We’ve decided to include all our efforts to understand the 2016 election under the banner of San Diego Decides. As part of that, I’ll be writing a biweekly look at what’s happening in the races facing San Diego voters in 2016. It’ll include new reporting, follow-ups on bigger stories, and a round-up of other coverage of local races. To get the complete picture of the local election landscape, make sure you also check out the San Diego Decides podcast, hosted by Sara Libby and Ry Rivard. — Andrew Keatts


A handful of San Diego’s Democratic leaders arrived to some startling news at an endorsement meeting this week: Their party is under attack, from the inside.

San Diego DecidesA confidential memo obtained by Voice of San Diego alerted party insiders that Anthony Bernal, a staffer for Councilman Todd Gloria who’s running to replace his boss, was actually a stalking horse for the Republican Party. The party needed to endorse his opponent Chris Ward, chief of staff for state Sen. Marty Block, to stave off the “stealth GOP takeover of San Diego City Council,” according to the memo.

Jess Durfee, the county party’s chair emeritus, looked through the donation histories of Bernal’s donors and found a number of them had been substantial contributors to the Republican National Committee, a handful of Republican presidential campaigns and conservative local groups like the Lincoln Club.

In all, nearly $10,000 of the roughly $100,000 Bernal has raised so far came from people with a history of donating to Republican candidates and causes, according to Durfee’s memo.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Bernal would have the resources to wage a negative campaign against Ward unless progressives stepped up their financial support for him, Durfee wrote. The group unanimously voted to recommended the party endorse Ward next week.

“I can’t and won’t accuse Mr. Bernal of any impropriety in basing his campaign on overwhelming support from Republican donors, but it certainly does not bode well for our traditionally progressive Council District to be represented by a person so indebted to the right wing,” Durfee wrote.

Bernal campaign spokesman Nick Serrano said his candidate’s liberal bona fides were beyond reproach. After all, he’s worked for Gloria, one of the city’s most popular Democrats, for seven years.

“Anthony is a Democrat,” Serrano said. “What’s unfortunate about this race is that the Democratic Party and its establishment members are unwilling to consider Anthony after he’s exhibited Democratic values.”

Durfee’s analysis exaggerated the issue, Serrano said. Yes, Bernal has accepted donations from some Republicans. But that’s because there are a variety of constituents in the district, including Republicans. And those donors want Bernal to win because they know he can pick up where Gloria left off, and Ward can’t, Serrano said.

Serrano has a point: Durfee singled out about 20 donors out of the hundreds who’ve chipped in to Bernal’s run. And he emphasized the money they’ve donated to Republican causes over the years, but didn’t mention how much they’d donated to Bernal himself. Ultimately, the names he mentioned certainly helped Bernal, but also represented less than 10 percent of his total fundraising.

Durfee’s basic point, however – that Bernal is supported by Republicans and is a more conservative candidate than Ward – is substantiated by a comprehensive analysis of Ward and Bernal’s campaign finance records.

The company CROWDPAC looks at the donation history of all of a candidate’s donors to establish the candidate’s political relationships and forecast his or her political ideology. It assumes people donate to candidates who share their views, and uses all the people who donate to a candidate to surmise where that candidate stands relative to other candidates.

“This is exactly what our methodology was intended to do,” said Mason Harrison, political director for CROWDPAC.

Through the first six months of last year, the most recent period for which CROWDPAC had looked at San Diego’s District 3 Council race, Bernal graded out as a center-right candidate. Ward was solidly progressive, positioned further to the left even than Gloria, who was moderately liberal.

“This shows (Bernal) gets money from people who’ve given to Republicans,” Harrison said. “If he truly is a progressive champion, why doesn’t he get their support? He’s obviously, in terms of his political support, with right-of-center, mainstream causes.”

I wondered, though, whether the model didn’t leave open the possibility of confusing correlation and causation. Maybe Bernal really is the model Democrat he says, but his party’s donor class selected his opponent over him. What choice does he have but to solicit center-right support to keep his campaign alive?

