Deceased candidate creates controversy in Chula Vista
Democrat Simon Silva had what appeared to be a comfortable lead in the race to be Chula Vista’s city attorney when he succumbed to cancer in early September.
In the months since, city leaders and the local Democratic party have mourned Silva’s passing while also continuing to campaign for him against Republican Dan Smith.
Mayor Mary Salas has a Silva campaign sign on her yard and the party still includes him in its endorsement list for Chula Vista elections — without mentioning that he’s dead and unable to serve public office.
If the vote count after Tuesday’s election ends up favoring Silva, it will trigger a special election that will cost the city up to $2 million.
Smith is crying foul and sent Salas and the Democratic Party a letter asking them to stop campaigning.
“Misinformation by perpetuating this fraud on the voters of Chula Vista is potentially causing the expenditure of millions of dollars, which is a substantial amount of taxpayer funds,” he wrote.
City Clerk Kerry Bigelow confirmed during a late September city council meeting that a special election would need to be scheduled if Silva wins.
There is only one scenario in which the city council could appoint a new city attorney without a special election — if current City Attorney Glen Googins would resign after a Silva victory in the general election.
However, Googins told KPBS in a statement that he does not plan to resign.
“If there needs to be a special election to fill the office of city attorney, my intent would be to continue to serve as Chula Vista’s city attorney, as is provided in the charter, until my successor is elected and sworn in,” Googins said.
During that September city council meeting, Councilmember Steve Padilla said the decision should stay in the hands of the voters.
“I would like to put some comments on the record wherein I strongly believe that the next city attorney should be chosen by the electorate and not in any other de-facto manner,” Padilla said.
This controversy comes as Chula Vista faces an ongoing structural budget deficit. Previous city councils have cut services to pass balanced budgets.
The most recent long-term financial outlook projects a deficit of $600,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $1.4 million in 2025. The deficit is projected to grow to $4.6 million by fiscal year 2029, according to the city’s most recent report.
Residents at the September meeting asked Salas why she was still campaigning for Silva.
“Why madam mayor are you promoting Simon Silva for office by placing a sign on your front yard?” said resident Mary Cosio. “That puzzles me and it makes me feel like our city council and our mayor are playing politics with this election.”
Salas was visibly offended by the question. She raised her voice when she told Cosio, “I think it’s shameful that you are bringing this up.”
The mayor explained that she left a Silva campaign sign on her lawn, “in memory of him, as a gesture of respect … It’s just appalling to me that that would be interpreted that way.”
Cosio wasn’t alone in speaking out against the campaigning for Silva.
John Moot, who ran for city attorney in the primary but did not get enough votes to move on to the general election, also cautioned against it.
“You are all respected community leaders,” he told council members. “I do hope we resist the temptation to play politics with this tragic passing and that we not be out actively supporting a situation where the person elected cannot assume office.”
Smith also attended the meeting. He said the $2 million that would be spent on a special election could be spent on hiring more firefighters, removing graffiti or addressing homelessness.
The San Diego County Democratic Party did not respond to a KPBS request for comment.
Party Chairwoman Rebecca Taylor previously explained the party’s position to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“To honor the democratic process and the will of the voters, and with the blessing of his family, we encourage voters to select Simon Silva on their ballot. If he is again the top vote-getter in November, our duly elected city officials will follow the city charter to fill the vacancy,” she wrote in a statement.
President Joe Biden is in San Diego to rally for Democratic Congressman Mike Levin, who’s facing a tough challenge from Republican Brian Maryott in the 49th Congressional District. In other news, the San Diego Democratic Party is promoting a dead candidate in the Chula Vista City Attorney race. Plus, we have some weekend arts events worth checking out.
On Midday Edition we’re bringing you a special program featuring our reporting and analysis of some of the key races voters will be weighing in on in San Diego County on Tuesday. President Joe Biden will be in San Diego Thursday to campaign for Congressman Mike Levin, (D-San Juan Capistrano). Levin is in a tight race with Republican Brian Maryott. Then, San Diego County voters will choose a new sheriff for the first time in 12 years. And, we’ll dig in to Measure A which proposes taxing cannabis businesses in the unincorporated area, Measure B which proposes allowing the city of San Diego to study the feasibility of charging trash pickup fees for single-family homeowners by repealing the century-old People’s Ordinance law, and Measure C which would remove the 30-foot coastal building height limit in the Midway District. Then we’ll hear about the candidates and issues in the Chula Vista mayors race. Finally, we’ll hear about the significant focus on local school board races.