Bonnie Dumanis (center) over Nathan Fletcher (left).
- Photos by David Rolland
Don’t think about the comparison (or our math) too deeply. Instead, be a proud American and immerse yourself in our 20/20, post-election analysis:
Four days before the election, Ricky Young, editor of the U-T San Diego’s investigative-reporting team, coined a hilarious new term on Twitter. He’d said he hadn’t heard any denials from the “Flanders camp” that a press conference at which Mayor Jerry Sanders called mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio’s rhetoric “bullshit” was coordinated with the campaign of Nathan Fletcher. “Flanders,” of course, was Young’s conflation of “Sanders” and “Fletcher,” suggesting that the two were joined as one, even though Sanders had long ago endorsed District Attorney Bonne Dumanis to replace him. Young also said that Sanders “seems to have written off bonnie.”
If saying that the “bullshit” comment was a coordinated effort is farfetched, suggesting that Sanders secretly favored Fletcher certainly wasn’t. Sanders’ former campaign consultant and confidant, Tom Shepard, was working for Fletcher, and Sanders’ former spokesperson, Rachel Laing, was working for Shepard and was herself a Fletcher supporter. Indeed, many in San Diego’s political establishment had become Fletcher backers. Sanders went so far as to say publicly right before the election that Fletcher was his second choice, a comment that could be interpreted as code for a genuine endorsement.
Several sources close to Sanders said they believe he came to regret his early endorsement of Dumanis, who was seen as a likely front-runner before her campaign sputtered at the outset and never caught on with voters. She finished a distant fourth among the four high-profile candidates.
Meanwhile, Fletcher, who was initially viewed as the candidate with the lowest name recognition and, therefore, the one with the highest hill to climb, ran an energetic campaign, was the most prolific fundraiser in the race (if you throw out DeMaio’s personal loans) and drew support from across the ideological spectrum in the wake of his abandonment of the Republican Party and amid his declaration of political independence.
With DeMaio running on the right and Bob Filner running on the left, up the middle was Fletcher’s path; unfortunately, that route was clogged by Dumanis and her lethargic campaign, which ultimately served little more than to block Fletcher. Observers often wondered during the campaign if Dumanis—the only one of the four major candidates who got to keep her day job in the event of a loss—would drop out in order to help Fletcher.
As of a Monday afternoon count of provisional ballots, DeMaio had 31.7 percent of the vote, Filner had 30.2 percent, Fletcher had 24.1 percent and Dumanis had 13.3 percent. Fletcher trailed Filner by nearly 14,000 votes, perhaps too many for an official “Flanders” arrangement to have mattered. However, we’ll never know what Dumanis would have done if Sanders hadn’t given her an early boost. Had she dropped out, we might be looking at a Fletcher-DeMaio runoff and not a DeMaio-Filner runoff.
It seemed like the District 7 San Diego City Council race should have been Democrat Mat Kostrinsky’s to lose. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district 27,303 to 26,199— and while there are 18,371 decline-to-state voters, there were two Republicans on the ballot, Scott Sherman and Rik Hauptfeld. Hauptfeld was apparently enough of a threat that mayoral candidate and Sherman supporter Carl DeMaio, Hauptfeld says, asked him to withdraw from the race.
But on election night, Sherman came away with 51 percent of the votes. That majority slipped a bit on Thursday to 50.8, then more on Friday to 50.6 percent; just before our deadline, he was at 50.3 percent. There’s a (slim) chance that he’ll lose the 50-percent-plus-one vote advantage he needs to win the seat outright, but that hasn’t stopped the barrage of frustrated what-ifs. What if the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council had put more resources into Kostrinsky’s campaign instead of campaigning against Democratic incumbent Sherri Lightner—considered by labor to be an enemy—who’s up against Republican Ray Ellis for the District 1 seat. On June 7, Lightner’s husband Bruce tweeted at Labor Council Political Director Evan McLaughlin: “Attacking Sherri with FOUR negative mailers was STUPID! <250 votes needed to stop Scott Sherman. You doomed Mat K in D7. Sad!”
There’s also how the Kostrinsky campaign handled (or didn’t handle) a video that the Sherman campaign posted a few days before the election, in which Kostrinsky appears to deny that he’d worked as the political director for the Service Employees International Union. Kostrinsky told CityBeat that he knew what the question was getting at—his affiliation with organized labor—and recognized the asker as a Sherman campaign staffer. Because the guy posing the question got Kostrinsky’s former job title wrong, Kostrinsky, visibly annoyed, said he’d never held the job.
“After it was over with, my wife said, ‘Mat, they’re going to get you because you’re being too literal about where you work,” he told us.
What was ultimately at work here is the ability of DeMaio and his ilk (Sherman’s campaign was managed by the same folks who managed DeMaio’s) to frame the debate. When he was collecting signatures for Prop. B, the pension ballot initiative, DeMaio smartly targeted District 7, planting the seeds of anti-union sentiment, putting the focus on pensions and minimizing the quality-of-life issues that usually shape campaigns.
As Kostrinsky put it: “I can’t believe [Sherman’s] campaign is about me taking a pension or not, or if I worked for SEIU [versus] SEIU Local 221, instead of where we are on development in Mission Gorge or traffic from Mission Valley going into Serra Mesa.”
For all the national controversy, all the Long Dong Silvers and wise Latina women, stirred up every time a president picks a U.S. Supreme Court justice, it’s a wonder that local judges are so very obscure in the minds of the voters who get to choose them. Considering the results so far, you have to wonder whether voters really gave any thought to San Diego County Superior Court judicial races at all.
