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Cate, Kim Battle For More Than Just A San Diego City Council Seat

Video by Katie Schoolov

San Diego’s only City Council race may affect more than just one district’s residents. KPBS Metro Reporter Tarryn Mento says it could decide if the Democrats keep their supermajority.

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If you don’t live in Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa or part of Rancho Peñasquitos, you may be unaware of the District 6 City Council race between Democrat Carol Kim and Republican Chris Cate, but nearly $1.5 million has poured into the race.

In south Rancho Peñasquitos, Darshana Patel was eager for the final forum between two candidates vying for her vote in the San Diego City Council District 6 contest.

“Most importantly I want someone who’s going to approach with an open mind and really think of residents," the community volunteer said.

If you don’t live in Clairemont, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa or part of Rancho Penasquitos, you may be unaware of the council race between Democrat Carol Kim and Republican Chris Cate, but nearly $1.5 million has poured into the race.

Kim, a 38-year-old former teacher who now works at an education nonprofit, is a political newcomer. Cate, 31, is the vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and, despite his age, has a measurable history in San Diego politics.

The two first-generation Asian-Americans are running for more than just a spot on the council. Although seats are officially nonpartisan, Democrats represent two-thirds of the council now, giving them enough votes to overturn any veto by Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer. If Kim wins, the majority will remain intact. If Cate prevails, the mayor gets his veto power back.

In her District 6 campaign headquarters, Kim said her political rookie status is an asset.

“I believe strongly, especially in local government being of the people for the people by the people, which really is about having people who are very representative of us and our lived experiences down at City Hall," she said.

Both Kim and her opponent list police and infrastructure as their top funding priorities. But she’s focused on education; he’s all about jobs.

The mother of two said Council President Todd Gloria — a Democrat who endorsed her — has agreed to establish an education committee and appoint her chair if elected, and said she’s even reached out to San Diego school board members.

“We have already started discussing possibilities in terms of the kinds of collaboration that we could actually do between the city and the school districts,” she said.

Photo caption: Carol Kim and Chris Cate look at the moderator at a district 6 city council c...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Carol Kim and Chris Cate look at the moderator at a district 6 city council candidate forum in Rancho Peñasquitos, Oct. 15, 2014.

Gloria clarified that Kim’s potential role would be as a liaison to the school district and education community. No new committee is envisioned, but he said he'd be supportive of one in the future.

Cate said his council aspirations began when he worked in then-Councilman Faulconer’s office.

“You know, it’s like this is the only way to really effect change is to be the one on the dais pushing the button and voting," he said in an interview at the downtown San Diego office of a Republican consulting firm.

Since Jan. 1, Cate has raised at least $489,000, and independent committees have spent at least $709,000 to support him. Kim has raised at least $181,000, and independent committees have spent at least $88,000 supporting her.

Cate, who started a small business in Kearny Mesa while he and his business partner were still in college, said his focus is on jobs and details his ideas in a four-page plan.

Kim said she also wants to help small businesses, including translating city documents into multiple languages. The Korean speaker's own campaign literature is in English.

The two candidates have clashed over who’s voted in what elections. Both have skipped some.

But beyond that spat, the campaign turned ugly when Kim accused Cate of tax fraud. She said he received an exemption on his Carlsbad property he was no longer entitled to after moving to Mira Mesa in 2012. The miscalculation turned out to be a mistake on the county’s part, but Kim said Cate should have noticed the $75 error.

“I think it is incredibly important to know that our elected leaders are people who will do the right thing even when no one is looking," she said.

Cate said the accusation highlights her inexperience.

“When you’re making the step to actually accusing someone of being a criminal, I would think you’d want all of your facts straight," he said.

For District 6 voter Patel, the mudslinging and whether Democrats keep their supermajority don’t carry much weight.

"We would want to know if there’s a surplus in the budget, where would that surplus go? Is it going to go to libraries? It is going to go to tax rebates for big businesses? Is it going to come back into our communities and improve our parks?" she said.

The longtime Democrat said she walked into the debate undecided, but now is leaning toward one candidate.

She’ll cast her vote at the polls on Nov. 4.

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