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Mark Kersey: A City Council Winner Before Votes Are Cast

A map of San Diego City Council District 5.
A map of San Diego City Council District 5.
Mark Kersey, San Diego City Council District 5
A San Diego City Council Winner Before Votes Are Cast
GuestMark Kersey, businessman, candidate, San Diego City Council District 5 San Diego County Registrar of Voters, Deborah Seiler

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is not unusual in San Diego for an incumbent city councilmember to run unopposed, but what is unusual is having a nonincumbent, in fact a first-time politician ran unopposed for a city Council seat. That's just what's happening this June in the primary in the fifth district. The district which includes San Diego neighborhoods of Rancho Bernardo, San Pascual, Sabre Springs and includes parts of Scripps Ranch and Rancho Penasquitos have has its election boundary lines change but the bulk of the district is now represented by Carl DiMaio. He is running for mayor. The seat is open and the only candidate who decided to run as Republican Mark Kersey. We will speak with Mr. Kersey in just a moment. First we are joined by San Diego County registrar of voters Debra Seiler to talk about the situation. Hi, Deborah. DEBORAH SEILER: Hi Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It seems unusual to me that a nonincumbent is running unopposed for San Diego city Council district. Is it really unusual? DEBORAH SEILER: It is. We've actually searched our records for a contest as high-profile as a city Council seat and could not find any indication that there was ever a nonincumbent running in an open seat unopposed. I will point out however that during the candidate filing period, one other person did file for this particular seat, but they did not have the sufficient number of nominating signatures. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. I think that the city clerk's office did some looking and it was way way back in the World War II period. Where there was actually a nonincumbent who ran unopposed again in the fifth district, in fact there were two of them. I wonder, though, Deborah, let's say someone, Mr. Kersey will be indulgent of me for a moment, let's say someone in the fifth district doesn't want to vote for Mr. Kersey. Do they have any options? DEBORAH SEILER: Not for this election. Their only option would be simply to not vote in that particular contest. In some contests on the ballot there are qualified write-in candidates but there is no qualified write-in candidate for this ticket was see. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how does someone become a qualified write-in candidate? DEBORAH SEILER: In the city of San Diego the qualification requirement is to submit a petition with 100 signatures, but that deadline has passed, so it's really too late at this point to do that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: can someone choose as you say not to vote for certain issues or candidates on the ballot and does that interview in some way with how their other votes are counted? DEBORAH SEILER: That's a very good question and commonly misunderstood. Voters need to vote for every contest listed on their ballot. They can vote for one, they can vote for everyone, or they can pick and choose freely among the ballot and it has no other impact on the votes cast. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Deborah just in closing how busy is your office a week away from the primary? DEBORAH SEILER: Well this morning looks like we got just about 60 or 70 trays of mail ballots that came in so yes, things are busy here, but not as busy as it will be for the November general election. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, exactly and I know we will be speaking with you a lot more next week. I want to thank you Debra Seiler, San Diego County registrar of voters. Thanks very much. DEBORAH SEILER: You are very welcome. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now to the sole candidate for the fifth city Council district in San Diego Mr. Mark Kersey. Thank you so much for coming in. MARK KERSEY: Hi, Maureen thanks for having me. I appreciate it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we would like to invite our listeners especially those in the fifth district to join our conversation if you'd like to do that, our number 1-888-895-5727. Mark why did you decide to run? MARK KERSEY: Well I've been active politically for a while in the reform movement that we've been working on to oppose the sales tax increase, best managed competition, gator record number of signatures for pension reform and you know so I've been active politically undecided this year with some of the things that are going on in the city I feel like we've made good progress toward implementing these reforms. We've still got a lot of work to do but coming from the background of being a small business owner I've got a technology research firm in Rancho Bernardo. It just seems like more common since the attitude things done in advance the reform saving citizens have said they really want to see happen. And just move the ball forward and get the city going again. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me give you a chance to introduce yourself to the people of San Diego if you're going to be on the city Council. Grid you live, how long have you been in San Diego that kind of thing. MARK KERSEY: Sure, I live in Rancho Bernardo in the Bernardo Heights neighborhood. I've been in San Diego for I guess 11 years. It was right before 9/11 I moved out here from the Midwest. Born and raised in Ohio, went to school at Chicago and Northwestern and came out here. I've been working in technology research for essentially my entire career. And like I said but quite effective politically on the site. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's talk about how active you've been politically on the side because as I said you are sort of walking into a city Council seat and I'm wondering what it is that you think in your background qualifies you to represent your community, represent this district. MARK KERSEY: When I get around to talking to people the fifth Council district it's very clear that they don't want a lot of extra set of their city government. They're not asking for miracles, here. I mean, they really just want the basics. They want the roads repaved, they want the libraries open, they want to rec centers open. They want the city to be fostering an environment that makes it you know, friendly for jobs to get people back to work, you know people, for businesses. So you know, it's really does kind of just common sense ways of looking at how the city should operate, that's what I'm bringing to City Hall, and I think that's what I get around to talking to people in my district that's what they expect. