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Bernhardt Fires Back as Recall Battle Begins

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Backed by about 60 friends and campaign supporters, San Diego Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt used a well-choreographed meeting at the City Hall concourse Thursday to launch her defense against a recall effort spearheaded by a group of neighborhood activists from District 5.

Although billed as a press conference, Bernhardt’s afternoon meeting quickly took on the appearance of a campaign rally, as Bernhardt’s staff urged supporters to stand behind their candidate while she spoke to reporters. Bernhardt’s supporters broke into applause several times during the press conference when she pledged not to “back down” in the face of the recall effort.

Bernhardt characterized the recall effort as a “witch hunt” staged by the city’s “Old Guard,” which she said includes Councilman Bruce Henderson, Mayor Maureen O’Connor and former Councilman Ed Struiksma. Bernhardt alleged that the “Old Guard” was “waging a war against Linda Bernhardt.”

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Bernhardt acknowledged that some of her strongest supporters in last November’s campaign were disillusioned because she would no longer represent Scripps Ranch if the council adopts a controversial redistricting plan proposed by Councilman John Hartley.

But Bernhardt maintained the recall drive was being led by “some political forces that can’t stand a new voice at City Hall.” She suggested that those political forces were trying to win support by “duping” community leaders in District 5, which she represents.

Bernhardt was surrounded by community leaders from District 5 and representatives of environmental groups, developers, the business community and the gay and lesbian communities.

Just minutes after Bernhardt’s press conference ended, a second group gathered just a few yards away to officially announce their recall effort of Bernhardt.

Backed by about a dozen supporters, Kathy Gausted, co-chairwoman of the recently formed “Recall Bernhardt Committee” began the politically tough task of ousting a seated council member.

“Linda Bernhardt has violated the public trust and must be removed from office,” said Gausted, who said that Bernhardt treats her constituents with “apathy, arrogance and, oftentimes, dishonesty.”

However, while Gausted blasted Bernhardt’s performance during seven months in office, she gave few concrete examples of why Bernhardt should be recalled. Gausted also said the current redistricting fight was not the key reason for the recall effort.

Gausted estimated that her group, which so far has collected less than $300, will need $20,000 if it is to successfully force Bernhardt from the office that she has occupied since January.

Ten of the recall group’s steering committee members are from Mira Mesa or Serra Mesa. Just one, Donna Evans, is from Scripps Ranch. One member is from Rancho Bernardo and the other is from Clairemont.

Gausted denied that her group had any political ties to O’Connor, Henderson or Struiksma.

She said political consultant Jack Orr has agreed to work for “20% of whatever we can raise.” Gausted denied Orr had organized the anti-Bernhardt movement. She said the group hired Orr because they need his “professional capabilities” to succeed in the recall effort.


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