Durfee said it’s a distinction without a difference, but it leads to the right conclusion: Bernal should have left the race.

“I’ve been around politics long enough to know you don’t get contributions from people unless they get something in return,” he said. “If he wasn’t talking to them about the direction in which he’d vote, they wouldn’t write a check. If you can’t get funding from those with whom you share values, don’t run.”

Bernal’s campaign said he hasn’t had to shift his values at all to appeal to the Republican voters who are donating to him. He just happens to be more receptive to the concerns of small businesses than Ward, Serrano said, so small business owners are comfortable donating to him despite his liberal priorities.

Durfee’s memo, however, included one more cryptic warning about the danger facing local Democrats: “With Mitt Romney now living in San Diego, the threat for a GOP takeover of local government is possibly at hand, abetted by Mr. Bernal’s debt to the ones who were bringing him to the dance.”

I wasn’t clear what the connection was between Romney’s residency and Bernal’s donations from the right. I asked Durfee to clarify.

“What I’m talking about there is … any tool the Republicans can use to manipulate, they will,” Durfee said. “Having Mitt Romney here, one of the very highest-profile Republicans in the country, is a great organizing tool.”

Pots and Kettles Everywhere

San Diego’s Democratic Party needs to look into its heart, political consultant Tom Shepard said, before it decides who to endorse in the city attorney’s race.

He happens to think doing so would lead the party to endorse his candidate, former Ethics Commission chairman Gil Cabrera.

In the aftermath of Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal, the party can’t afford to endorse Cabrera’s primary competitor, Port Commissioner Rafael Castellanos, because he was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against his former employer, Shepard said. The case settled without Castellanos personally having to pay anything, though his former firm’s insurance carrier did pay out some money.

In a piece I wrote this week on the jostling for the party endorsement, Castellanos’ consultant, Bill Wachob, said the accusation was rich coming from Shepard, who got Filner elected in the first place.

“It’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black,” Wachob said.

I neglected to include one other salient fact.

Shepard wasn’t always Filner’s consultant. In fact, they didn’t start working together in the mayor’s race until the general election.

The guy who ran Filner’s primary campaign, and who ran his congressional campaigns for years before that?

Bill Wachob.

Wachob acknowledged he had worked for Filner since 1991, but emphasized that there were no allegations against him during that time.

It’s true that Filner wasn’t subject to accusations until he was mayor. But many of those accusations stemmed from incidents that occurred throughout his political career, when Wachob was his chief consultant.

Castellanos will have to tweak one the lines he’s used to argue he deserves the Democratic Party’s endorsement.

He has often boosted his liberal credentials by pointing out that every local Democratic organization that endorsed a candidate in the race had endorsed him. It was true until Wednesday night, when the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Democratic Club endorsed Cabrera.

Castellanos now has 10 club endorsements to Cabrera’s one. The majority of liberal grassroots organizations in town have decided not to endorse any of the four Democrats in the June primary.

Campaign Round-Up

• David Garrick at the San Diego Union Tribune got in touch with Bruce Lightner, husband of Council President Sherri Lightner and now a candidate to succeed her in the City Council’s 1st District.

Political insiders speculated his entry was merely intended to eat into Republican candidate Ray Ellis’ vote total in June, keeping him below the 50 percent threshold that would end the race outright, so Democrat Barbary Bry could make it to the November ballot, where voter turnout would significantly improve her chances. Ellis also ran against Sherri Lightner in 2012. The race got pretty ugly, with Bruce Lightner calling Ellis an “unprincipled charlatan” after his wife won.

But Bruce Lightner tells Garrick he’s in the race to win.

“I’m running because the choices there, especially the other Republican in the race, were very distressing,” he said. “We need to get somebody in there who already knows what he’s doing and can get something done, and that’s certainly not Ray.”

• The County Republican Party endorsed Escondido Mayor Sam Abed in his bid to unseat Dave Roberts as county supervisor in the coastal 3rd District. The well-heeled conservative political group The Lincoln Club has endorsed the other Republican in the race, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar.

