There was action on two fronts in the San Diego City Council 4th District race Monday as a Superior Court judge refused to place two candidates on the ballot and the enmity between front-runner Marla Marshall and community leaders escalated.
Following brief hearings in his chambers, Judge Richard Huffman rejected attempts by businessman Richard (Tip) Calvin and radio broadcaster Gloria Tyler-Mallery to have their names placed on the Sept. 15 primary ballot despite their failure to secure enough valid signatures on nominating petitions last month.
Last Friday, Huffman ordered city officials to place candidate Wes Pratt on the 4th District ballot even though Pratt, like Calvin and Tyler-Mallery--as well as four other candidates who were disqualified--had fallen short of the 200-signature requirement.
In that case, Huffman ruled that Pratt, who had submitted 238 signatures on his nominating petitions--only 179 of which were validated as being those of registered 4th District voters by the county voter registrar's office--had "substantially complied with the intent" of the local election law.
Timing Most Important
Although Calvin and Tyler-Mallery were disqualified under similar circumstances--only 181 of the 255 signatures that Calvin collected, and 157 of Tyler-Mallery's 261 were valid--timing played a more important role than the facts in producing a different outcome for their legal bids.
In urging Huffman not to reinstate the two on the ballot, Chief Deputy City Atty. Ted Bromfield noted that Monday marked the beginning of absentee voting in next month's four council races. Therefore, if Huffman had altered the field of candidates on Monday, "people voting tomorrow would be voting with a different ballot than those who voted today," Bromfield said.
Siding with Bromfield, Huffman told Tyler-Mallery's attorney, William Duerksen, that his motion had simply been filed too late.
"The electoral process has begun," Huffman said. "It's simply a matter of timing."
As of late Monday, no 4th District absentee votes had been cast at the voter registrar's Kearny Mesa office, according to Registrar Connie McCormack. Huffman, however, said that fact "doesn't make any difference," because the election has "legally begun."
Both Calvin and Tyler-Mallery started write-in campaigns after their ballot disqualification last month. Both expressed disappointment with Huffman's rulings but said they were uncertain whether they would appeal.
Continue With Write-ins
"I'm not sure what the next step is," Calvin said. "In the meantime, we'll continue what we already started with the write-in."
While that facet of the race was being shaped in court Monday, the ongoing verbal fireworks between candidate Marshall and some politically prominent Southeast San Diego leaders intensified.
At a Golden Hill news conference, six well-known community activists renewed their oft-stated pledges to, as one put it, "work to our last breath" to defeat Marshall, whom they characterized as a "bought-and-sold carpetbagger" backed primarily by development interests but with little support in or knowledge of the 4th District.
Those at the news conference were the Rev. George Walker Smith, one of the black community's most visible political activists; the Rev. Ellis Casson, president of the influential Southeast Ministerial Alliance; Verna Quinn, described by Smith as "the most identifiable white leader in Southeast San Diego"; journalist Gloria Vinson; Vernon Sukuma, executive director of the Black Federation, and psychologist Carrol Waymon.
Marshall has drawn sharp criticism from some of those leaders--most notably Smith and Casson--with regularity since moving into the district to satisfy council race residency requirements earlier this year. In response, Marshall, the former administrative assistant to Councilwoman Gloria McColl, has labeled her critics "self-appointed leaders" more concerned about "maintaining their little dictatorships" than with the community's needs.
Support From Outside
As evidence of Marshall's purported lack of popular support in the 4th District, Casson pointed out Monday that about three-quarters of the $72,052 in campaign contributions that she had received as of Aug. 1 came from development interests outside the 4th District, while less than $1,000 came from district residents.
"This is a sad indictment," Casson said. "We have no problem with candidates running anywhere they can. But we certainly have problems with candidates . . . who are bought and sold."
Others at the news conference contended that Marshall, who has been criticized throughout the campaign for not attending several major candidate forums, was largely uninvolved in 4th District affairs before the council race.
"Imagine someone wanting to represent the 4th District . . . but not attending a public forum," Sukuma said. "I have never, ever in my life seen Marla Marshall at any forum of the NAACP, the Urban League, any Black Federation forum . . . any church, any baptismal, any bar mitzvah in the 4th District. And I've not heard of anyone else who has seen her at anything."
Dismissing the criticism as "nothing I haven't heard from them before," Marshall expressed reluctance to "get bogged down in a point-by-point rebuttal" to her critics' remarks. However, she said that she has been involved in school, church and other civic affairs in the district, adding, "To say I've not done anything in the district is ridiculous."
Not Worried, She Says
In regard to the criticism over the source of her campaign funds, Marshall charged that more than 90% of Pratt's contributions and more than 70% of the donations received by another major 4th District contender, the Rev. George Stevens, also came from outside the district.
"I'm not any more worried about what they said (Monday) than I was about what they said last week or what they'll say next week," Marshall said.
"These people were not appointed or elected to speak for the district. If I'm mistaken on that fact, I'll stand up on Sept. 15 and admit it. If I win or lose because of their antics, I'll say, 'Well, now it's been proven that they're leaders.' But I don't think that's going to happen, and until then, all this talking back and forth isn't going to have a tremendous impact on the district."
Smith said that he and the others at Monday's news conference "plan to do a lot between now and the election" in their attempt to defeat Marshall. While he did not detail the group's plans, one component of the strategy likely involves spreading the anti-Marshall message through ministers and churches, which, as Casson pointed out, "still are looked to for leadership . . . from the mass of people in the black community."
But Rick Taylor, Marshall's campaign consultant, predicted that the election results "will show that these people don't have much to back up their words."
"We don't really care what they do, because they haven't been very effective so far," Taylor said. "What they're really worried about is that after Marla Marshall wins, they'll lose the little bit of power they have now. On Sept. 15, it's adios , hasta la vista for them. They know that and it scares them."