Politics Report: Myrtle Cole Hangs on to Party Support - Voice of San Diego

Politics UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Politics Report: Myrtle Cole Hangs on to Party Support

Council President Myrtle Cole survives a late challenge to her endorsement from the county’s Democratic Party, and two Democrats running against each other for a North County assembly seat split over rent control.

district 4 race
Monica Montgomery and Councilwoman Myrtle Cole are in a tight race to represent District 4. / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and Sam Hodgson

Council President Myrtle Cole fended off a challenge this week that could have made her tougher-than-expected re-election bid even tougher.

An upstart faction managed to get the county Democratic Party to reconsider its earlier Cole endorsement, which is rare.

What it would have meant: Aside from its symbolic value, the party endorsement also allows the party to spend money on Cole’s behalf communicating with registered Democrats, while her challenger, ACLU organizer and attorney Monica Montgomery, will have to rely on individual donations to talk to voters.

But at the meeting this week, Cole secured enough votes to retain party support, and she got a big assist from two of the highest-profile Democrats in the county, plus a heavy hitter from organized labor.

Who brought it home: State Sen. Toni Atkins and Assemblyman Todd Gloria showed up to advocate for Cole. So did Carol Kim, political director of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group for construction unions.

Gloria reminded party delegates that Cole stood by other elected officials, including him when he was ousted as Council president by Republicans four years ago. Atkins emphasized that the endorsement followed the party’s formal process and it wouldn’t be right to go back on it after doing so.

Tasha Williamson, a civil rights activist from Cole’s district who is an alternate to the central committee, spoke in favor of rescinding the endorsement. She ticked off complaints, including Cole’s support for racial profiling, her claiming credit for bringing Walgreens to the community, stalling reform on the Community Review Board, lack of support for National City protesters and a KPBS report that she spends less time in her district than other Council representatives.

“Unfortunately I think Myrtle Cole is caught in the web of politics,” Williamson said. “She is for police, and corporations and unions, and she has forgotten about the people who actually live in District 4.”

Bryan Pease, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in the spring and is an elected representative to the party’s central committee, also supported rescinding Cole’s endorsement.

“When you have two Democrats in a runoff, why would you pick the less progressive one?” Pease said. “Why would the party give all this institutional support to an incumbent when you have a real grassroots candidate who is great on all the issues?”

Pease said in addition to civil rights and police accountability, he was motivated by Cole’s vote to approve a plan to build a religious retreat in Mission Valley by a televangelist who has supported gay conversion therapy.

He said support from elected officials intimidated the other delegates.

“Power attracts power, so you get people who want to suck up to power in the hopes that it will benefit them somehow,” he said.

But Jessica Hayes, the party’s chair, said it’s arrogant to say Cole isn’t a true progressive.

“She’s a black woman who has been fighting her entire life,” she said. “She champions LGBTQ rights in a district with many religious people who are not always for that. Myrtle is progressive; to call her otherwise is not fair.”

Hayes said there was no reason to overturn the endorsement.

“Just because it’s a heated race doesn’t mean we need to overturn it,” she said. “Myrtle didn’t do anything wrong.”

ICYMI: We took a deep dive into the District 4 City Council race on the podcast a couple weeks ago. This week, we did District 8.

The Money Race

Friday afternoon, campaign finance disclosures for the most recent fundraising period posted online.

Montgomery outraised Cole from July through Sept. 22, bringing in $29,151 to Cole’s $24,090. She’s also got more money in the bank, with $22,995 compared with Cole’s $21,711. Much like Montgomery’s performance in the primary, it’s essentially a tie, but one that resembles a victory simply because a challenger is at such a disadvantage against any incumbent, especially one who holds the Council presidency.

Nonetheless, Cole has a clear edge financially once you account for the outside interests likely to come to her aid. The party can spend freely on her behalf, and she’s got the support of labor unions, who not only can spend money but organize people to walk.

