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San Diego Democrats Trying To Unseat GOP Councilmen Face Uphill Climb

The Democrats trying to unseat Republican Councilmen Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey must compete for attention with another heated City Council race that both political parties have a chance at winning.

San Diego Democrats Trying To Unseat GOP Councilmen Face Uphill Climb


Claire Trageser, reporter, KPBS News


Four San Diego Democrats trying to unseat Republican Councilmen Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey may not get much support from the local Democratic Party.

Why? Because the Democrats have put their attention on another City Council race — the District 1 seat — which they are at risk of losing to the Republicans. If that happens, Republicans would likely hold a 5-4 majority on the City Council.

So even with that reality, the Democrats trying to unseat Sherman and Kersey contend they still have a shot at winning in the June 7 election.

Sherman, the Republican incumbent in District 7, is facing challenges from Democrats Justin DeCesare and Jose Caballero. The district runs from Mission Valley and Del Cerro to Miramar.

On a recent morning, Sherman was just starting to hang up signs in his campaign office. He’s hoping he won’t be there long.

"We have a short lease with an option to renew if we need it, and hopefully we won’t," he said.

He’s hoping to win outright in June, which he did when he was first elected in 2012 — by 53 votes. To avoid a November runoff, he needs more than 50 percent of the vote.

So he’s not skipping campaign mode.

"Like in the business world, when you take something for granted that’s the minute it doesn’t happen," Sherman said. "So you want to plan for the worst and hope for the best."

In his first four years in office, Sherman is most proud of repaving more than 100 miles of road and finding funding for a 35,000-square-foot skate park in Linda Vista, which he said will be one of the largest in the country.

If re-elected, he hopes to continue to focus on improving infrastructure such as streets and parks.

"I have a mantra in my office that I brought with me from the private sector," he said. "Five simple words: How may I help you?"

Photo caption: City Councilman Mark Kersey and District 5 candidates Frank Tsimboukakis and ...

City Councilman Mark Kersey and District 5 candidates Frank Tsimboukakis and Keith Mikas appear on the top row, left to right. District 7 candidates Jose Caballero and Justin DeCesare and City Councilman Scott Sherman appear on the bottom row, left to right.

But DeCesare, a Navy veteran and real estate broker who served a term as president of the Tierrasanta Community Council, said he thinks community needs have been overlooked.

"We had a 5,000-person petition for a dog park brought to us a few years ago, and that gets to City Hall and it's immediately just overlooked for the sake of special interest development," he said. "Everything we've seen with our district spending most of their time on the Chargers stadium, I thought there was a need to put the community voice back in at City Hall."

The Democrat said he thinks he has a shot not only of extending the race past June but also of winning.

"People don’t need to discount the race," he said. "I think in the last few months with the support we’ve had we've seen that people know that one, we can win, and two, it’s important that we do so."

Photo by Susana Tsutsumi

This map shows the location of the San Diego City Council's District 7. It includes Tierrasanta, Lake Murray, San Carlos, Del Cerro, Allied Gardens, Grantville, Serra Mesa, Mission Valley and Linda Vista.

District 7

Democrats: 36%

Republicans: 32%

Independents: 27%

Source: San Diego City Clerk, 2/29/16

He said fundraising has been a challenge, but he's hosting community events and is hoping for forums with the other candidates.

"Our campaign is based on going door to door and talking to voters, and if we walk, we’re going to win," he said.

He points out the district has more registered Democrats, and that he’s been endorsed by groups such as the firefighters union, the Municipal Employees Association and the San Diego County Democratic Party.

He was picked over fellow Democrat Caballero, also a Navy veteran, who says he's running "as a progressive, fighting for a fair, equitable, progress-oriented vision for our great city."

That party endorsement comes with money for mailers, email blasts and volunteers. But a lot of that support will likely be directed at District 1.

"District 1 is definitely the biggest focus because a Democrat holds that seat, and there's a good chance we’ll continue to hold that seat," said Francine Busby, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party.

Busby said the Democrats will spend most of their time and money fighting to keep District 1, which includes La Jolla, University City and Carmel Valley.

Democrat Sherri Lightner holds the seat now. She’s in her last term, and Republican Ray Ellis hopes to take the seat. That would shift the City Council to a Republican majority.

Lightner's husband, Bruce, is a Republican and he also got into the race a week before the filing deadline. The Democrats running in District 1 are Barbara Bry and Louis Rodolico. Kyle Heiskala, an independent, also is running in District. 1.

Busby said candidates like DeCesare in District 7 will have to prove to the Democratic Party they’re worthy of support.

"We look at the strength of the candidates, polling, what turnout models are looking like, and look at their fundraising, and talk to their supporters," she said.

The most recent campaign contribution filings show DeCesare raised $38,893 in 2015 (and spent $52,902); Caballero $20,549 (and spent $18,854); and Sherman $230,426 (and spent $65,701).

Challengers to Kersey, the other Republican city councilman seeking re-election, face an even steeper uphill climb. District 5, which runs from Scripps Ranch to San Pasqual, is the only council district with a majority of Republicans.

Photo by Susana Tsutsumi

This map shows the location of the San Diego City Council's District 5. It includes San Pasqual, Rancho Bernardo, Black Mountain Ranch, Rancho Peñasquitos, Carmel Mountain, Torrey Highlands, Sabre Springs and Scripps Ranch.

District 5

Democrats: 29%

Republicans: 38%

Independents: 29%

Source: San Diego City Clerk, 2/29/16

In 2012, Kersey ran unopposed, but not this time. He's facing challenges from Democrat Keith Mikas, a political newcomer who says he's running because of the lack of local candidates.

"Now that San Diego has been in a drought for over three years, our city should be more concerned about our quality life concerns," he wrote on his campaign website. "For instance, watering our pride, olive trees along Rancho Bernardo Road has been curtailed."

Democrat Frank Tsimboukakis, an investment manager, wrote on his campaign website that if elected he will roll back some water rates and fees, hire "more and better trained policemen and firemen" and "make infrastructure upgrading and maintenance an ongoing project not an election year issue."

The Democratic Party endorsed Tsimboukakis, who hasn't filed his campaign contributions.

In 2015, Mikas raised $2,170 (and spent $2,019). Kersey raised $74,859 (and spent $23,080).

Kersey said he'd heard an effort was made to be sure he didn't run unopposed like last time.

"That’s OK. A little competition is healthy," he said.

He said he's most proud of focusing the city conversation on infrastructure during his first term. His infrastructure ballot measure, called Rebuild San Diego, will also be on the June ballot.

If re-elected, he hopes to continue to work on implementation of his open data policy. The city recently launched a website where city data will be posted. Kersey is also working on a program where residents can call 311 to get information and report issues.

Kersey is expected to win outright in June. If he does, he’ll focus on helping other Republican candidates win in November.

If Republicans win a majority on the City Council, they can elect a Republican City Council president. Kersey wouldn’t say who he thought that should be.

Special Feature Election News

"One thing I like that my colleague Scott Sherman has suggested is that we rotate that position around on an annual basis," he said. "I think there’s a lot of merit to that, but he and I haven’t talked about it in months, ever since we went through that whole thing with Todd and Sherri," referring to the City Council vote that ousted Councilman Todd Gloria from the president's seat.

Sherman had another idea.

"I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at it," he said.

Sherman’s opponent, DeCesare, knows most of the attention is on District 1. But, he’s hoping to change that.

"I understand what that open seat means to our City Council right now, but our goal is to let people know how important District 7 is as well," he said.

He and the other Democratic candidates will be pushing over the next few months to get enough votes to continue campaigning after the June 7 primary.


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