City Council District 4 Race Building a better region together, one story at a time

Why the District 4 Election Got So Negative

The campaign between Myrtle Cole and Dwayne Crenshaw feature lots of outside money and a small voter pool.

On Tuesday, voters in Encanto, Paradise Hills, Skyline and other southeastern San Diego neighborhoods will choose their next City Council member.

They’re deciding between two Democrats who are likely to vote the same way on most issues, and want to prioritize jobs, education, public safety and infrastructure for a district both candidates agree doesn’t get its fair share of services.

The similarities between the candidates, health care union worker Myrtle Cole and San Diego LGBT Pride executive Dwayne Crenshaw, has made for a race short on substance and heavy on vicious attacks from the campaigns and their supporters. The race’s coup de grace came last week when Cole falsely accused Crenshaw of being mixed up in a crack cocaine deal more than two decades ago.

Here are three reasons the race turned so ugly.

The Money

Eight days after former District 4 Councilman Tony Young resigned in January, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the region’s largest labor group, endorsed Cole. The decision set the stage for the entire race.

Ten weeks later, Cole dominated a nine-candidate field to finish first in the primary. That night Cole said labor’s backing turned her from someone with no name ID to a household name.

In the runoff, the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, the Labor Council’s conservative antagonist, went in for Crenshaw.

The combined spending of the Labor Council ($213,000) and Lincoln Club ($82,000) is one and a half times more than Cole ($66,000) and Crenshaw ($128,000) have raised, as of Friday morning.

The independent campaigns have been responsible for the race’s most consistent false and misleading accusations: wrongly hitting Cole over an Ethics Commission fine, misrepresenting Cole’s residency and deceptively alleging Crenshaw spent money from a neighborhood organization on himself.

The Turnout

About 13,000 people voted in the March primary, a turnout of 20 percent. No one expects a big bump in participation for the runoff.

This means that both campaigns are chasing a small number of dedicated voters.

With such a tiny universe of likely voters, campaigns and outside groups don’t need to spent a lot to make their message heard, but also don’t get a lot of bang for the buck. The Labor Council, for instance, spent about $2 per Cole vote in the primary.

The Candidates

Twice as many people voted for Cole than Crenshaw in the primary. That meant Crenshaw had some catching up to do.

He tried to go both deep and broad. Crenshaw courted his primary opponents, securing the endorsements of five of the seven. (One chose Cole and the other didn’t endorse.) Hispanic and Filipino groups jumped on board, something that matters increasingly in a district that’s now dominated by Hispanics and Asians. Crenshaw also went after Republicans. Longtime GOP Councilman Kevin Faulconer held a fundraiser for Crenshaw, and Crenshaw didn’t denounce his Lincoln Club support.

Cole, meanwhile, continued racking up high-profile backers from labor and the left. Mayor Bob Filner endorsed her, as did the local police and fire unions.

Once the race became a labor vs. Lincoln Club fight, the nastiness was bound to follow.

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