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Oceanside voters decided on Election Day between a whopping 12 candidates for mayor — each with competing personalities and priorities.
It’s still up in the air who will be the next mayor, but many of the voters I talked to on Tuesday morning at the Oceanside Public Library said they picked the candidate who they most closely identified with. Voter concerns for the city centered on familiar coastal anxieties: what can be built where, including the contentious North River Farms project that’s also on the ballot, homelessness, the city’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Council’s ability to create visible change in Oceanside.
Oceanside has a city manager form of government, meaning the top administrator plays a significant role in shaping and influencing policy. The mayor is also a member of the City Council. The race is technically nonpartisan, but the role of mayor has most recently been dominated by Republicans.
Two of the leading contenders are also current Council members — Christopher Rodriguez and Esther Sanchez — while others are coming from outside the city’s current political circle. Councilman Jack Feller is also in the running and so is former state Assemblyman Rocky Chavez. Others include Fabio Marchi, Ruben Major, Lou Uridel, Rob Howard, Alvin McGee, Fernando Garcia, Perry Alvarez and David Joseph Turgeon.
Jason Hock, 48, a manufacturing business owner in Oceanside, said his business wasn’t affected economically by the pandemic, but he voted for Rodriguez because he supports small businesses. Rodriguez’s campaign has focused in part on the pandemic’s impact on small businesses ,and he’s been one the most high-profile voices for allowing them to reopen.
Another Rodriguez voter, Mario Ramirez, who lives in the Seaside neighborhood, said he voted for the councilman and veteran because he’s a veteran himself. Ramirez said he also decided to vote for Rodriguez in part because he’s younger than a lot of candidates on the ballot and thinks Rodriguez will put a stop to growing homeless encampments.
Oceanside is one of the largest and most populous cities in San Diego County and has the largest homeless population in North County. There are an estimated 408 homeless people in Oceanside, according to the region’s 2020 Point in Time count, and no available shelter beds in town.
South Oceanside resident John Tyler, 51, is a libertarian and also based his vote in part on housing costs in the city. He said he appreciates Sanchez’s support for rent control for seniors like his mother and how she’s visible in the community. He said if the race weren’t so critical, he would’ve voted for Chavez, but ultimately decided on Sanchez.
“I’ve seen the most of her,” Tyler said.
Oceanside resident Brenda Pinckney said she voted for Sanchez in large part because she’s the only woman in the running, and because she agrees with some of her ideas for the future of Oceanside. Women think and see things differently, she said, and pointed to vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris as an example.
“Women of color, whether they’re Hispanic or whatever,” she said, then brought up something her son had told her recently. “It’s like a mom coming in and getting everything under control — getting the county under control and getting the city under control.”
Other Oceanside voters on Tuesday said they voted based on what they heard from their friends and family members, and some noted it was difficult to learn about each candidate in depth because of the deep sea of mayoral candidates.
Ashley Emmerick, 35, lives in South Oceanside and said she voted for Ruben Major because she liked what she heard about what he stands for from her friends. He opposes, for example, the North River Farms project, or Measure L, a 585-home, agriculture-themed, mixed-use development proposed for the rural neighborhood of Morro Hills.
Hayley Helms said she didn’t vote for Oceanside mayor at all because she didn’t know enough about the candidates. “It’s hard when every candidate is different and so complex,” she said.
Oceanside doesn’t require that the winner of the mayoral race reach a majority of the votes, only a plurality. That means the next mayor could be someone who seizes a relatively small percentage of the vote.