Dems Splitting on Rent Control Initiative

Community members gathered in front of a National City apartment complex demanding rent control after several tenants were served with a 60-day eviction notice. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Housing is probably the biggest issue in California right now, and Proposition 10, a statewide ballot initiative in November, would free municipalities to adopt local rent control policies. It’s become a divisive issue among Democrats.

Nowhere in the San Diego region is that more apparent than the 76th Assembly District, which stretches along the coast from Encinitas to Camp Pendleton.

The seat is current held by Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, but two Democrats made it through the primary in June: Tasha Boerner Horvath, an Encinitas councilwoman who has significant mainstream support, and Elizabeth Warren, whose campaign slogan is “California’s Own Elizabeth Warren.”

I asked both candidates whether they support Prop. 10 and why.

Boerner Horvath sent a statement:

While I appreciate that Prop. 10 would restore local control to cities and allow them to choose if they want rent control as a quick fix to our statewide housing crisis, I do share legitimate concerns that it will actually reduce the supply of affordable rental housing, as has been evidenced in cities that continue to have rent control. Instead, I will work in the state Assembly to address the root causes of high rents, rather than just put a Band-Aid on the symptoms.

Warren, on the other hand, told me that she’s supporting Prop. 10 because of the control it returns to local communities. The state’s housing policies thus far have encouraged the construction of “McMansions,” she said, when officials could be working with cities to encourage “workforce housing.” But every city is different.

“Vista and Encinitas don’t have the same community character or layout or demographics or people going to the same jobs,” she said. “You have to look at the people who live and work in a particular city and find your solution based on the lives of people there. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the 76th Assembly District.”

As Sara Libby noted in this week’s Sacramento Report, two of San Diego’s most prominent state lawmakers are staying out of the Prop. 10 debate — officially they’re neutral. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins encouraged “Californians to read their county voter guide carefully.”

So far, the most clear opponent of rent control among local Democrats appears to be county supervisor candidate Nathan Fletcher. “I am not convinced that rent control gives you the desired outcomes and has the impact that is sought, and so I would I prefer to seek other avenues,” he told the U-T editorial board. He was even more clear in a recent debate.

— Jesse Marx

March to a Special Election, Part Deux

Councilman Mark Kersey. Seated is Councilman Chris Cate, Councilman Scott Sherman and Council President Myrtle Cole, to the left. / Photo by Dustin Michelson

Last week, in this fine report, we wrote about how San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer was likely to push for a special election for sometime next spring. The ballot then could host his prized hotel-room tax hike, Convention Center expansion, homeless services and road repair sandwich.

We made the point that the City Council would have to decide to make an exception to Measure L, the 2016 law passed by voters that says ballot measures like this should go on general election ballots. In response, Councilman Mark Kersey reminded us that the Council doesn’t have to declare an emergency or anything to do that, as we characterized it.

“In fact, L’s wording unconditionally places the decision at the discretion of the City Council,” he wrote on Twitter.

But then libertarian activist Brian Brady reminded Kersey of something. He posted a video of Kersey signing a pledge to never support a tax increase. In fact it said he would “oppose any and all efforts to increase marginal tax rates for individuals or businesses.”

We asked Brady who else on the Council had signed that who may consider supporting the hotel-tax increase. He said the only other one was Councilman Chris Cate.

The mayor will need both of their votes to get the special election on the ballot. They could, of course, claim they only want to give San Diegans a say on the matter and may not individually support it. But it’s going to need people like that to really, actively support it should it have a chance and especially if, as supporters say, they still want a two-thirds vote.

Folks in that spot may also claim that this is a tax on visitors, supported by the hotel industry itself — the entities absorbing the tax in their price structures. Carl DeMaio, the former councilman, has become one of the most outspoken opponents of this tax. But he supported a smaller version of it (without homeless services funding) to expand the Convention Center several years ago. So maybe it’s not so bad?

Brady said he wouldn’t accept that. “The whole principle behind the Taxpayer Promise was that we had a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Both of them campaigned on never raising taxes,” he wrote in an email.

