Politics Report: Winners and Losers Special Edition

Politics

Politics Report: Winners and Losers Special Edition

A roundup of those whose bets on Tuesday worked out and those who may have some work to do before the next contests come.

From left: Democrats Terra Lawson-Remer, Nathan Fletcher and Nora Vargas / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

Politics isn’t a sport. But it is an organized competition for power. It is how a bunch of different people with competing interests live together and share power peacefully.

So sometimes it’s good to check in on the winners and losers after a round of competitions. There are obvious winners (i.e., candidates who won) but sometimes it helps to go the next level down and see who won because they won. Same goes for losers, who, by the way, are often very successful individuals! They just lost this round.

Winners

Democrats: San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilman Scott Sherman have about a month left in their terms. When they leave, there will be just one (1) Republican elected official in City Hall. Mark Kersey, who is also leaving, already deported himself from the GOP. He’ll be replaced by a Democrat, Marni Von Wilpert. Sherman will also be replaced by a Democrat, Raul Campillo.

Campillo and Von Wilpert had clear wins. And just like that, Democrats will have a 8-1 advantage on the City Council. The most conservative district in the city picked the Democrat, Von Wilpert.

It wasn’t that long ago that Democrats had trouble finding viable candidates for mayor. Now they run everything.

Will that last? Animosity toward President Donald Trump in San Diego is a very powerful sentiment in liberal and moderate circles. It has delivered several wins.

But now Trump has lost re-election.

Carol Kim, the political director for the Building Trades Council, the coalition of construction labor unions, told us she thinks some Democrats may run to the right to pick up conservatives.

“But it really depends on whether the Republican Party here becomes functional again. Right now, it’s so dysfunctional that they can barely play a role. But I do think this will be the best year for Democrats in a while, and then we’ll see a repeat of what we saw in 2010 and 2014. We need to be prepared for how things look when we don’t have Donald Trump to run against,” she said.

“So we have to build a coalition on the left to govern responsibly and well, in a way that Democrats feel good about. If not I would not be at all surprised if we see something very different just two years out from now,” she said.

The Democratic Party: There are Democrats, and then there’s the specific organization, the party itself. It also prevailed on its endorsed candidates who were running against other Democrats. The party endorsed and fought hard for Todd Gloria for mayor and Nora Vargas for county supervisor. The party had decided to endorse her over sitting state Sen. Ben Hueso — a bet that could have gone awry but now looks quite sound.

City Attorney Mara Elliot attends a San Diego Labor Council rally. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Mara Elliott: The city attorney easily won re-election against Cory Briggs (67 percent to 33 percent). Briggs has been an intense critic of Elliott. What’s more, two of Elliott’s deputies have now won election to City Council. Raul Campillo and Marni Von Wilpert both will take some perspective they gained from that office into the City Council. Plus, Barbara Bry, who was also an unceasing critic of Elliott, is leaving her seat on the City Council. So Elliott will gain some new actual colleagues on the City Council and lose a critic.

Hasan Ikhrata: It has been nearly two years since Hasan Ikhrata came to San Diego and confirmed our transportation system was underfunded due to decades of systematic misrepresentations by the agency he came to run, SANDAG, and that our rosy outlook on future greenhouse gas emissions was a lie. It has not been an easy run since, as he’s constantly squared off with an adversarial faction of board members resistant to his transit-focused vision.

But Ikhrata placed the right bets in a series of races this cycle, and his job’s about to get a lot easier. Terra Lawson-Remer’s victory in the County Board of Supervisors District 3 seat didn’t just knock out one of his chief critics in Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, it also swung partisan control of the board, thereby knocking another thorn off the board, Supervisor Jim Desmond. They’ll now be replaced by two Democrats likely to be allies, and with their votes weighted by population, the conservative opposition can’t easily thwart his ambitions (though they can still make noise).

Gloria’s election as mayor kept another opponent of Ikhrata’s plan to build hundreds of miles of rail transit across the county off the board. But Gloria’s also likely to represent a vocal, out-front leader for the effort, a role for which he’s better positioned than Ikhrata.

