planned to push for substantial changes in police practices. But Harvey says those changes haven't come after a study showed there was some racial bias in the San Diego Police Department.

You know she created or recreated an emissions Advisory Board but that's all it is just an advisory board. And I don't think that anyone has done anything. She thinks that these young activists.

Who are causing her problems. Lila Azeez helps run the nonprofit pillars of the community. She says on top of young people like Harvey Cole also may have to win back people who once supported her. I went and spoke with my neighbor older gentlemen former military and.

I asked him Who are you voting for. And he said anyone besides Cole and I said why. And he spoke of the streets. He spoke of never seen her in the community.

PBS requested Cole's calendar for the last year along with calendars for all the other council members. We then checked to see who went to the most weekend events in their district which ranged from dropping by a business opening to attending a cleanup day. Councilman Chris word went to the most averaging about eight a month sometimes with three or four events on the same day other council members went to between three and four events a month. Cole was near the bottom of the list with one event a month. Only Councilman Scott Sherman attended fewer events but in the month after the June election call went to four weekend events in her district. Aziz says she feels KOLs focus has been on outside interests like unions or downtown instead of dealing with district problems like fixing streets adding sidewalks and cleaning up graffiti. As great as she seemed to be dealing as council president is. Pretty much having a leadership title no longer focused on the people. That elected her. Forgetting that she would have to still deal with us. In the next election. Kohl now has less than four months to convince her district. She's still focused on them.

Joining me now is K.P. investigative reporter Claire Trageser. Claire welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. That comment about black on black shootings that Councilwoman Cole made what was the context of that remark why did she say that.

So that was two years ago after a town hall that she held with then police chief Shellie Zimmerman to talk about police brutality cases that had been happening across the country. And then local relations with the police and about 200 people I think ended up attending and people got very upset. And so Myrtle Cole was thanking her fellow council members for attending the meeting. And then she said young people at the meeting were disrespectful and went on to talk about racial profiling and made those comments. She also added that a month earlier a black man was shot by another black man in front of her district office and she says she said that she wanted to address black on black crime because that led to racial profiling. And that's when she made those comments that people were very upset about.

How did the people you spoke with feel about Cole before she made that comment.

Well there was a range in my story that airs tomorrow. I talked to Barry Pollard who actually ran against Myrtle Cole when she first ran in 2013. And so you know he's always felt like she never had the debt the District's best interests at heart. He says she's from the district originally and that she's too tied to labor unions and also for that story. I talked to well Nishat Sutton who is originally a coal supporter and she canvassed for her because she was excited about a black woman running for office but now she says she feels Cole hasn't done enough for the district. And so she no longer supports her. And then for this story that aired today I talked with organizers like Erin Harvey who told me that he actually doesn't normally like to get involved with politicians he says with the exception of STEM Assemblywoman Shirley Webber because he feels like they can change alliances and change stances too easily and so he'd rather work on issues than support specific people.

So he was maybe indifferent to coal originally but now he's actively working against her at least part of this new activism in District 4 is coming from a younger generation. We heard about quote newer blood coming of age. You did a series of reports on that urge for change in District 4. How does that correspond with the race for this council seat.

So that story about a year and a half ago was about the start of a surge of activism that was going on in the district and in this race. You know this close race is now partially a product of that this younger generation is now actively working on Kohl's challenger Monica Montgomery's campaign and are much more involved in this election than in previous elections. And so that's part of you know what's going on here and why the race is so close. But there's also just kind of a general discontent among other voters who feel like maybe they haven't seen enough change. Other parts of the city are doing pretty well economically but people in this district feel like they are benefited benefiting from that. And so they're you know maybe looking to blame their representative for not doing enough and that and people feel like Cole just isn't visible enough. They're used to previous council members like maybe George Stevens or Tony Young who spend a lot of time in the district be social. Go to events where they could come up and talk.

So you're saying this momentum for change is helping. Challenger Monica Montgomery what about the third place candidate Tony Villafranca. Will he make an endorsement. And would that carry any weight.

Well that will be interesting. I have been trying to get in touch with him to find out but he hasn't got gotten back to me. He used to be a Democrat but he changed his party recently to a Republican. And he runs on conservative issues mostly anti abortion issues. So I'm not sure if he'd endorse either coal or Montgomery who are both Democrats. But he did get 17 percent of the vote in the primary. So if he did that could really make the election for either of them.

Now as you reported it's very unusual for an incumbent to be an underdog in a race for re-election. What's been Councilwoman Myrtle Kohl's reaction to coming in second in the June primary.

Well she did not respond to any of my interview requests. I contacted her campaign multiple times by phone and email and they never got back to me. She did talk to voices San Diego for a story that ran last week. And in that she said she was surprised by the results. But she also said that she didn't even try in the primary that she didn't have a campaign manager and didn't do any campaigning. So now she says she's ready to take on the challenge and get out there and campaign.

As we head to November I've been speaking with PBS investigative reporter Claire Jurgis her and Claire. Thank you. Thanks so much.