As of our press deadline, “Birther” lawyer Gary Kreep trailed Deputy District Attorney Garland Peed by only 79 votes out of more than 386,000 cast and 17,700 still to be counted. The Republican Party-endorsed private attorney Jim Miller emerged with a lead on Deputy District Attorney Robert Amador, and they will face each other in a runoff. (A third Deputy District Attorney, David Berry, won his race outright against Superior Court Commissioner Terrie Roberts.)
Do roughly 50 percent of San Diego voters really believe Kreep, the volunteer general counsel for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and conservative activist who has recorded infomercials challenging Barack Obama’s birth certificate, should sit on the bench and rule on the fates of others?
Probably not. Our guess is that for many voters, the choice came down to immature word association and whether they’d rather be Kreeped out or Peed upon. Also in Kreep’s favor: When you Googled “San Diego judge election,” or any combination thereof, the first hit was judgevoterguide.com, which warned against “activist judges” and then rated Kreep one of the best qualified candidates in the state.
Miller garnered nearly 38 percent of the votes, campaigning hard the old-fashioned way, making the rounds and politicking with anyone who’d listen, including both the county GOP and the San Diego- Imperial Counties Labor Council. Miller achieved the most prominence through U-T San Diego; he was ubiquitous in a banner ad on the newspaper’s website and gained the paper’s endorsement just before the election. One of his opponents, Deputy City Attorney George Schaefer, complained that Miller had a private pow-wow with U-T CEO John Lynch ahead of an editorialboard meeting. The coziness is unsurprising: Miller’s media consultant was Jack Berkman, who worked closely with Lynch’s previous media venture, XX 1090 Sports Radio, and used to do PR for U-T publisher Doug Manchester during his 2006 quest to develop the Navy Broadway Complex.
Meanwhile, the establishment candidates seemed to do very little to promote themselves, with Berry and Amador opting instead to expend resources suing their opponents over semantics in their candidate statements. In the lead-up to the general election, Amador (or his proxies) can be expected to make a lot of noise about late-breaking reports in East County Magazine that Miller has a history of making indiscrete posts about cases on Facebook and recently lost his designation as judge pro tem.
The legal community has to be at least a little bit worried now that two candidates—Kreep and Miller—who were rated as “lacking qualifications” by the San Diego County Bar Association, are coming perilously close to taking seats on the bench. Regardless of who ultimately wins, maybe the debacle will spur serious discussion over whether judges should be democratically elected at all.
Propositions A and B are kind of like drunken one night-stands: They looked so attractive on the ballot, but not so pretty the next morning. Take, for instance, the walk-of-shame lead in last Wednesday’s U-T San Diego: “San Diegans have placed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in legal limbo after overwhelmingly approving Proposition A, a measure that effectively bans labor-friendly contracts on city funded projects.”
Props. A and B are examples of the political right’s new tack: Run expensive signature-gathering campaigns to get simple-sounding, anti-labor measures on local ballots (Prop. B alone cost $12.28 per valid signature) and then proclaim the outcome to be the “will of the voters.” It’s the easiest way to shrug off responsibility when those measures face legal challenges.
Prop. A prohibits the City Council from requiring project-labor agreements on municipal projects—something it’s never done, making this measure a solution to a nonexistent problem. As push-back against similar campaigns up and down the state (all spearheaded by the GOP-friendly Associated General Contractors), the California Legislature recently passed a law that would disqualify any city with a PLA ban in place from receiving state construction funds. To put this into perspective, San Diego received $158 million from the state last year. Prop. A’s supporters say the new state law is an unconstitutional political stunt; the measure’s opponents point to the fact that it was vetted by the state’s legislative counsel prior to Gov. Jerry Brown signing it. As Doug Porter of OB Rag put it recently: “[T]he fact is, Prop. A is destined to be mired in court hearings and appeals for many years to come.”
As for Prop. B, there are court hearings scheduled for June 13 and June 20, stemming from an unfair-labor-practices complaint issued against the city by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), the state agency charged with overseeing California’s collective-bargaining laws. (Prop. B’s supporters have lobbed allegations of bias at PERB, but those allegations simply aren’t born out by PERB’s record of enforcement actions.)
Prop. B’s got two main components: one that puts all new city hires (except cops) into a 401(k)style retirement plan and another that freezes city workers’ base pay at 2011 levels until June 30, 2018. The measure’s cost savings is entirely in the latter provision—the 401(k) switch will cost an estimated $56 million over 30 years—but it’s the pay freeze that’s being challenged in court by the city’s labor unions, who argue that Prop. B’s an illegal end-run around state-mandated labor negotiations. Should the pay freeze be found to be illegal, voters are on the hook for a hefty tab. And maybe they’ll remember that next time a well-paid signature gatherer accosts them outside the supermarket.
The biggest loser
From our perspective, it’s easy to identify the biggest disappointment of the election: Sid Voorrakara, who came in sixth and last place in the State Assembly 79th District race, with only about 5,000 votes. Voorrakara boasted a lot of big-name progressive endorsements (including CityBeat’s) and probably spent more than $200,000 (he was up to $192,000 as of May 22).
That’s about $40 per vote, more than Carl DeMaio proportionally spent to secure his winning share in the mayor’s race.
A cynic might suggest that the results indicate the 79th District just doesn’t like complicated names, or that somehow race played a factor in the ethnically diverse candidate field and voting populace. Voorrakara tells us that it was all about name recognition and that he was up against many people who’ve been on the ballot before, including the top vote-earner, Shirley Weber. Plus, he says, the mayor’s race helped bring out conservative voters, benefitting Lemon Grove City Councilwoman Mary England, who came in second and now moves on to the general election.
The only real conclusions that we can draw is that there were at least one too many Democrats on the ballot and that popularity with the liberal hipsters doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t already have a built-in base.
What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Link up with editor David Rolland on Facebook or Twitter. Email email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DaveMaass.