The newly drawn 50th Congressional District, which stretches from East San Diego to the Mexican border, is so lopsidedly Democratic that the winner of the party's June 2 primary almost certainly will be the district's new congressman.
Fortunately, the contest has drawn an unusually high-caliber lineup of candidates. Even the also-rans show promise. But, of the six-candidate Democratic pack, only three have a legitimate chance to win: state Sen. Wadie Deddeh, former Rep. Jim Bates and San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner.
The three share the dual advantages of high name recognition and demonstrated fund-raising abilities. And, though they represent a combined total of 54 years in political office, each has managed to find a spot in the race's top tier despite the anti-incumbent mood of today's electorate.
The Times endorses Filner. Yes, his aggressive style sometimes draws him into needless confrontations. But that same aggressiveness--coupled with his sharp intellect and full-throttle energy--will be an asset for a local congressional delegation that currently doesn't score high on any of those scales.
Certainly, Filner knows how to get things done. He has successfully led efforts to establish "drug-free zones" near city schools and expand low-income housing opportunities and job development programs. He has worked particularly hard to establish programs to convert defense jobs to other industries as cuts in military spending threaten thousands of San Diego workers.
Deddeh has spent more than 25 years in the state Assembly and Senate, where he is highly regarded as a friendly and dedicated lawmaker. But Deddeh, at age 71, is viewed by many as seeking something akin to retirement in Congress. And he's the only one of the top-tier three who opposes abortion, an issue that could soon come before Congress if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade.
Bates is a poster boy for term limits. In the vernacular of the moment, he "just doesn't get it." Voters tossed him from office in 1990 after he was rebuked by the House for sexually harassing female aides--but he still has the arrogance of a long-term incumbent. Small wonder that earlier this year he was identified as one of the worst offenders in the congressional check scandal, writing overdrafts totaling $170,685.
Two other Democrats, Greg Akili and Juan Carlos Vargas, are promising candidates who need some political seasoning--perhaps on the school board or City Council--before they are ready for a congressional seat. Republican Luis Acle is also an impressive, articulate candidate. But his agenda lacks specifics. And, with Democrats enjoying a 16-percentage-point registration advantage, even the strongest Republican candidate would have difficulty securing a victory.
The Times endorses Bob Filner.