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is mirrored by your campaign website let's fix San Diego, right, so what are some of the specifics that need fixing and how would you do that? MARK KERSEY: You know it's really kind of a twofold proposition, so we need to continue on the fiscal reform path that Mayor Sanders and others have charted over the last several years, there's clearly a lot of progress has been made and the mayor deserves a lot of credit for that. There's clearly still a lot more that needs to be done so we've essentially limited the structural that budget deficit which is great now we need to work on restoring neighborhood service levels to the point where they should be. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what should the services be? I've read that you really think people want basic services what are the basic services the city should be providing? MARK KERSEY: The basic services are really, infrastructure, so getting the roads repaved, making sure that the sidewalks are in good shape and public safety. In Rancho Bernardo and Scripps Ranch specifically due to the fires of 2003 and 2007 public safety safety obviously a big issue in law enforcement continues to be an issue around the city. So you know, from those I would say that's where people mostly want to see the focus speed, so we need to continue on the fiscal path of reforms we can take the savings from things like pension reform and managed competition and reinvested back into that neighborhood services. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to invite listeners again if you have questions for city Council candidate Mark Kersey to give us a call district 5 you are invited to give us a call 1-888-895-5727. That is 1888895KPBS. So, Mark, do you like the job that Carl DeMaio is doing representing the fifth district? MARK KERSEY: I think Carl's done a good job. I think if you go to the district you'll find that his strongest supporters are in district 5 which is perhaps not surprising, but when I go around gesturing people's concerns, they want to see the fiscal reforms that Carl has been talking about. They want to see again the reinvestment in the neighborhood services you know my style is different from Carl's. He's very, I think his persona is fairly well known at this point and I'm not probably at that same level in terms of me know, how I just interact with people and things like that, but I think of the policy stuff again, he is nearing what is district wants to see and probably what a lot of people around San Diego want to see. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you support his run for mayor? MARK KERSEY: I'm staying neutral on the mayor's race will find on Tuesday how things would go down but neutral for now. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you speak with Councilman DiMaio about running for the fifth district? MARK KERSEY: I did. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what kind of advice did he give you MARK KERSEY: Sure, he gave me some good people some neighborhood community activists that have been helpful to him and suggested I meet and talk with them and gauge the level of support that would come from people like that and that was extremely helpful. So that was a big part of it right there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do feel comfortable talking about what you might do differently that Councilman DiMaio? MARK KERSEY: Well I think everybody brings their own style to political office everybody's got their own way of doing things, Carl's got his style, Nathan's got his style. You know, subset may not going to be a mirror image of any one of those guys are Bonnie or Bob Filner. Everyone's got personality so even if on issues we are similar you know other things are going to be different. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line and again we invite you to give us a call. I am speaking with Mark Kersey, he's the sole candidate for that fifth district seat in the County of San Diego. Our number is 1888- 895-5727. Ramona is calling from San Diego. Ramona welcome to the show. CALLER: Thank you. I was wondering if Mr. Kersey would be working to restore the funding from the city for the San Diego of San Diego River Park effort mainly because the city has more acreage in the park and his district and then all the other jurisdictions. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the question. MARK KERSEY: That's a good question and one of the good things by running unopposed is I've got time to do a deep dive on a lot of these issues that maybe don't come up a lot in the campaign and this is one of them. I've got some friends who are involved with the River Park Conservancy I'm going to be working with them to understand specifically what the city's role is and from a funding perspective for the dollars have been coming and perhaps where they should be coming so it is certainly something I want to get very educated on and do everything I can to be smart about it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So it's a question you have to bone up on a little bit. MARK KERSEY: That's exactly right. What you find about city government is that there are so many issues that you have to very quickly become an expert on and I'm going to pretend to be an expert on a lot of these today because frankly my business hasn't necessarily taken me down all of those various paths, but what you get to do in the summer and into the follies just meet with a large swath people and begin to understand exactly what the city's role on some of these things this. