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Chris Cate, the Rare Policymaker Who Tried to Lead on Policies

City Councilman Chris Cate was perhaps the only local politician willing to jump full force into several contentious issues.

There’s a recurring problem in San Diego.

People ostensibly run for office because they care about public affairs and want to change city policy to reflect their priorities. But here, they often pursue not much at all once they’re actually in office.

Voice of the YearNot the case for Councilman Chris Cate this year. He stuck his nose into three big fights, even though there wasn’t much upside in it for him.

While many business and political leaders were lukewarm if not outright opposed to the Chargers plan for a stadium downtown, Cate took a lead role in arguing it was a bad deal for the city. It signaled that he would be willing to lead where others sat back. It also drew the team and fans’ anger.

The team flooded social media with posts telling fans to call Cate’s office asking why he wanted the team to leave San Diego. Thus, the messages doubled as warning that the team would leave, too.

He also picked a fight with the Independent Voter Project over its push to revamp election laws in the city, turning the normally dull Council debate into a shouting match about the proper process for policy-making and the most democratic way to hold elections.

The short-term vacation rental debate has likewise been one with which few officials are eager to get involved. Yet, a day before then-Council President Sherri Lightner held a special meeting looking to impose a de facto ban on the practice, Cate released a rival proposal that would allow short-term rentals to continue while spending more city money to police operators who break nuisance laws.

In the end, the Chargers lost big and would have done so even if Cate stayed quiet. Measure K, the change to city election law Cate disliked, won easily and without any real opposition. And his Airbnb fix is like the city’s approach to the issue in general – entirely up in the air.

But if nothing else, it’s refreshing to remember that elected officials don’t need an invitation to tell us what they think.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

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