Voters give San Diego an all-Democrat City Council for the first time

A group of people holding "Kent Lee for City Council" campaign signs cheers in a room
Judy Ki, center, and others celebrate as Kent Lee walks to the podium during an election party at the Westin Gaslamp Quarter on Tuesday night. The San Diego City Council will be composed entirely of Democrats for the first time.
(Meg McLaughlin / San Diego Union-Tribune)

This week’s elections gave Democrats control of all nine seats on the San Diego City Council for the first time, paving the way for more progressive policies but raising concerns the council will ignore the priorities of conservative voters.

Democrats increased their majority from 8-1 to 9-0 because term limits prevented the council’s lone Republican from seeking reelection, and because two Republican challengers for other seats lost runoffs to Democratic incumbents.

Democrat Kent Lee easily beat fellow Democrat Tommy Hough in the battle to replace Republican Chris Cate in north central District 6. Lee will join eight other Democrats on the council when he’s sworn in Dec. 12.

Incumbent Councilmembers Jennifer Campbell, Vivian Moreno and Monica Montgomery Steppe all held big leads in their re-election bids in early returns Tuesday night.

Nov. 8, 2022


They will include three incumbents reelected Tuesday: Jennifer Campbell and Monica Montgomery Steppe, who easily defeated Republican rivals, and Vivian Moreno, who easily won reelection over a fellow Democrat.

Democrats have been incrementally increasing their majority, which was just 5-4 in 2016. But this will be the first time there won’t be even one Republican voice in council debates.

While those debates are likely to feature less acrimony and disagreement, the council could be at risk of approving policies that generate backlash that they didn’t expect because they were less aware of contrary opinions and perspectives.

“I have appreciated Councilmember Cate for providing different opinions from a different ideological perspective,” Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said Tuesday night after it became clear there would be an all-Democrat council.

“But the Democrats on the council all have different life experiences and different perspectives,” he said. “We range the spectrum from very progressive to more moderate, so there is a variety of opinions on the council.”

Elo-Rivera conceded that the departure of Cate and the absence of a conservative voice would force council members to make some changes, including analysis of possible counterarguments to every move they make.

“We should be challenging each other and making sure we’re vetting things and asking tough questions,” he said.

But Elo-Rivera said the goal isn’t being in the middle ideologically. It’s approving policies and programs that help city residents.

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“At the end of the day, the true test is whether we’re improving the lives of San Diegans, and that’s the standard we need to hold ourselves to,” he said.

Councilmember Raul Campillo said critics concerned a 9-0 council could be oblivious to contrary perspectives don’t understand how the council typically works.

“I don’t disagree with Chris Cate on most things, because most of our votes are 9-0,” said Campillo, stressing that disagreements are rare when you are focused on filling potholes and saving taxpayers money.

“The No. 1 thing about City Council members is we’re looking out for our own districts, for the 150,000 residents we are meant to protect and making sure their interests are represented,” he said. “There’s no groupthink around here. Just look at the votes on budget amendments and key issues like policing and whether to put stuff on the ballot.”

Campillo said Lee will be a welcome addition, but not solely because of his party affiliation.


“We’re going to listen to his ideas, and it’s not because he’s a Republican or a Democrat, it’s because he’s got a really good mind,” Campillo said.

The victory for Lee also means Asian Americans will continue to have a voice on the council. The boundaries of District 6, which has 40% Asian residents, have been drawn with that goal of having a district where Asian Americans are the largest ethnic group. Cate, the council member Lee is replacing, is also Asian.

The candidates in District 6 are scrambling for support among Democratic factions and clashing on development

Sept. 29, 2022

Lee was thought to be in the tightest of the four council runoffs, but his lead over Hough — 57% to 43% in early returns as of Wednesday — was wider than Campbell’s lead of 55% to 45%.

That’s despite Campbell benefiting from being an incumbent and facing Republican Linda Lukacs in District 2, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly two to one.

Attack mailers part of a volatile campaign for District 2 council seat.

June 3, 2022

Campbell, who faced an unsuccessful recall campaign last year, may have been vulnerable in a runoff against a fellow Democrat. But she was able to face a Republican, partly because a committee supporting Campbell had sent mailers before the June primary urging voters to support Lukacs.