Democrats gain City Council supermajority

SAN DIEGO – Democrats’ 5-4 majority on the technically nonpartisan San Diego City Council was on pace Wednesday to increase to 6-3, a majority immune to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat physician Jennifer Campbell bested Republican incumbent District 2 City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf with 56 percent of the vote. That win gives Democrats an extra vote on the council.

Democrats retained control of  District 4, where incumbent City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole lost to fellow Democrat and civil rights lawyer Monica Montgomery. Montgomery had 56 percent of the vote to Cole’s 44 percent.

Should Cole or Zapf lose, they would become the first City Council member to lose re-election since 1991.

Live Election Results

In District 6, Republican City Councilman Chris Cate held on to his seat by beating challenger Tommy Hough 57 percent to 43 percent.

Vivian Moreno, a staffer for termed out District 8 City Councilman David Alvarez, beat San Ysidro school board member Antonio Martinez in the race to take Alvarez’s seat. Alvarez, Moreno and Martinez are all Democrats.

The race for the council’s seat representing District 2 became one of the fiercest in the city. Zapf cruised through the primary with 44.6 percent of the vote, more than double anyone else’s share of votes in the district. Zapf shook off an August challenge to her re-election eligibility by third-place finisher Bryan Pease, who argued that Zapf was termed out because she had already served two terms.

Zapf’s argument, held up by an appeals court panel, was that she served her first term representing District 6 and was redistricted into District 2.

Campbell argued that Zapf is more closely aligned with President Donald Trump than the coastal district’s left-leaning population, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 10,000.

District 2 residents also had campaign advertisements and mailers thrust upon them highlighting past comments by Zapf — which she later apologized for — disparaging gay people and homosexuality. Zapf’s mailers argued that Campbell may have committed disability fraud, and should be dismissed as a viable candidate on that allegation alone.

Both candidates received large amounts of financial support from outside groups in the run-up to the election — labor unions for Campbell and business groups for Zapf. The campaigns of both women could theoretically spend a combined total of $2.4 million on the race by the time the election dust settles.

Cate never appeared as vulnerable as Zapf due to his success in the primary and vast fundraising lead. Cate took 58.5 percent of the primary vote, while Hough mustered 16 percent. Cate also led Hough in fundraising $151,320 to $4,860 as of Sept. 22, according to KPBS.

Hough argued that he will narrow the gap between him and Cate with his ground game and claims Cate has handled multiple issues poorly during his term, like vacation rentals and community choice energy, which the city plans to implement by 2021.

Hough also railed against Cate for providing a confidential memo from the City Attorney’s office about Measure E, the SoccerCity initiative, to SoccerCity officials in June 2017. Cate paid a $5,000 fine for the leak, but the state Attorney General’s Office opted in May not to charge Cate.

Cate mostly campaigned on his City Council record of fixing roads and saving two senior centers in the district from closing. Cate argued to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the race should be focused on results.

Cole’s second-place finish in the June primary, albeit by a meager six votes, surprised City Hall politicians on both sides of the aisle. Cole suggested to Voice of San Diego in July that her lack of a ground game during the primary was the main cause of the result.

The district, sandwiched between City Heights on the west and Lemon Grove on the east, is deeply blue, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans 3-to-1. However, Cole is the most moderate of the five current Democratic City Council members, a fact that might have caused Montgomery to enter the race.

Montgomery is a former member of Cole’s staff who resigned last year when Cole suggested that some racial profiling is useful. Montgomery has argued that Cole is twisted around the axle of City Hall politics, keeping her from effectively representing her District 4 constituents.

Cole stepped up her campaigning after the primary and has received significant financial backing from labor leaders in recent months. Two weeks before the election, Cole also received support from a somewhat unlikely source.

A report by Voice of San Diego revealed that Mayor Kevin Faulconer nixed two planned campaign expenditures that would have gone to Montgomery and has helped raise money for Cole since September. Theoretically, a Democratic council with Cole as the swing vote would be more beneficial to Faulconer than the more progressive Montgomery.

City Council District 8 is something of a wild card, given Alvarez is termed out and unable to run again. Alvarez is running for a seat on the San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees.

Moreno led the way in the June primary with 35.8 percent of the vote while Martinez advanced to the general election by just three votes over human rights advocate Christian Ramirez. Despite the narrow margin, Martinez received the endorsement of both Ramirez and the San Diego County Democratic Party.

Martinez frames himself as something of an outsider, claiming that the City Council largely ignores District 8, which is geographically separated and includes Barrio Logan, Otay Mesa and San Ysidro.

“Our community has been ignored for too long,” Martinez said in his official statement. “I’ll fight for the fair share our neighborhoods deserve.”

Moreno, however, ran on her experience in City Hall, arguing that the transition from Alvarez to her would be negligible. Moreno would also be the first woman to represent the region on the council. Moreno is supported by Alvarez, the Sierra Club, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez.

Meanwhile, voters approved Measures K and YY.

Measure K will correct the phrasing in the City Charter’s term-limit provision for City Council members, limiting them to two terms regardless of district. In essence, Zapf would not be eligible for re-election this year had the specifications in Measure K already been on the books.

Measure YY, meanwhile, faced staunch opposition from taxpayer groups and local conservatives, who argued that it will run up an eight-figure debt for the county. The measure authorizes the San Diego Unified School District to issue $3.5 billion in bonds to fund repairs and upgrades to schools across the district.

“The San Diego Unified School District board has recklessly mismanaged its finances and now wants struggling San Diego families to pay over $1,000 each to bail them out,” said former City Councilman Carl DeMaio, part of a coalition of businesses and taxpayer advocates opposing the measure.

The bonds will fund improvements to school security, classroom technology, plumbing and campus infrastructure and, most importantly, remove asbestos from campuses and lead from drinking water.