Bernal challenged the Chargers this week to pay for a new downtown stadium without taxpayer dollars. He did not say, though, what he would do if the Chargers failed to meet the challenge. At a live recording of the Voice of San Diego podcast this summer, he said he supported a downtown, multi-use stadium that included taxpayer dollars. The same night, Ward said he wouldn’t support public funding of any stadium bid.

    This article relates to: 2016 Elections, City Attorney, City Council, Politics, Politifest 2016

    Written by Andrew Keatts

    I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

    Glenn Younger
    Glenn Younger subscribermember

    If anyone wonders why Decline to State voters are growing at a faster rate in San Diego (and nationally) this article will help explain it. 

    Preliminaries are hard on moderates, even well qualified ones. Our preliminary system tends to require candidates to push toward the more extreme edge of their parties beliefs, and god help the candidate who has a any support out side of their party.  (for confirmation look back to 2012 and the mayoral race with Filner, DeMaio and Fletcher)

    As long as party leaders continue to support the farther left or right candidates, well qualified moderates will have a hard time.   

    The reason that one party or the other loses elections is that there are more voters who are becoming aware and independent than those who choose to vote a party line.  

    bgetzel subscriber

    The County Republican Party's endorsement of Sam Abed is disturbing. Abed is a Republican in the mold of Trump - racist and offensive. Under his leadership, the Escondido City Council passed an ordinance that required landlords to check the immigration status of existing and prospective renters. It was a law that Republican backing groups such as the Apartment Owners Association firmly opposed. A similar law in Lancaster, PA was later struck down by the Supreme Court, so Escondido repealed its version. There are many other examples of Mr. Abed's bias. Why couldn't the local Republican Party get behind a reasonable conservative in his stead?

    j c
    j c

    In our highly polarized political atmosphere, i'm happy to see a Democrat looking at the issues (instead of pandering to party politics) and landing where it benefits the people. Believe it or not, you can be liberal and pro-growth. We need to meet in the middle folks - i hope Bernal is an impetus for that. 

    lorisaldana subscriber

    I look forward to more information in the "San Diego Decides" series, and hope it encourages higher voter turnout for the June 7 primary.

    In reviewing this article, I realized it would be helpful to readers who are not politically savvy if the reporter would explain exactly what groups are being described in this sentence:  

        "The majority of liberal grassroots organizations in town have decided not to endorse 

          any of the four Democrats in the June primary."

    Interesting choice of words. Political endorsements are done by various groups of diverse ideology- why not name the ones that have that option, rather than lump them all together and call them "liberal" and "grassroots"? 

    How long could the list be? 

    Moreover, hearing their names might be helpful for readers to understand more about the political landscape in San Diego, in terms of understanding who does endorsements, and who often backs campaigns with contributions.

    FYI: For those who don't know about tax codes and political work, most non-profits are prohibited from doing political endorsements, unless they have a 501(c)4 tax code status. This is usually in addition to the more common 501(c)3.

    The  (C)4 status allows them to do political education and advocacy in addition to charitable work.  In San Diego, only a handful of non-profit organizations have both tax code designations. (e.g., Sierra Club, San Diego Chapter)

    The San Diego Labor Council endorses candidates- but they are not charitable. 

    Also the Taxpayer's Association, Chamber of Commerce, Run Women Run, etc. These groups are hardly "liberal"- so, have they endorsed?

    And also add individual employee associations that often represent and negotiate contracts for public employees, such as police officers, sheriff's deputies, teachers, deputy city attorneys, city and county workers, etc. Have they weighed in?

    So- there are a lot of potential organizations to make endorsements in campaigns, which makes me wonder: who are these "liberal grassroots organizations" that are withholding endorsements? Or is this a thinly veiled reference to  Democratic Clubs, chartered by the County Democratic Party, operating under their private by-laws, and organized by geographic area, interest and other distinctions?

    They are not charitable, but must conform to state and federal election laws regarding contributions to candidates.

    So....I hope to see to more informational details on these topics and others, as this series continues, between now and June 7- thanks!

