Initiating the most dramatic reshaping of the San Diego City Council in a decade, candidates Byron Wear, Bruce Henderson, the Rev. George Stevens and Bob Filner led their respective primaries Tuesday to become finalists for the four council seats being vacated by incumbents.
Final unofficial voting returns showed that Ron Roberts will face Wear in the 2nd District race this fall, Wes Pratt will run against Stevens in the 4th District, Bob Ottilie will be Henderson's opponent in the 6th District and Michael Aguirre will oppose Filner in the 8th District runoff.
In the 2nd District, businessman Wear and architect Roberts surpassed San Diego school board President Kay Davis, who entered the race substantially better-known than any of the other six candidates in the race. However, Davis' role in a since-aborted school board plan to build high-density housing on the site of the former Dana Junior High School also aroused considerable controversy and, her opponents argued, played a role in her defeat.
The 4th District results proved the success of an at-times acrimonious effort by some community leaders to block the candidacy of Marla Marshall, who recently moved into the district and, in their opinion, had less understanding of the area's needs than either Stevens or Pratt, an aide to county Supervisor Leon Williams.
In the 6th District contest, Democratic lawyer Bob Glaser was endorsed by outgoing Councilman Mike Gotch, but was unable to overcome the better-financed campaigns of Henderson and Ottilie, both of whom are lawyers.
In the 8th District, Filner, a college history professor and former San Diego school board member, and lawyer Aguirre narrowly ran ahead of county supervisorial aide Neil Good.
Because of the political retirements of four council members, this year's election will result in the largest turnover on the council since four freshmen were elected in 1977.
However, despite constant reminders that the election could, as candidate Glaser put it, "change the face of City Hall--and the city--for the next decade," the district primaries attracted little interest outside political circles throughout the summer. One telling indication of the lack of public enthusiasm over the races is that the candidates spent nearly $1 million--roughly $20 per every vote cast Tuesday.
Warm, sunny weather Tuesday contributed to a 24% voter turnout, slightly above local election officials' projections but a disappointingly low figure nonetheless, considering that the absence of heavily favored incumbents made this year's campaign the most wide-open, competitive council election in recent history.
With four open seats on the ballot, the election was the first in the 56 years since the City Charter was approved that no incumbents ran for reelection. As a result, many political activists felt that, with a 50% turnover on the council at stake, the campaigns would capture the public's attention as candidates with widely divergent styles and philosophies debated the city's future.
The four primaries ultimately attracted 27 candidates to the ballot, one of whom later dropped out, and two write-ins--one of the biggest fields in council election history. However, most sadly conceded that the campaign proved to be, as 8th District candidate Aguirre put it, "pretty much a yawner"--partly because the size of the field led to voter confusion and caused the candidates' messages to blur together, obscuring differences.
In each of the races, a handful of front-runners emerged early in the campaign and were never seriously challenged by their other opponents, whose slim hopes largely hinged on the possibility that the major candidates would splinter the vote, allowing a long shot to slip into the citywide runoff.
The 2nd District race to succeed retiring two-term Councilman Bill Cleator attracted seven candidates, led by Davis, Roberts and Wear. Like the front-runners in the other primaries, those three major candidates entered the race better-known in political circles and with stronger fund-raising capabilities than their opponents.
With few major issue-oriented differences separating them, Davis, Roberts and Wear spent much of the campaign searching for a political niche to distinguish them from each other.
For Davis, now in her second term on the San Diego Unified School District board, that meant emphasizing that she is the only candidate in the race with experience in elected public office, with "a track record of being able to move the bureaucracy." Roberts, meanwhile, consistently reminded campaign audiences that, during his five years on the Planning Commission, he cast nearly 2,300 votes on land-use matters--one of the council's primary tasks. And Wear, who grew up in the district, argued that his longtime activism in a wide range of community groups gave him "the best feel for the diversity and needs" of the district.
Four other candidates--financial consultant Ron Schneider, pharmacist Raffi Simonian, clinic administrator Frank Gormlie and Loch David Crane, a magician and teacher--also were on the ballot in the 2nd District, which includes Point Loma, Loma Portal, Mission Hills, Ocean Beach, Old Town, Middletown and parts of Hillcrest.
Eight candidates, including two write-ins, competed for the 4th District seat vacated by Councilman William Jones, who resigned this week to attend the Harvard Business School.
Most of the attention in that race focused on three present or former government aides--Marshall, a former aide to San Diego Councilwoman Gloria McColl; Stevens, an aide to Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), and Pratt, now on leave from his position as executive assistant to County Supervisor Leon Williams.
A Republican running in a heavily Democratic district, Marshall was vilified throughout the campaign by some community leaders as a "carpetbagger" after she moved into the district to satisfy political residency requirements. An account manager at a title company, Marshall labeled her critics "self-appointed leaders," and argued that her experience at City Hall gave her an edge over the other candidates in the 4th District, which encompasses Southeast San Diego, Paradise Hills, Logan Heights, Emerald Hills, Skyline and parts of Encanto and Golden Hill.