It all matters because SANDAG could put up a ballot measure to raise taxes and fund some of the transit plan as early as two years from now. The capital-intensive plan wouldn’t revolutionize the commutes of county residents overnight, but if it’s heading for the 2022 ballot, the agency will need to get started.

Monica Montgomery Steppe: Montgomery Steppe led the charge within City Hall to get Measure B, which created a new, stronger commission to oversee SDPD, on the ballot, after previous efforts died by proceduralism before residents even got to weigh in. Voters spoke clearly, passing the measure overwhelmingly. Residents now have a real system by which they can hold the department accountable for allegations of misconduct, which was previously a scattershot proposition.

And her bid to become Council president stayed alive, thanks to the results of other Council races, though it’s not at all clear that she has the five votes she’ll need. Montgomery Steppe was an early and lonely endorser of Sean Elo, who won his District 9 Council race. He likely represents a vote for her (Elo, too, might have ended up beating someone who had already dropped out of the race, but it wasn’t long ago that he was considered a heavy underdog to a candidate who had support from the party, labor unions, elected officials and a massive financial advantage). Montgomery Steppe’s allies are optimistic that they can persuade Joe LaCava, who won his race in District 1, and Von Wilpert to do the same. It’s not settled, but they were less optimistic if those races went the other way.

Winning the Council presidency would give a boost to Montgomery Steppe’s nascent effort to reallocate police funding to other community services – one that started after she and others on the Council failed to do so amid activist urging during the last budget cycle, which coincided with the height of outrage over the killing of George Floyd.

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe speaks at a press conference announcing San Diego Police Department’s decision to stop using the carotid restraint method. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Jen Campbell: Things went well for Montgomery’s would-be Council president opponent on Tuesday, too. Campbell seems to have an easier path to five votes, despite the Council outcomes, but the bigger cause for celebration was the victory of Measure E, which removed the 30-foot height limit in the Midway district, clearing the way for redevelopment of a blighted area.

Right up until the results posted Tuesday, the coastal height limit was seen as untouchable in local politics. Campbell, along with Republican Councilman Chris Cate, took it on anyway, and it turns out voters were fine with it. Political leadership isn’t all that common in San Diego.

Now, she’s trying to muscle through a proposal to regulate short-term vacation rentals, too. That would make for two issues that have long bedeviled the city, which are both especially resonant in her coastal district.

Jen Tierney: Bolstered by public polls showing a tight mayoral race between Gloria and Bry (including one by yours truly), despite Gloria having basically every institutional advantage possible, political insiders heavily questioned Gloria’s campaign.

Bry controlled the narrative in the race, with a steady stream of attacks against Gloria on just about every issue she could find. And in the end, it appears to have mattered very little. It was not an especially close race, just as Gloria’s lead political consultant, Jen Tierney, alleged in a September memo sent to reporters and supporters after a Union-Tribune poll showed Bry with a tight lead. She was right.

YIMBYs (the 56 percent): At the start of the cycle, Bry set the tone for a mayoral race when she decided the best way to contrast herself with Gloria was by trashing him for his support for the “yes in my backyard” movement, cozying instead to anti-growth sentiment that’s been a good bet in San Diego politics historically. (Never mind that her record is not especially hostile to development.)

It turns out, YIMBYism is not the liability she suggested. Gloria won. So did the YIMBY-backed Measure E. And while Measure A, a tax increase for affordable housing, failed because it didn’t cross the high two-thirds threshold, it garnered strong majority support, too.

Gloria, Measure A and Measure E all go about 56-57 percent of the vote. Democrats did well everywhere, so it’s no surprise that most of the YIMBY group’s endorsements won. The YIMBYs were also one of the only groups to back Elo before his opponent dropped out of the race in scandal, and will see him join Campillo, who they also endorsed, on the Council.

San Diego’s housing picture remains in crisis. But it seems clear about 56 percent of voters for now support the government getting out of the way of new housing construction and maybe putting in some public investment where it can.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher at a press conference announcing that a dilapidated county property in Hillcrest had been deemed a suitable site for a behavioral health hub. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Nathan Fletcher: We’re not sure how it works, as we’ve never seen or heard about a contest for the role of chair of the Board of Supervisors. But it seems like Fletcher is poised to become chairman and suddenly the group overseeing most of the 20,000 employees of San Diego County is very different. It has switched from conservative, older Republicans to a very liberal 3-2 majority. Fletcher has had to claw for every advantage he could get on the board with the occasional support of two other sympathetic supervisors with very different political priorities.

