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Von Wilpert Leading Levanthal In Race For San Diego City Council District 5 Seat

Yard signs for City Council candidates Marni Von Wilpert and Joe Leventhal ap...

Credit: Marni Von Wilpert, Joe Leventhal

Above: Yard signs for City Council candidates Marni Von Wilpert and Joe Leventhal appear in undated photos.

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Democrat Marni Von Wilpert is leading Republican Joe Leventhal in the race for the San Diego City Council District 5 seat.

Marni Von Wilpert, a San Diego deputy city attorney, has 37,136 votes (55%), while Leventhal, a partner at a law firm, has 30,229 votes (45%).

The outcome of the race for San Diego City Council District 5 could impact the balance of power on the City Council. The seat is currently held by the termed-out Mark Kersey, who was elected as a Republican but has since become a no party preference voter. So the race will help determine whether the council’s Democratic majority grows or shrinks.

Von Wilpert, 37, grew up in Scripps Ranch and earned her undergrad from U.C. Berkeley. Her law degree is from Fordham University. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana and also founded a legal clinic with the Mississippi Center for Justice before moving back to San Diego.

The 43-year-old Leventhal grew up in Los Angeles and earned his undergraduate degree from UC San Diego. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University. He founded his own firm seven years ago and has served on the San Diego Ethics Commission.

Von Wilpert came in slightly ahead of Leventhal in the March primary, with 39.8% of the vote to Leventhal's 36.9%. The third-place finisher was Democrat Isaac Wang.

The district is relatively balanced, with 36% percent of voters registered as Democrats, 31% as Republicans and 28.1% with no party preference. It covers northern San Diego neighborhoods including Black Mountain Ranch, Scripps Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, and Rancho Peñasquitos.

As a deputy city attorney, Von Wilpert said she's been on the front lines of enforcing San Diego County's public health orders during the pandemic.

"I've actually helped enforce some of the face covering requirements at some of our local grocery stores where we had hot spots in Pacific Beach," she said. "A lot of the reason is to protect the employees and our grocery store workers who are just trying to do their jobs and make sure that our families are fed at night."

She said the county's mask rule should be enforced with education and then citations if necessary.

Photo credit: Marni Von Wilpert

San Diego City Council candidate Marni Von Wilpert stands with supporters in this undated photo.

Leventhal disagrees, saying "education is more important than citations." But, he said, when violations are egregious, citations are appropriate.

Both candidates do not believe schools should reopen countywide at this moment.

"Schools should if they can afford to do so in a safe way," Leventhal said. But, he said, in some parts of the county, schools may not have the funding to open safely. His children attend Poway Unified School District schools and are preparing to go back to in-person learning soon.

Von Wilpert also said schools should not open until "our school boards, our teachers, our public health experts and our parents" are on board.

She added the city could help by opening libraries and fields for extra classroom space.

Photo credit: Joe Leventhal

San Diego City Council candidate Joe Leventhal stands with a supporter in this undated photo.

Neither candidate supports defunding police, but both said there are areas where the San Diego Police Department could make reforms.

Von Wilpert said she supports a measure to set up a privacy commission to review surveillance technology before it is used by city departments. Leventhal questions why such a commission is needed.

In terms of fundraising, Leventhal has outraised Von Wilpert. He raised $275,469, while she raised $204,681 this year. Outside groups spent $52,038 opposing Von Wilpert and $11,743 supporting her in the last two months before the election; meanwhile, outside groups spent $11,694 opposing Leventhal and $130,453 supporting him during the same timeframe.

Election 2020 news coverage

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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