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Hickey, Elliott Headed For San Diego City Attorney Runoff

Photo by Nancee Lewis

San Diego city attorney candidate Robert Hickey addresses the crowd at the U.S. Grant, June 7, 2016. Hickey is advancing to a November runoff against Mara Elliott.

Photo by Milan Kovacevic

San Diego city attorney candidate Mara Elliott talks to San Diego County Democratic Party Chairwoman Francine Busby at the Westin Hotel in downtown San Diego, June 7, 2016. Elliott will face Robert Hickey in a November runoff.


Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey and Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott led a five-way race for city attorney and will square off in a November runoff.

UPDATE: 2 p.m. June 8, 2016

Robert Hickey and Mara Elliott are headed to a November runoff to be San Diego’s next city attorney after prevailing over three other challengers.

Hickey, the lone Republican in the race, said Wednesday on KPBS Midday Edition that he does not think the supporters of the three losing Democrats will unite behind Democrat Elliott.

“It’s not a partisan race. It’s about doing better,” he said.

Some analysts were surprised by Elliott’s strong showing in the results, in part because she didn’t raise as much money as some of the others.

Elliott’s a chief deputy in the City Attorney’s Office. She said she thinks she did well because voters were “looking for experience and qualifications, and that’s probably why I stood out.”

Carl Luna, a San Diego Mesa College political science professor, told Midday Edition he believes Hickey’s and Elliott’s job titles helped them get to the November runoff.

Hickey is a deputy district attorney who has prosecuted gang cases for San Diego County.

UPDATE: 6:33 a.m., June 8, 2016

Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey and Deputy City Attorney Mara Elliott led a five-way race for city attorney and will square off in a November runoff.

Hickey told supporters that government had to do a better job serving the public.

"We're going to have a message of a positive, better San Diego and that's going to take us all the way to victory in November," Hickey said.

UPDATE: 11:16 p.m., June 7, 2016

Democrat Mara Elliott, a veteran of the City Attorney's Office, will face Republican Robert Hickey, a veteran of the District Attorney's Office, come November.

Hickey edged Elliott by less than 5 percentage points in a field of five candidates. Elliott said she will emphasize her experience in the City Attorney's Office in the general election.

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"Somebody coming from the outside, who doesn't have a strong civil litigation background, it will be quite challenging," she said.

Hickey said Elliott's criticism is unfounded because he has broad experience.

"I've led attorneys in the District Attorney's Office as president of the Deputy DA's association and leading attorneys is something of an art form. Attorneys have to be empowered and know their boss has their back," Hickey said.

Democrat Rafael Castellanos, finishing a distant third, was considered to be one of the favorites in the race. He said he didn't know whether to hope for a chance to run in November.

"We had no expectations. There hasn't been any public polling that's been done, there hasn't been a lot of interest in the race frankly, so we didn't know what was going to happen," he said.

Elliott and Hickey said they will focus on issues such as homelessness and domestic violence as they move toward the November election.

Update: 10:20 p.m., June 7, 2016

Republican Robert Hickey's lead is holding among the field of five candidates, with Democrat Mara Elliott not far behind.

Hickey has about 31 percent of the vote with Elliot at 27 percent.

Hickey, confident he'll be in a November runoff, told KPBS Reporter Alison St John that he's "excited about the results so far."

"We've been running on a positive message: to make government better," Hickey said. "Good government is not good enough."

Elliott, meanwhile, said she was please to be among the top two vote-getters and hopes the results hold.

UPDATE: 8:27 p.m. June 7, 2016

Could be a long night in the race to replace San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Early returns have Robert Hickey leading with about 31 percent of the vote, followed by Mara Elliott with 27 percent; Rafael Castellanos with about 17 percent; Gil Cabrera with 15 percent and Bryan Pease with about 10 percent.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Courtesy Photos

The candidates running for San Diego city attorney. From left to right: Mara Elliot, Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Bryan Pease, Robert Hickey.

Original post:

For most of this election season, San Diego's race for city attorney has largely been absent the aggressive and negative campaigning seen in other local races. Most of the five candidates agree the office should be above politics and instead provide solid, neutral legal counsel to city officials.

The political leanings of the city attorney, however, can manifest themselves depending on how the city attorney exercises the office. The city attorney also prosecutes misdemeanors and can choose to prioritize some crimes over others.

The lone Republican in the field is Robert Hickey, a deputy district attorney who has prosecuted gang cases for San Diego County. He argues that prosecutorial experience will be increasingly important as California's Proposition 47 downgrades many felony crimes to misdemeanors. But Hickey's opponents have tried to use his experience against him, painting him as a one-trick pony. Apart from 18 months at a private law firm years ago, Hickey's career has been exclusively at the county District Attorney's Office.

Gil Cabrera, one of four Democrats in the race, says his experience is best suited for the job. Cabrera runs his own private law firm specializing in business and political law, sits on the San Diego Convention Center Corporation board of directors, served as a Superior Court judge pro tem and chaired the city's Ethics Commission. His opponents have attacked him over the endorsement given to him by local attorney Cory Briggs, who has sued the city several times. Cabrera says the endorsement doesn't imply he endorses Briggs' methods, and that a good relationship between opposing attorneys is beneficial to both sides.

Rafael Castellanos has led the field in fundraising and secured the endorsements of several local Democratic clubs. He says his experience working as a real estate attorney will be vital as the city tackles issues ranging from its housing shortage to a potential expansion of the Convention Center and a downtown Chargers stadium.

His biggest liability, should he make it to a November runoff, could likely be a years-old sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him and his employer. Castellanos says it was a case of a disgruntled former employee, and that the settlement vindicated him. However, a recent attack ad still hinted at the lawsuit, comparing Castellanos to former Mayor Bob Filner, who resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.

The ad was run by another opponent, Mara Elliott. She already works in the City Attorney's Office as a chief deputy, and argues that experience and her background in municipal law make her the most qualified candidate. Elliott has trailed in fundraising but earned the endorsement of her colleagues in the Deputy City Attorneys Association.

A late entrant to the race was Bryan Pease, a public-interest and animal-rights lawyer. He has raised the least amount of money but hopes to capitalize on support from Bernie Sanders voters with a more anti-establishment message.

The crowded field of candidates suggests the city attorney's race will be pushed to a November runoff election between the two candidates who win the most votes.

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