Now, he has two confirmed allies.

Fletcher was almost singularly focused on making this change. Now the question is just … what do they do with this power?

Alejandra Sotelo-Solis: The mayor of National City backed Marcus Bush for City Council and Luz Molina for city clerk. Both of them won. She was also an early endorser of Nora Vargas. The network of South Bay support for Vargas, Bush and all their allies won big.

Sotelo-Solis now has a majority on the City Council and will control the appointments the city makes to the port and to SANDAG.

Police Officers Association: The union of San Diego Police Department officers supported Gloria and Campillo for mayor and City Council respectively. The local Democratic Party demanded that candidates refuse the support of the union but Gloria and Campillo never did, and proudly showed it on their websites. Groups trying to help Gloria appeal to more conservative voters even used it in a mailer.

The union will now likely use whatever pull it has to oppose Montgomery Steppe for Council president and keep their perspective in the discussion about reallocating police funding or other reforms that may come forward.

Losers

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County, at an election night event in March. / Photo by Megan Wood

Republicans: GOP pundit and occasional consultant Barry Jantz wrote a piece this week for San Diego Rostra, the conservative blog. He just wanted to bring the drubbing San Diego Republicans had experienced into relief. He outlined these as the four primary fields of play in local politics.

  • San Diego mayor and City Council
  • County Board of Supervisors
  • State legislative delegations (Senate and Assembly)
  • Congressional delegation

And then he broke down how Republicans had done in them. Democrats protected their legislative seats and hold a 7-4 seat advantage in the local delegation. The most vulnerable Democratic incumbents ended up having no trouble with re-election.

That left one congressional race (the 50th), two San Diego City Council races and one county supervisor seat. Republicans lost in three of them, decisively. Darrell Issa appears to be holding a lead in the congressional race that should not have been competitive.

Jantz didn’t offer any solutions in the piece. We called him to see if he had anything he was willing to share in addition to what he wrote, but he did not. The party, he said, was just “devastated.”

Maybe it’s happening in private, but there doesn’t seem to be much public debate about the future of the local party. What little we have seen has been a mix of grievance that voters are too ignorant or deceived by the media and schools or whatever to see the benefits of the conservative/nationalist platform and a belief that they are either being cheated or aren’t as good at some aspect of driving voters to the polls and collecting ballots.

But they still don’t talk about Trump. It was Democrats’ association of County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar to Trump and his policies and animosity to California’s leadership that sank her.

The president has anchored Republican candidates tremendously.

It’s just hard for Republicans to talk about because so many of them adore the president.

City Council President Georgette Gómez attends a San Diego Labor Council rally. Gómez is running to represent the 53rd district in congress. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Georgette Gómez – In the weeks after the 2018 election, Georgette Gómez quickly became perhaps the most powerful Democrat in local government. She won the Council presidency, with a chance to lead the city’s new veto-proof majority. She became the chair of MTS, with the help of Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who cast the decisive vote for her.

Her policy agenda from there did not take off. Her chief goal on the Council was providing more affordable housing by increasing requirements on developers to build low-income units as part of their market-rate projects. She couldn’t get her version through, and after multiple defeats had to settle for a greatly scaled back proposal. And after saying a potential ballot measure to increase taxes to expand transit was her top priority, she had to resign as MTS chair when she decided to run for Congress. The MTS measure never made the ballot anyway, once the pandemic knocked back its electoral prospects.

Gómez lost her congressional race big, while being outspent heavily by Sara Jacobs. Just like that, she’s not an MTS chair, a SANDAG rep, a Council president or the District 9 representative. That’s a lot to lose in less than two years.

She made a big bet on Congress. It didn’t pan out.

At the same time, her former employee, Kelvin Barrios, who she endorsed to succeed her dropped out of his Council race due to scandals that frequently dragged her name into the press.

One bright spot though: Bush, another former aide, won his race to join the City Council for National City. He was not the best funded in the race.

