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Incumbent Myrtle Cole Finishes Second In Tight San Diego Council Race

San Diego City Council candidate Monica Montgomery, left, is shown in a courtesy photo, and Councilwoman Myrtle Cole speaks at a news conference in this undated photo.
Megan Wood
San Diego City Council candidate Monica Montgomery, left, is shown in a courtesy photo, and Councilwoman Myrtle Cole speaks at a news conference in this undated photo.

Antonio Martinez gets to compete for David Alvarez’s seat

Incumbent Myrtle Cole Finishes Second In Tight San Diego Council Race
Incumbent Myrtle Cole Finishes Second In Tight San Diego Council Race GUEST: Leonardo Castañeda, reporter, inewsource

Our top story, the June primary election results are now all in and with all the votes counted, there are some surprisingly close finishes. Reporter Leo Castaneda has been crunching the numbers and he joins me now. Leo, welcome. >> Happy to be here. >> Let's talk about turnout. The numbers of voters who participated in the primary was actually really good. >> Yes, 39.8%. I went back and saw how this compares with other midterm elections. This is the highest since 1998. It is pretty good. And especially compared to 2014 we had low turnout, only about 27%. This is a good uptick. >> Let's move on to the races that came down to the wire. All of which were San Diego city Council races. In the eighth district, Vivian Moreno got the most votes, but the race for that I can place was incredibly close. Tell us about that. >> It came down to three votes, Antonio Martinez, every vote counts. Antonio Martinez , was able to edge out [ indiscernible ]. And so now we wait to see if the loser will ask for a recount. That was a very close race. If this holds, martinis and Vivian Moreno will face off in November. >> What is the process? Is it difficult to ask for a recount? Christian Ramirez loses his spot to run in November by 3 votes, and he just automatically asked for recount? >> He could. But it would get very expensive for his campaign. A recent recount cost about $50,000, and they stop after seven days. He would have to raise significant money for a candidate in a race where they don't normally raise hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions of dollars like we see in progress congressional seats. If he does want to do this, he is going to need to raise significant money. It is expensive. Going back and checking a lot balance will take a lot of staff hours. >> Another surprise was that San Diego city Council resident Myrtle Cole came in second. What is the story there? >> That's right. In another close one, Monica Montgomery who is an ACLU lawyer and used to work for Kolkata eat the incumbent by six votes. Every vote counts. Now they will face off in November. It is pretty surprising, Montgomery will still have an uphill climb. What she told me about these results, and what they mean for her November, >> There is a lot of hard work ahead. But we are ready. This really gives us the momentum going into November. It is exciting, it shows the community is ready for change. >> And that momentum is going to be key for her. In a come but has not lost reelection in a long time. >> How long? >> We look back, and the last time we had an incumbent council member not get reelected was 1991. This is an encouraging sign for Montgomery. But Cole still has history of her site. >> Moving to another council district, Lori Zach won the primary, she wanted significantly, but the final vote count finds that she did not break the 50% mark. The November race is expected to be much closer, why is that? >> She is one of the remaining four Republicans in city Council, and her seed is key. If Democrats flip it, they have a super majority, Republicans don't have enough votes to get an item on the agenda, Democrats can override a mayoral veto. She did not get 50%. Actually Democrats, even though no individual Democrat did as well, Democrats in the race overall got about 53% of the vote. They are hoping that if they can coalesce, they might have a chance at flipping that district. >> And if one more Democrat were elected to the Council, that would change the mayors panel wouldn't it? >> Yes. I talked to a consultant who told me, this would make it harder for the Republican to govern. He would have to veto more bills, he would have less of an easy time negotiating. Because the Democrats would be able to pass things without having to negotiate, even if one of the Democrats refuses to back a measure, they have enough that they are still able to pass thanks. They are able to appoint a Council President more easily. This would empower the Democrats on the Council significantly at a time when we are seeing democratic power ascendant throughout the county. We are seeing efforts to flip a seat in the 49th, in the congressional district. We can see a Democrat on this democratic County Board of Supervisors, it is becoming a more democratic town, and Republicans are likely hoping to hang onto the seat and the city Council for longer. >> Zach has a real race on her hands for November? >> She does. I talked to a political consultant who says he expects this to be the most expensive city Council race we have seen in a while. Already the regional change of Chamber of Commerce and the [ indiscernible ] formed a committee to support her that has more than $300,000. And that Jennifer Campbell, who was the Democrat who may pass the primary, she may start getting significant support from democratic groups around the city who are hoping to turn the seat. I would expect this to become a very expensive and very hard-fought race. >> Why does it take so long to certify these votes? To count them all? We have the June primary in early June, here it is a month later, what is the process involved? >> It takes a long time, we get pretty good results early on, and we have a good idea of how the rest of the vote is going to go. There are a couple of things that go into effect. One is they don't have as big of a staff as they do on election day. They have to count ballots that maybe got a little wet, or the dog to them and you still send them in. And they have to can tent with provisional ballots. This year you can vote same day, cast a provisional ballot, in which case registered voters have to make sure you are also not registered to vote in a different county or jurisdiction. That you did not vote in more than one place. That is what slows down the process this year. >> I have been speaking with Leo Castaneda with the KPBS I new source, Leo thanks.

