Escondido Mayor Pulls Support for Colleague, Endorses Her Opponent - Voice of San Diego

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Escondido Mayor Pulls Support for Colleague, Endorses Her Opponent

Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz recently referred to Mayor Paul McNamara as “unpredictable.” On Tuesday, he proved her right by withdrawing his endorsement of her bid for the County Board of Supervisors and announcing his support for her rival.

Olga Diaz appears at a Politifest 2019 panel. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Well, she did call him unpredictable.

That’s how Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz, who’s running for the County Board of Supervisors, described Mayor Paul McNamara to us recently when we surveyed activists and elected officials on McNamara’s first year in office. Diaz also said McNamara didn’t always express a depth of knowledge on every issue and that his quiet demeanor left people to read between the lines of what he was really thinking.

He’s more open-minded than his predecessor, Diaz said, but “I can’t predict him yet.”

Diaz’s comments were surprisingly prescient: McNamara has apparently dropped his endorsement of Diaz and instead is now backing another Democrat, Terra Lawson-Remer, a former White House official, in what’s arguably the most important local race next year because it’ll determine the partisan makeup of the board.

At the moment, the Board of Supervisors includes only one Democrat, but the South Bay seat is likely to turn blue next year. That’s put a special emphasis on flipping District 3 in North County, where Diaz and Lawson-Remer are challenging incumbent Republican Supervisor Kristin Gaspar.

Diaz said she was surprised Tuesday by McNamara’s decision to revoke his endorsement, because he’d reached out over the weekend wanting to talk about who she might like to see replace her on the City Council if she wins. They didn’t talk, she said, but they agreed to schedule some time later in the week to chat.

She said she was enthusiastic about his victory last year and hoped their relationship would be harmonious. In retrospect, she said, that was unrealistic.

“I think we’re out of sync and it’s probably a result of different leadership styles,” Diaz said. “I respect the fact that he’s the mayor of Escondido and it’s OK to disagree with my colleagues. I recognize that some people struggle with disagreement.”

McNamara didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday. But in a statement, he wrote that after careful consideration, he concluded that Lawson-Remer was the better candidate.

“When one reviews the challenges facing the region, it became clear to me that she has the intellect and practical problem solving skills needed,” he wrote on Tuesday. “She brings enormous understanding and experience on issues as the environment among others. Additionally, as a San Diego native, she knows how to integrate local, state and federal efforts.”

Others weighed in Tuesday, including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who’s supporting Diaz.

“Terribly disappointing that Mr. McNamara clearly has a problem with the strong Latina that paved the way for HIS election,” she tweeted. “Reflects really poorly on him & on the notion that the Latino community can expect him to keep his word on anything.”

Latino activists celebrated McNamara’s victory over Sam Abed in 2018, hoping McNamara would help the city move beyond its reputation as a place hostile to Latinos and immigrants. But one year later, those same activists expressed mixed views on the job that McNamara’s doing. He said he’s trying to make Escondido a safer, more comfortable place for immigrants, but punted the responsibility for immigration policy to Congress.

It’s not often that an elected official or a politically influential group changes an endorsement mid-election, but it’s not without precedent. In last year’s District 4 supervisor’s race, the union representing the county’s deputy sheriffs withdrew support for former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and instead sided with Nathan Fletcher.

But McNamara’s decision didn’t surprise everyone. He spoke positively of Diaz in public, but his support sounded tepid, suggesting that Diaz might not really be his preferred choice.

“Mac has been quite supportive,” Lawson-Remer told Voice of San Diego, “but I respected his public endorsement of Olga and I hadn’t thought he would change that. It’s a big boost of confidence to me that he decided to endorse our campaign.”

If elected, she said, she was looking forward to working with McNamara on affordable housing, land use and environmental sustainability issues.

The Democratic Party of San Diego County is officially neutral in the D3 supervisors race. Party officials were leaning toward Diaz earlier this year but she was unable to meet the threshold for an endorsement. Both she and Lawson-Remer will have to compete in the March primary against Gaspar without the additional resources party support would bring.

Other endorsements in the D3 race have fallen in interesting and unpredictable ways.

The largest union of county workers, SEIU, for instance, backed Fletcher in last year’s election. Fletcher is backing Diaz this time around, but SEIU is fully in Lawson-Remer’s camp. She also has the support of the United Domestic Workers and the Municipal Employee Association.

Diaz, in the meantime, earned the support of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, but that endorsement might also disappear.

Members of the pro-housing group felt they’d gotten burned by Diaz almost immediately after they offered their support in October. Diaz went on to join two of her Escondido City Council colleagues and kill a 131 apartment-unit housing project the same night she received the endorsement.

When explaining her reasons for voting no, Diaz listed a number of complaints about the developer. But she also argued that the design of the project was “out of character” for the proposed space. And after a number of YIMBYs complained, Diaz said her job was to evaluate projects individually, not approve every proposal that comes in front of her.

The YIMBYs are scheduled to reconsider their support for Diaz at a meeting next week.

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