Deputy Sheriffs Association: The union of deputies who work for Sheriff Bill Gore spent big to support Gaspar’s re-election as a county supervisor. They also spent big to support Hueso’s run for supervisor. Both would have been allies on the board as decisions about pay, benefits and accountability through the budget move through county leadership. Both lost. The DSA also supported a number of local candidates, particularly in Encinitas, where the sheriff is the police force, and they lost.

The new group of county supervisors will likely put pressure on the budgets of the district attorney and sheriff in a way the previous board would not have. But, ironically, they’re probably less likely to cut officers’ pensions the way Gaspar and the previous board did.

The Scramble for Staff

With five new City Council members and a new mayor, City Hall veterans’ phones have been blowing up as a mad scramble to recruit chiefs of staff and top aides. Big questions are out there, particularly for Gloria.

Who will be his chief of staff? The role is key for political deal-making and management of his priorities. But almost more important is that he will be the CEO of the city and its thousands of employees. Yet the city has not had a classic chief operating officer in that role for some time. The person in that role now, Aimee Faucett, is the mayor’s former chief of staff.

We spoke with a veteran of the 10th floor at City Hall who offered some tips for newly successful candidates.

Focus on chief of staff and scheduler: Those are the two most important jobs and you must have people in both roles who you click with and trust with your life and career.

Don’t be the swing vote on Council president: The first decision Von Wilpert, Campillo, Elo, LaCava and Stephen Whitburn have to make is who they will support for City Council president. Montgomery Steppe and Campbell are being very open about their ambitions for the role. It’s a “Jets and Sharks” moment where alliances will forge and sometimes linger forever. New Council members will be advised to try not to be a swing vote in the race but to join with another colleague who is on the fence to make it more decisive and avoid fallout.

Roque La Fuente and Sons: Here, There and Everywhere

A dispatch from Randy Dotinga: It’s getting so you can’t tell the Roque De La Fuentes without a program.

You may have heard about Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, the local millionaire who’s a perennial candidate for president and has run for a very long list of other offices around the nation too. We profiled him in the before times. But he’s not the only De La Fuente family member to appear on a ballot this year, or even the only Roque De La Fuente. To make matters even more complicated, other players in this saga include Kanye West, at least eight political parties, and more lawsuits than you can shake a subpoena at.

Confused? Well, one thing is easy to understand: While three separate De La Fuentes ran for multiple political offices this year from coast to coast, none came anywhere close to winning. Not even when father ran against son.

We last checked in with Roque De La Fuente back in February. We noted his history as a businessman, property owner and winner of hugely lucrative lawsuits against the government, including the city of San Diego. And we reported that he’d run for at least 14 political offices such a mayor of New York City and U.S. senator in multiple states. He told us he likes to highlight the limits of ballot access, and his attorney said he wants to “bring attention to the broken nature of the two-party system.”

What’s new this time around is that his sons Roque III and Ricardo have been running for offices too. This week, Ricardo was actually the Democratic nominee in the race for the 27th Congressional District in Texas, which serves the Corpus Christi region, even though he didn’t live there when he won the primary. At last check, he got 35 percent of the vote. During March’s primary, he ran as a Democrat against his father (a Republican) in a race for the 21st Congressional District in California, which serves part of the Central Valley; they both lost. And he ran and lost a race earlier this year for a congressional seat in Florida.

Meanwhile, this year, Roque III ran for president as a Democrat, and his dad (Rocky) ran for president as a Republican and, as far as I can tell, in alliances with the Natural Law, American Constitution, Reform, American Delta and Alliance parties. (His platform, which supports single-payer health care and a “job guarantee program,” leans left.) In California, Rocky appeared – against his will – on an American Independent ticket with running mate Kanye West. The duo got thousands of votes in California, prompting one tweeter to complain that “2623 adults in #OrangeCounty voted for Kanye! Post election task: Find ALL and cancel their voting rights!”

Who benefits from all this chaos? As we reported, the elder Rocky’s lawsuits may be actually hurting the cause of ballot access. But considering how many ballots were printed with his name on them, it’s clear who the real winner is: Big Ink.

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

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