Absentees Hold the Key in S.D. District Elections : City Council: Challengers Stallings, Stevens in the lead. Incumbents Filner and Roberts win easily.


Reflecting voters’ selective discontent with a San Diego City Hall wracked by scandal and political infighting over the past year, City Councilmen Wes Pratt and Bruce Henderson were apparently defeated Tuesday, while two other council members swept to lopsided reelection victories.

In San Diego’s second biennial round of district-only City Council elections, the Rev. George Stevens avenged his 1987 loss to Pratt in their 4th District contest, while Henderson was shocked in the 6th District by a lesser known, heavily outspent challenger, Pacific Beach activist Valerie Stallings.

The outcome in both races, however, could hinge on the nearly 1,200 uncounted absentee ballots turned in at the polls or at the San Diego County voter registrar’s office Tuesday. In Henderson’s race, the write-in votes collected by City Hall gadfly Don Stillwell--which, like the absentees’, will not be tabulated until today--also could be pivotal, because they could deny either Stallings or Henderson the majority needed to avoid a November runoff.

Councilmen Ron Roberts and Bob Filner, meanwhile, swept to overwhelming victories in their 2nd and 8th District races, respectively--victories that could launch 1992 campaigns for higher office for both men.


Roberts, regarded as an all-but-certain 1992 San Diego mayoral candidate, easily outdistanced former City Hall aide Richard Grosch and magician and frequent candidate Loch David Crane in the 2nd District campaign.

In the 8th District, Filner, who is pondering a race for Congress next year, won by a landslide 2 1/2-to-1 margin over San Ysidro community leader Andrea Skorepa and long shot Lincoln Pickard. Filner’s 70%-26% victory was especially impressive, because it came in a Latino-majority district specifically designed to enhance the electoral chances of Latino candidates such as Skorepa.

Like San Diego’s first district-only race two years ago--when two incumbents were upset and a third barely survived--this year’s election saw several better-known, better-financed incumbents succumbing to challengers who, by conventional political standards, appeared badly overmatched.

Only in the 4th District, where Stevens was well known from his strong 1987 race, lengthy service as an aide to former Democratic Rep. Jim Bates and years of community activism, was there even the semblance of a level political playing field at the race’s outset.


Stallings, meanwhile, was able to capitalize in the 6th District on Henderson’s strident pro-growth policies, which drew the ire of San Diego’s politically potent environmental community. Even so, both Stevens and Stallings were outspent by more than 4 to 1, mirroring the incumbents’ sizable financial advantages in the two other races.

In the 2nd District, Roberts’ campaign against Grosch and Crane was widely seen as a tune-up for a 1992 mayoral bid--a perception reinforced by his $250,000-plus budget and use of citywide television advertisements in the district-only contest.

Running under the slogan “Getting Things Done,” Roberts trumpeted a lengthy list of accomplishments, highlighted by his work on an agreement reducing the number of older, noisier planes using Lindbergh Field, in creating San Diego’s first city-owned jail, securing state and federal funding to renovate the Ocean Beach pier, and negotiating the purchase and restoration of Famosa Slough.

The 49-year-old Roberts also used the campaign to promote his proposal for a “TwinPorts” international airport on Otay Mesa that would share runways and a control tower with Tijuana’s existing airport.


Grosch, 46, seen by some as using this campaign to position himself for a special election if Roberts succeeds Mayor Maureen O’Connor, consistently faulted Roberts for “failed leadership” on district and citywide issues.

Crane, meanwhile, offered comic relief--but little more--in the race, using magic tricks, rap songs and rhymes to reiterate themes from his past campaigns.

In their 4th District rematch, Pratt and Stevens focused largely on the crime issue, with Pratt insisting that the council has begun to remedy gang and drug problems even as Stevens dismissed those efforts as ineffectual.

Like his council colleagues, Pratt, 40, cited expansion of the police force, acquisition of three mobile police substations and the city’s plans to build a pre-arraignment jail as “forceful, meaningful steps” toward reducing crime.


Pratt also reminded campaign audiences that he helped create the city’s Neighborhood Pride and Protection Program, a $28-million anti-crime plan, as well as other job-training and recreational programs aimed at keeping youths off the streets.

But Stevens, a 59-year-old former civil rights radical whose fiery rhetoric contrasted sharply with Pratt’s understated style, called for more neighborhood-based solutions to crime, touting a seven-point plan for neighborhood councils designed to monitor communities.

In the 6th District, Henderson faced opposition not only from Stallings, a 51-year-old Salk Institute cancer researcher, but from environmental groups that rate him as having the council’s worst environmental record. City Hall gadfly Don Stillwell also ran as a write-in candidate.

While Henderson polished his record for constituents’ inspection, Stallings sought to persuade voters that Henderson’s grandstanding and infighting with colleagues were major reasons that the City Council had become “the least-respected government body in the region.” Stallings, however, offered few specific proposals of her own during the campaign.


Henderson, 48, consistently cited his attentiveness to district concerns, as evidenced by his successful push for a plan to reduce density in Pacific Beach and his populist positions on citywide issues, including his role in fighting a “costly and unnecessary” multibillion-dollar secondary sewage-treatment plan that he contends could triple sewer rates.

First viewed as vulnerable because of the 8th District’s new 62% Latino majority, Filner, 49, encouraged voters to examine the candidates’ records, not their ethnicity--a strategy that undercut 43-year-old Skorepa’s bid to become the first non-incumbent Latino ever elected to the council.


San Diego City Council


2nd District 100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Ron Roberts, i 9,534 57.1 Rich Grosch 5,590 33.5 Loch David Crane 1,576 9.4 4th District George Stevens 6,656 52.1 Wes Pratt, i 6,123 47.9 6th District Valerie Stallings 9,422 50.3 Bruce Henderson, i 9,315 49.7 8th District Bob Filner, i 5,425 70.4 Andrea Palacios Skorepa 2,014 26.1 Lincoln Pickard 267 3.5

i indicates incumbents.

Elected candidates are in bold type.