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Campbell ousted as San Diego City Council president, replaced by Elo-Rivera

File photo of Sean Elo-Rivera speaking at Hoover High School in Talmadge on Oct. 7, 2020.
Andi Dukleth
File photo of Sean Elo-Rivera speaking at Hoover High School in Talmadge on Oct. 7, 2020.

The San Diego City Council on Monday ousted Jen Campbell as council president in a surprise move, replacing her with Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera.

Campbell was elected to the post by her peers in 2020. Council president votes in odd years are traditionally routine re-elections of the incumbent, but five councilmembers — Joe LaCava, Monica Montgomery Steppe, Chris Cate, Vivian Moreno and Elo-Rivera himself — voted against giving her a second year.

Campbell ousted as San Diego City Council president, replaced by Elo-Rivera
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

All of those councilmembers, except Cate, voted against selecting Campbell as council president last year in one of the most contentious votes in recent memory. Cate did not explain why he no longer wanted Campbell in the post. However, he congratulated Elo-Rivera on Twitter, saying: "I appreciate the relationship we've built & look forward to working with you in 2022."


In San Diego's strong-mayor form of government, the council president is one of the city's most powerful elected officials. They are responsible for setting council agendas, doling out committee assignments and running council meetings.

Elo-Rivera, who represents District 9, said in brief remarks during the council's deliberation that he was ready for the role, and that he wanted the City Council to live up to its potential.

"That means being a strong council, that means being a responsible council, a transparent council, and a collaborative council that upholds responsible governance, that is as good as the people that we aim to serve," Elo-Rivera said.

The selection of the council president started with Councilmember Stephen Whitburn nominating Campbell for a second year, saying she had led the council through difficult times during the pandemic and had forged compromises on important issues. Whitburn's motion failed 5-4.

The following motion to select Elo-Rivera as council president passed 8-1, with Campbell casting the only "no" vote.


Campbell, who represents District 2, has faced opposition from all sides of the political spectrum and was the target of an unsuccessful recall campaign earlier this year. Her district includes western Clairemont, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Midway, Ocean Beach and Point Loma.

Opponents have criticized her for her stances on several issues including energy policy, policing, racial equity and short-term home rentals.

Campbell has also faced criticism recently over a staff member's involvement in the city's redistricting process. A watchdog group last week asked the San Diego City Attorney's Office to investigate whether Campbell or her staff had unethically sought to protect her from being drawn into a new district, which would have forced her to move in order to seek re-election next year.

Campbell said in a statement to KPBS: "At no point did I direct my staff to influence the Redistricting Commission in any way."

Campbell’s ascension to council president last year came despite a wave of community support to pick Montgomery Steppe for the job. Montgomery Steppe's supporters argued she was more progressive and qualified than Campbell, and, as a Black woman and former civil rights attorney for the local ACLU chapter, better suited to lead on racial equity issues.

Elo-Rivera is entering his second year in office. His district includes City Heights, Kensington, Talmadge, College Area and parts of Southeast San Diego. He is seen as a progressive willing to take on controversial issues, such as ending the city's century-old practice of offering free trash pickup to single-family homes but not apartments or businesses.