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark were you surprised that you are running unopposed in his district? MARK KERSEY: I was. I mean I certainly you'd never expect you're going to be running unopposed with especially with a relatively high profile office like city Council that there's going to be people stepping up, that people are going to come out of the woodwork and it's going to be with in the past half a dozen candidates or more running for the spot. There have been different names over the months and really nobody ever materialized. So I think part of that is looking part of that is also a testament to the fact that we got out early, we started earlier than any Council candidate in the city essentially, maybe except for the comments, but you know we raised early money, we got early endorsements and really made it clear that I was serious about this and was going to work hard at it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, just from listening to you it's kind of clear to me that you are pretty much politically aligned fairly closely with Councilman Carl DiMaio. So, if he does not if he is not elected Mayor, do you think that perhaps you will have a hard time, harder time in the city Council than if he is Mayor? MARK KERSEY: No not at all I mean I'm going to work with whoever the next mayor is whether it's Karl, Nathan, Bonnie or Mr. Filner. I would say that my philosophy is fairly similar to Lori (inaudible) or Kevin Faulkner, in terms of what we want to see the city accomplish in some going to be working with those guys and with Tony Young and I'm going to reach out to all of my future colleagues. In fact I already have with some of them. And really just try to establish that working relationship really and hopefully we're going to be able to work with the new mayor. But I also think the Council needs to exert itself a little bit more. We've got a strong mayor, which is fine but we also should have a strong counsel and I think that there's a necessary and proper oversight role for the Council to play on some of these issues particularly when it comes to the bureaucracy and how the, you know, the taxpayers and businesses have to deal and sometimes fight with the bureaucracy to get things done. I think the Council needs be part of that conversation and if necessary bring some pressure to bear. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And going back to the issue fire protection that you brought up just a little bit ago. It's a bit concern for people living in the northeastern part of the city. You have any plans, any ideas about how to increase fire safety for the city of San Diego? MARK KERSEY: My fingers a number of things. There's a constant education process that goes on in terms of helping people understand you know, the brush that they should be clearing away from their properties, you know, the role that certain vegetation plays in terms of making you more or less susceptible to being in a fire, and then there's more that the city needs to do. I mean if you look at the fire station we have at Rancho Bernardo station 33 serves 27 ½ mi.². It has the broadest coverage area of any in the city and I think the national average is something like 5 mi.². So it is a huge territory it has to cover and you're talking some of that area particularly the northern part where that is the most susceptible part if we were to have a bad fire. So I think we need to figure out a way as we are we investing in infrastructure to either get another station built, or potentially one thing that I've been floating around and trying to gauge the support is for substations, so instead of having you know, one new big station, have smaller substations that are kind of strategically placed not necessarily manned full-time but they have apparatus and I'm ready to go in case of a serious emergency like we had in 03 in 07. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: any concerns that the fiscal reform brought about by prop be if it is past might hurt San Diego's ability to recruit the best firefighters? MARK KERSEY: I don't have that concern at this time. When you look at it right now the statistics when we get a vacancy in the fire department, the number of applications we get for just one vacancy is staggering. I mean it is hundreds for one position. So we have not historically had a problem with recruitment in the fire department. I don't anticipate that we will because it is a good department. You know it is well-run, and I don't see that being an issue. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Two quick yes or no questions if I can because I'm running out of time are you for or against medical marijuana remaining legally and California. MARK KERSEY: I don't have a choice whether it's legal or not it is a question that the city does about it so that's going to be the question. And that to me is a completely different Pandora's box of what do we do with zoning because the state ballot initiative that made it legal with a think about how cities are supposed to work with at some point to be working with the city's attorney's office the Mayor's office etc. and trying to figure out how do we position the city so that we are not running afoul of state law but also keeping our neighborhoods safe. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you personally for or against medical marijuana? MARK KERSEY: I don't have a problem with it it's state law so my position on it is kind of irrelevant. I've got a friend who's going through cancer treatment, and she is an advocate of it and I'm going to tell her that she's wrong that that it helps her treatment. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Chargers stadium much effort in seats of for do you support that? MARK KERSEY: Look I would love to get a new stadium built it's a question of how we refinancing. With the loss of redevelopment that was a big component of how the city has the ability to pay for something like that. So yes, I would like the Chargers to stay. I would like to see a new stadium built but the devil is really in the details on that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm going to have to end it there you are one man who's not going to be biting his nails on election night. MARK KERSEY: That's true MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with the candidate for the fifth city cancel district in San Diego Mark Kersey, thank you very much. MARK KERSEY: Thank you Maureen, thank you for your time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still ahead, photos and audio from the heyday of just in New York City are on display in the Jazz loft Project in mobile. That is as KPBS Midday Edition continues. First, some headlines to keep you up-to-date with the news of the hour. The UN is said to hold an emergency meeting Friday in the aftermath of last week's massacre in Syria. Meanwhile Turkey and Japan are the latest nations kicking Syrian diplomats out of their country. Illinois has become the newest battleground for the nation's fight over same-sex marriage. More than two dozen gay and lesbian couples filed lawsuits today looking to legalize gay marriage. And a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico's Gila national Forest is now the largest fire in state history. Officials say it has grown to more than 170,000 acres and has burned a dozen homes. Once again it is seen southwestern New Mexico. Listen for the latest on the stories two today here on KPBS it's 12:42. This is KPBS Midday Edition.