Rev. Shane Harris: Exit Interview

Rev. Shane Harris burst onto the scene five years ago, a 22-year-old staging press conferences on civil rights issues as the local chapter head for the National Action Network, Rev. Al Sharpton’s organization.

Now the 26-year-old activist who forced himself into the center of issues like an El Cajon police officer’s shooting of Alfred Olango and Cole’s controversial racial profiling comments has decided to step aside from the local NAN chapter so he can go back to school.

He said he intends to finish his college degree, probably at Cal State San Marcos, and then go to law school.

“During my time with (NAN), I began to realize, if I can organize people and bring issues to the forefront, why not be able to file a lawsuit?” he said. “That has propelled me to look deeper at this and go get it done.”

Harris faced blowback from leaders in the community who think he made issues too much about himself. He for instance criticized Genevieve Jones Wright during her campaign for district attorney this spring for not sufficiently seeking his approval.

He’s transitioning away from the San Diego NAN chapter, which will bring in a new leader, but he’ll remain on staff for the national organization. He’s also started a new foundation, the Voice for the Voiceless Foundation, to focus on foster care, policing and equity.

“I wanted to make sure that while I’m in school, my voice doesn’t go dim,” he said.

Harris acknowledged he made mistakes during his time at NAN.

“I started very quick and got on the job, and on the other side there were people wondering where this kid came from,” Harris said. “Those people do deserve to have a conversation with you so they know what you believe in and are trying to accomplish so they can be a part of it.”

He said he’d also handle some issues differently if he could go back, looking to sit down with people before going public with concerns.

“When I look at some of the issues with police, I want people to know I was never anti-police and never will be anti-police,” he said. “I’m anti-police brutality. It isn’t the whole police force, it was bad apples.”

“I want people to know I’ve grown, and I want to thank the San Diego community,” he said.

He said he forced issues into the public that weren’t getting attention, thanks in part to the same tactics that made some people think he came out of nowhere. But he also said he came along at a crucial time.

“When I reflect on my work, I’m proud I helped people who are now helping others,” he said. He specifically referenced Tony Abuka, Olango’s brother, who formed the Alfred Olango Foundation, a policing reform advocacy group.

And he’s glad people in San Diego don’t just know about Sharpton, they know about NAN.

Politifest! For God’s Sake, Come

Advocates and elected officials debate SANDAG’s Measure A at Politifest 2016. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

We have 528 registered attendees for Politifest this year, a bevy of media partners and sponsors and an awesome reception afterward with a band and great view. This is where normal people can interact with other normal people who are crazy enough to be involved in politics. The lineup finally came together really nicely.

If you’ve read this far into the most popular local politics newsletter that goes out every Saturday in San Diego, then you are the exact type of person who will want to be at Politifest. Nay, it will pull you in like a black hole anyway, so you may as well arrange your schedule now.

We finally confirmed the live podcast session. It’s the “No, This Is Not a 2020 Mayoral Debate Live Podcast” — we plan to have a lot of fun with special guests Rep. Scott Peters, Councilman Chris Cate and Assemblyman Todd Gloria. (Barbara Bry couldn’t make it. She was very sorry but had something else going on but not that it matters because it is NOT a 2020 mayoral debate. Just a few guys who can talk about the future of the city.)

If you missed our live podcast a couple months ago, you should know it’s a different deal. This will be a fun, laid-back exchange with audience games and some music. A good way to unwind from the panels about the challenges mayors in the region face, to the future of California, to the debate over Mission Valley, to the ballot measures and lives of undocumented immigrants.

For you Politics Report addicts, we are offering one free ticket today. VOSD member Alan Underwood got a ticket but can’t attend. First one to email scott@voiceofsandiego.org with the words “andy is terrible” in the subject line gets the free ticket. (Students are free, and if you would like to attend and can’t afford to, let us know, we’ll get you in.)

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Bryan Pease was an alternate to the San Diego County Party’s Central Committee. He is an elected member of the committee.

If you have any ideas or feedback for the Politics Report, send andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org an email. 

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