Atkins-Block Debate Is Fight for Key Endorsement in 39th Senate District

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By Ken Stone

With a major Democratic club’s endorsement at stake, party rivals for the 39th state Senate District seat will face off Jan. 6 in front of an expected 175 people in La Mesa.

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Toni Atkins

Termed-out Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego will meet incumbent Sen. Marty Block in a moderated debate with 10 questions, said Linda Armacost, president of the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club.

“Everyone has agreed to a debate where they will answer the same questions and have follow-ups and moderators,” Armacost said Tuesday. “They’ve agreed to it, and I have it in emails.”

After the exchange, being advertised as their first debate, Block, 65, and Atkins, 53, will wait outside the ballroom of the La Mesa Community Center. Club members will vote on who should be endorsed.

Moderators will be Davin Widgerow of the San Diego Leadership Alliance and the local Sierra Club and Colin Parent of Circulate San Diego with a background in housing issues. Both are attorneys.

State Sen. Marty Block shows his support for Israel. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Jeff Benesch, the club’s vice president for programs, arranged for the moderators, Armacost said, praising his work in growing club membership in 2015.

The club has hosted debates in the past, notably one in 2008 involving Mike Lumpkin, a former Navy SEAL who eventually lost a race for a House seat to Duncan D. Hunter, son of the longtime East County congressman.

Although La Mesa is just outside the 39th District boundaries, the club claims 300 members from there, San Carlos, Spring Valley and the College Area.

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Democrats outnumber Republicans 174,369 to 134,313 in the 39th District, with 471,744 total registered voters, according to the latest records, so the seat is considered a safe one for Democrats.

Representatives of the Block and Atkins campaigns didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on their debate schedule.

The San Diego County Democratic Party does not endorse in state races, said Eva Posner,
the local party’s communications coordinator.

“The state party makes the endorsement,” Posner said.

Has club president Armacost made a choice? She said yes, but declined to specify. She’ll be on the record at the meeting, however.

According to a San Diego Uptown News report in late September, Atkins and Block tussled over the endorsement of the Uptown Democratic Club. The club decided to delay an endorsement vote.

On Oct. 27, Block won the club’s endorsement on a second ballot.

The Jan. 6 La Mesa meeting also will feature controversial attorney Cory Briggs, who will discuss his Citizens’ Plan for San Diego, an initiative with former San Diego Councilwoman Donna Frye to meld the San Diego River Park concept for the Mission Valley stadium area with plans for both a potential Chargers stadium downtown and a convention center expansion.

The La Mesa Community Center is at 4975 Memorial Drive, just North of University Avenue, and the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with a half-hour for snacks and drinks.

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