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @lorisaldana Voice of San Diego has 501(c)3 tax code status, and is prohibited from making political endorsements. When a 501(c)3 news organization uses their editorial discretion to give more publicity to some candidates then others or is publishing unfounded charges against individual candidates; is that not tantamount to a political endorsement and in violation of their tax code status ?

    lorisaldana subscriber

    what you are describing may be an indicator of a certain "bias" but that is far from an "endorsement." Journalists are like all people: they have their personal biases and blindspots, try as they might to manage them when doing their work.

    So long as all candidates have an equal opportunity to participate on the VoSD website, offer comments, submit commentaries for publication etc. I see no evidence of an action that equals actual endorsement.

    Of course, if someone were blocked from participating at that level or not given time to have their positions discussed- there might be some reason to complain, sort of like FCC "equal time" provisions.

    And as with campaign contributions: follow the money. Who is giving financial support to VofSD? that might be informative. As the saying goes: "Tell me who you wak with, I will telll you who you are." (

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    I am a resident of the Third District and a victim of Todd Goria"s  and Anthony Bernal's stated policy  " of working with our neighborhood business to offer incentives for business attraction while controlling the cost of permitting. That's why I support cutting the red tape that burdens our would-be entrepreneurs.  ( Bernal's website). 

    Yes, the statement seems to be something that voters in the Third District could support until the details are revealed. What Anthony Bernal is talking about is ignoring the provisions in the Municipal Code that are there to protect residents from nonconforming uses. Anthony Bernal is advocating cutting the red tape known as a conditional use permit, a permit required of businesses who wish to locate in areas where they are currently prohibited by City zoning ordinances. He would cut the permit that requires a nonconforming business to notify the neighborhood in which they plan to locate and gives effected residents not only the right to know what is being planned but  the right to object and have their objections ruled on in a public hearing.

    Anthony Bernal is advocating placing business interests ahead of the health and safety concerns of Third District residents. Currently, Todd Gloria with the aid of the Director of Development Services ( a Gloria appointee), are surreptitiously denying San Diego residents their Constitutional right to the due process of law as stipulated in the Municipal Code and the requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit and then lying about it. Anthony Bernal  and his boss Todd Gloria do not respect the civil rights of San Diego Citizens and are therefore unworthy of any elected office in the United States of America.

    jaredq subscriber

    Follow the money folks...  its not just 10% of Anthony's take.   Where there is smoke there is usually fire. 

    Pat Seaborg
    Pat Seaborg subscribermember

    I guess politics breeds dirty tactics, so I shouldn't be surprised at Durfee's comments.  But as a supporter of Mr. Bernal (and I'd describe myself as a progressive person), my support stems not from ideological purity, or a secret agenda, but observation that he has done a good job providing constituent services in Todd Gloria's office.  I would guess that at least some Republican supporters who live in District 3 probably support him for that same reason.  I've had no exposure to Chris Ward so don't know what kind of job he'd do.

    John Kennett
    John Kennett subscriber

    Nice headline.. The Republicans are taking over the Democratic Party. Got me interested. Now where is the article??

    Let's see. Citizens who may or may not be a member or supporter of a certain party donate money to one candidate in a NON PARTISON RACE to keep a less favored candidate from winning. Let's see somebody's husband is running for a seat to possibly keep another candidate from winning. There is a word for that.... legal? yes ; but what is that other word??? Oh yeah.. it is called POLITICS

    lorisaldana subscriber


    Moderates raising money from moderates, to wage negative attacks against progressives?

    Conservative interests taking over progressive districts??

    Republicans infiltrating the Democratic party??? 

    Yawn... the current Party Chairwoman  was a registered Republican before running for Congress 10 years ago.

    And, at least one other Dem Party Executive Board member has also been a registered Republican in recent years. 

    The death of political parties, as with the deaths of most large organizations, comes from internal strife, not attacks that start from without. 

    One reason why, with 250,000 registered Democrats in San Diego vs. 180,000 Republicans, they still can't win city-wide elections.