Stevens, well-known from more than 25 years of community activism, had his Democratic candidacy bolstered by endorsements from nearly 50 ministers, traditionally a major political force in the black community.
Meanwhile, Pratt, who was endorsed by Jones, suffered a political embarrassment at the race's outset when he was disqualified from the ballot for failing to secure enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions. Ruling that Pratt had "substantially complied" with the signature requirement, a judge later restored Pratt's name on the ballot--a decision that Pratt told campaign audiences demonstrated that he "can make the system work . . . for the district."
Two other potentially strong contenders--businessman Richard (Tip) Calvin and radio broadcaster Gloria Tyler-Mallery--saw their chances lessen considerably when they, too, fell short of the signature requirement. After losing court requests to be reinstated on the ballot, both were left facing uphill write-in campaigns--a particularly formidable obstacle in a district where voter turnout is generally among the lowest in the city.
Community activist De De McClure, U.S. postal worker Robert Maestas and Warren Nielsen, a property manager and frequent unsuccessful candidate, also competed in the 4th District race.
The Beach Boys
In the beach-oriented 6th District, five candidates--jokingly known as the "Beach Boys" because all are single men ranging in age from their early 30s to early 40s--sought the seat of retiring two-term Councilman Gotch.
Although lawyers Ottilie and Henderson, both Republicans, heavily outspent the others, all five waged strong door-to-door campaigns in the district, which includes Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Clairemont, Morena, Bay Park, Sail Bay, Crown Point, Rose Canyon and parts of Linda Vista and La Jolla.
Glaser, a Democrat and well-known environmental activist, tried to position himself as the natural heir of the coalition of environmentalists and neighborhood activists that for years formed the political base of outgoing Councilman Gotch.
A central theme in the campaign of Jim Ryan, an executive search consultant, was that he received "on-the-job training" to handle the district's problems in his former position as constituent service representative to Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego). The fifth candidate in the 6th District race was Paul Johnsen, publisher of a monthly magazine and a Pacific Beach community activist.
The 8th District race was one of the longest in the city's political history, having begun in earnest last year when lawyer Aguirre announced his candidacy amid the controversy over then-Councilman Uvaldo Martinez's misuse of his city-issued credit card for personal expenses. After pleading guilty to felony charges, Martinez resigned and was succeeded in December by Celia Ballesteros, who, as a condition of her appointment by the council, pledged not to run for the seat this year. That set the stage for the first "open" election in the heavily minority district since Bates' 1971 victory.
Although nine contenders--one of whom recently withdrew--entered the race, the campaign was widely regarded as being a three-candidate race among Aguirre, Filner and Good, all of whom are Democrats who had run for office before.
Campaign spending became a major issue in the 8th District race, as supervisorial aide Good, who raised about $80,000 from nearly 1,000 contributors, sharply criticized Aguirre and Filner, both of whom largely underwrote their own campaigns with $108,000 and $78,000, respectively, of their own money. In response, both Aguirre and Filner argued that, by spending their own money, they would be less beholden to the special-interest groups that traditionally bankroll local races.
The Long Shots
Businessman Bob Castaneda and land-use planner Gail MacLeod, both Republicans, also ran aggressive campaigns in the heavily Democratic district, which stretches south from Hillcrest through downtown to Otay Mesa and San Ysidro. Even some of their key backers, however, acknowledged that their hopes of success were slim--unless Filner, Good and Aguirre split the Democratic vote.
The long shots in the 8th District race included Paul Clark, the executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, securities broker Ty Smith and frequent candidate John Kelley. A ninth name, that of former City Hall aide Danny Martinez, also appeared on the ballot, but Martinez dropped out of the race two weeks ago and endorsed Aguirre.
San Diego Election
The Vote 2nd District 85 of 85 Precincts Reporting
Votes % Wear 4,415 33.1 Roberts 3,628 27.2 Davis 2,044 15.3 Schneider 1,360 10.2 Gormlie 1,174 8.8 Simonian 373 2.8 Crane 315 2.3
4th District 84 of 84 Precincts Reporting
Votes % Stevens 3,598 35.4 Pratt 2,618 25.7 Marshall 2,062 20.2 Nielsen 1,258 12.3 McClure 473 4.6 Maestas 154 1.5
6th District 117 of 117 Precincts Reporting
Votes % Henderson 4,585 29.4 Ottilie 3,851 24.7 Glaser 3,357 21.5 Johnsen 1,982 12.7 Ryan 1,802 11.5
8th District 9 of 91 Precincts Reporting
Votes % Filner 3,300 24.6 Aguirre 3,049 22.7 Good 2,667 19.9 MacLeod 1,657 12.3 Castaneda 1,116 8.3 Smith 770 5.7 Clark 550 4.1 Kelley 158 1.1 Martinez 111 .8