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Politics

Contentious council meeting sees Sean Elo-Rivera reelected president

San Diego City Council president Sean Elo-Rivera (center right) listens during a meeting. San Diego, Calif. Jan. 24, 2023.
Alexander Nguyen
/
KPBS
San Diego City Council president Sean Elo-Rivera (center right) listens during a meeting. San Diego, Calif. Jan. 24, 2023.

The San Diego City Council Monday reelected City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera as council president for the third consecutive year.

Elo-Rivera was originally elected to the president's role on Dec. 6, 2021, replacing Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell. Unlike that day two years ago, where Elo-Rivera was elected in an 8-1 vote, the council president was reelected by just 5-4 on Monday.

The council president is tasked with placing items on the council's agenda, appointing members to committees and leading meetings.

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The four councilmembers voting no to the reelection each publicly stated their qualms with Elo-Rivera, ranging from claims that he interrupts women on the council as well as members of the public, takes retaliatory action against those councilmembers who disagree with him and takes a combative stance against the city attorney's office and organizations he views have undue influence on the council.

Council President Pro Tem Monica Montgomery Steppe, who voted to reelect Elo-Rivera, found some of these barbs as misinterpretations and unfair.

"We should welcome challenge, we should welcome dialogue, even if we disagree," Montgomery Steppe said.

Monday was the final city council meeting for the president pro tem, as she heads down the road to the County Administration Center tomorrow as the newest member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Campbell, who served as council president for a year before Elo-Rivera was elected, described him as unreliable, citing his votes against public safety items such as smart streetlights and the unsafe camping ordinance as reasons he was unfit for the role.

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Campbell was voted into the position over Montgomery Steppe by a 5-4 margin in December 2020. She spent the next year dealing with not only the city's difficulties in the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a failed effort to recall her.

Following the vote, on an item which would have allowed councilmembers to publicly state which committees and boards they would like to serve on — not the typical way such appointments are done — Campbell referred to the other four councilmembers as Elo-Rivera's "minions."

This prompted a response from Montgomery Steppe.

"I want to object to one thing, and that is being called a minion," she said.

Councilman Stephen Whitburn, another dissenting vote, said the council would have been better served by a "truly inclusive" leader. Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert claimed Elo-Rivera would "aggressively" interrupt her, something she said she didn't see happening to male councilmembers. She also said the council, which is entirely comprised of Democrats for the first time in the city's history, has become "more and more divided over the past two years."

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno offered full-throated support for Elo-Rivera, saying his willingness to lead the council through troubled times in the city more than qualified him for the role.

Elo-Rivera represents San Diego's District 9, stretching from the College Area and Kensington in the north to Mountain View and Southcrest in the south.

The San Diego City Council, like all local government bodies in California, is officially nonpartisan.

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