The last time a non-incumbent ran unopposed for a high level city of San Diego office was when Harley Knox was elected to the City Council District 5 seat in 1939. But now that's happening again in this election.

Mark Kersey is running unopposed to represent District 5, the district formerly occupied by Carl DeMaio, who is now running for mayor.


The district includes the northern San Diego neighborhoods of Rancho Bernardo, San Pasqual, Sabre Springs and parts of Scripps Ranch and Rancho Penasquitos.

Kersey owns Kersey Strategies, an independent research and consulting firm. But he is also considered by many to be a rising star in the Republican Party.

He told KPBS he doesn’t know “what the future will hold,” but said he is looking forward to transitioning from being a full-time businessman to a member of the City Council.

Kersey supports Proposition B to change future city employees’ pensions to 401(k)-style retirement plans.

Because city workers do not receive Social Security benefits, opponents to Prop B argue that eliminating those workers’ pensions is unfair.


But Kersey said, “my understanding is that there will be a transition period, and some of the new city workers will be able to get back into Social Security, potentially.”

“There seems to be a little guidance that we will need from the IRS and Social Security administration on how that will happen,” he said.

But, he said, the city will pay “a matching contribution into something.” He said as a “relatively young guy,” he would rather have more control over his own money, because Social Security may have dried up by the time he retires.

Kersey has written, “We also must rethink the role of government in certain aspects of the city’s operations and examine our core competencies,” including golf courses and airports.

But he told KPBS he does not necessarily support privatization.

“What is the city good at?” he asked. “Does the city need to be in the business of running golf courses? Does anybody really think that the city’s core competency is in running golf courses? I somehow doubt it. Does anybody really think that the city needs to run a cemetery, airports?”

He suggests putting those agencies out to bid.

Kersey also said he supports a new stadium for the Chargers, but that “the devil is in the details.”

It comes down to “how we do it” so the city is not bankrupted, he said.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.