The tallying of votes in two close San Diego City Council races ended Thursday, with challenger Monica Montgomery finishing first ahead of Councilwoman Myrtle Cole by six votes. They’ll both compete in the November runoff to represent the southeastern San Diego district.

In the race to replace Councilman David Alvarez in the city’s southern district, three votes separated the second- and third-place candidates, an outcome that could lead to a recount. But if the vote count stands, the November runoff will be between Vivian Moreno and Antonio Martinez.


The primary was June 5, but the county Registrar of Voters Office has been continuing to count mail-in and provisional ballots since then. Certified election results must be sent to the secretary of state by Friday.

For the primary, Cole raised more than three times as much money as Montgomery, but still finished second in a four-candidate race. Cole and Montgomery are both Democrats.

No San Diego City Council incumbent has lost a bid for re-election since 1991. With her second-place finish, Cole now appears to be the underdog in November.

Montgomery said she knows beating an incumbent in the general election is not a sure thing.

“There is a lot of hard work ahead, but we're ready and this really gives us some momentum going into November,” Montgomery said. “It's exciting. It shows that the community is ready for change.”


In a statement, Cole campaign consultant Jennifer Tierney said, “We have been preparing for a strong general campaign since the day after the primary. Myrtle will be continuing her duties as Council President while mounting the campaign required to win in the general.”

Republican political consultant Jason Roe said before the results were released Thursday that he was surprised by how close the race was. He said because he thought some of Cole’s political moves in the past year would have bolstered her chances.

She was elected council president in 2016 with the backing of the council’s four Republicans, but she stripped three of them of leadership positions when she was re-elected in 2017.

“I expected that she would be politically rewarded by her allies on the left,” Roe said. “But it doesn't seem that everybody got the memo.”

Geneviéve Jones-Wright, who lost her race for district attorney in June, endorsed Montgomery on Monday, calling her “the leader our communities need.”

Montgomery is an attorney with San Diego’s ACLU chapter and previously worked as a policy adviser to Cole. She said she quit working for Cole after the councilwoman made comments about the racial profiling of blacks by police that suggested it was justified.

An inewsource voting results map shows Jones-Wright did particularly well in her contest against District Attorney Summer Stephan in precincts in Cole’s district, which includes Skyline and Oak Park.

Close Second-Place race

In the race to replace termed-out Councilman Alvarez, Moreno easily finished first. She works in Alvarez’s council office.

But second place came down to the wire. Martinez beat Christian Ramirez by three votes.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Sunday that Martinez and Ramirez were considering requesting a recount, depending where each finished. A 2014 recount in a Chula Vista council race cost $50,000, according to the Union-Tribune. The most recent campaign finance filings show Ramirez had almost $41,200 on hand heading into the June vote. Martinez had about $3,900.

Moreno is a Democrat, as are Martinez, a San Ysidro School District board member, and Ramirez, a director at the advocacy group Alliance San Diego.

The southern San Diego district includes Barrio Logan and San Ysidro.

Four candidates competed for Alvarez’s seat. In the end, Moreno bested Martinez by 1,240 votes.

Supermajority On The Line

Four City Council seats were on the line in June. And though the nine-member council is technically a nonpartisan body, party politics play a role in how the council’s business gets done. Currently, the council is split with five Democrats and four Republicans.

Cole and Alvarez’s seats will remain in Democratic hands no matter who wins in November. Republican incumbent Chris Cate, whose district includes Mira Mesa, Rancho Peñasquitos and Kearny Mesa, easily finished first in the primary and likely will prevail in the fall.

Republican incumbent Lorie Zapf may have a harder time in November.

She won the primary with about 43 percent of the vote, about twice the number of votes second-place finisher Jennifer Campbell captured.

Campbell and three other Democrats challenged Zapf for her seat. When you total the votes for all of the Democrats, they collected almost 54 percent of the vote. The remaining votes went to a Republican and a no party preference candidate.

If Zapf loses her coastal district seat, the Democrats would have a supermajority on the City Council. That means Republicans wouldn’t have the four votes needed to get an item on the council agenda. Democrats would also have enough votes to override a veto by Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Roe, who managed Faulconer’s successful campaigns in 2013 and 2016, said a Democratic supermajority would affect the mayor’s ability to govern.

“I think he would probably find himself in a position of playing defense rather than playing offense, and having to use his veto,” Roe said.

The high stakes in the fight for Zapf’s seat mean both candidates will likely be bolstered by large sums of money. A pro-Zapf political action committee sponsored by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and Lincoln Club raised $370,000 ahead of the June primary.

“I think this is going to be the most expensive City Council race we've seen in some time,” Roe said.

He said he expects Zapf will do well in November by focusing on her experience and just one opponent. She had six challengers in the primary.

That said, a 2016 inewsource analysis of San Diego council elections found Democrats do better in November than in June primaries.