SAN DIEGO -With the 5-4 Democrat majority on the technically nonpartisan San Diego City Council guaranteed to continue, the results of Tuesday’s election could give Democrats a 6-3 majority immune to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto.
A Democratic victory in District 2 or 6 would push the council majority to a veto-proof 6-3. Districts 4 and 8 both feature two Democrats in the general election.
With a council super majority on the line, the partisan race for the council’s seat representing District 2 has become one of the fiercest in the city. Incumbent Republican Lorie 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.
Zapf’s challenger, retired physician and Democrat Jen Campbell, has 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 have 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 have argued that Campbell may have committed disability fraud, and should be dismissed as a viable candidate on that allegation alone.
Both candidates have received large amounts of financial support from outside groups — 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. Should Zapf lose, she would be the first incumbent City Council member to lose a re-election bid since 1991.
The other race that could give Democrats a super majority on the council is in District 6, where Republican incumbent Chris Cate is running against former radio personality Tommy Hough. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 6,000 in the district, which includes Mira Mesa, Clairemont and Kearny Mesa.
Cate appears nowhere near 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 argues 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 has 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, meanwhile, has 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, although remains to be done in District 6.
District 4 incumbent and City Council President Myrtle Cole is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat and civil rights lawyer Monica Montgomery. 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. Last week, 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 that current City Councilman, Democrat David 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.
In his stead, Alvarez staff member Vivian Moreno is running against San Ysidro School District Board member Antonio Martinez, ensuring the council will have at least one new face when it reconvenes after the election. Both Moreno and Martinez are Democrats.
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 has 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, is running 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.
Two local ballot measures are also noteworthy entering the election, measures K and YY.
Measure K would 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, has faced staunch opposition from taxpayer groups and local conservatives, who argue that it will run up an eight-figure debt for the county. The measure would authorize 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 would fund improvements to school security, classroom technology, plumbing and campus infrastructure and, most importantly, remove asbestos from campuses and lead from drinking water.