Jan Goldsmith was in the catbird seat Tuesday at Election Central, even though he wasn’t on the ballot.

City attorney candidate Mara Elliott is interviewed at Golden Hall, serving as Election Central. Photo by Chris Stone

As San Diego’s soon to be termed-out city attorney, Goldsmith could only smile as he watched Democrat Mara Elliott, one of his top deputies at City Hall, claim a runoff spot against his fellow Republican, Robert “Bob” Hickey.

“I promoted Mara Elliott to chief deputy in my office — as a member of my leadership team,” Goldsmith said before final results showed her taking second. “She’s a good lawyer; she knows how to manage people.”

But he also praised Hickey, who works under District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

“Bob Hickey is reputed to be a very good deputy district attorney,” he said. “He’s handled some very high-profile cases. If those are the two in the runoff, voters are going to have a great choice of two very fine lawyers.”

So where might his blessing fall?

Goldsmith noted that he didn’t endorse in the primary, which included three other Democrats — private attorneys Rafael Castellanos, Gil Cabrera and Bryan Pease.

“I thought we had very good candidates — each bringing a different perspective to the office,” he said. “You know, I don’t endorse a lot.”

A lot won’t change for the rest of the campaign either

Said Hickey: ”We’re going to push the same positive message we’ve had. Good government’s not good enough. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to serve the public better. We’ve got to protect the public better in criminal [matters]. .. in code enforcement.”

Elliott, whose 24.4 percent of the final vote trailed Hickey’s 29.6 percent, said the general election will give her a “wonderful opportunity for us to be a little bit more focused.”

City attorney candidate Robert “Bob” Hickey. Photo by Ken Stone

She touted her experience, relationships and understanding “how the city works, and can get us moving ahead from Day 1.”

Would she like the backing of her three fellow Democrats?

“I’d be honored to have … the endorsements,” she said. “I think we all ran strong races. We share the same values in many respects. I think we all respect one another.”

Elliott can count on one rival’s support, at least.

“I told her early on that if it wasn’t me, it should be her,” Cabrera told Times of San Diego as results put him in fourth place, with 16.6 percent behind Castellanos’ 18.9 percent. “I think the good news is that she never politicized the race. She never made it partisan. She always talked about the right things for the office.”

Cabrera credited Elliott with a “great race,” but her title — chief deputy city attorney — “certainly helps.”

His advice: “Be true to herself. … Keep talking about her background and skills and what she brings to the table. I think (the GOP establishment) is going to have a hard time with her.”

He said her best line of the campaign was she just needs to “move her office down the hall a little bit.”

City attorney candidate Rafael Castellanos greets District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis at Golden Hall in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

“I’m not sure the Republicans are going to have anything to throw at her, frankly, that will be effective against her. Bob [Hickey] is a great guy. I like him personally. But he’s been a criminal prosecutor. That’s a third of what the office does. I think the critical part of that office is whether the mayor and council have the best advice possible.”

Hickey’s campaign consultant said the longtime deputy DA has had conversations with City Attorney Goldsmith, and “We’d absolutely welcome his support.”

Might a heavy Democratic turnout in November prove a headwind for Hickey?

“I don’t know we can definitively say that,” said Ryan Clumpner, the consultant. “Things this year have been changing so rapidly that nobody would have imagined where we were nationally a year ago vs. today. People don’t view it as a partisan office.”

Before he knew he’d taken third, Castellanos said Hickey lacked “the right qualifications.”

“He’s a criminal lawyer,” the Port Commissioner said. “The last time we had a criminal lawyer in this office, the city was investigated by the federal government. We were Enron-by-the-Sea. We cannot go back to those days again.”

Contrary to Cabrera, Clumpner said criminal issues take up about 50 percent of office time.

“Half of the deputy city attorneys work on criminal issues,” he said. “The reality is that Bob Hickey has worked on civil issues as well. He’s the only on who has worked in both the public and the private sector.”

For his part, Cabrera said he was proud of his campaign.

“I walked out of it with honor intact,” he said after an evening at Dobson’s, the power restaurant near Horton Plaza. “We became friends with everybody. One of the last things I said in our last debate was it was an honor to meet them all.”

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