Councilman Chris Ward predicted that both stadium site ballot initiatives would fail.
Councilman Chris Ward predicted that both stadium site ballot initiatives would fail. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 2 p.m. Jan. 9, 2018

San Diego Councilman Chris Ward was a fearless forecaster last week, naming Carlsbad’s Cori Schumacher as a “smart, creative leader” who inspired him.

Tina Rynberg counts votes for endorsement in the 4th District county supervisor race. Nathan Fletcher got the most but fell short of needed 60 percent. Photo by Ken Stone

Schumacher, a former surfing champion and first-term council member, “just brings a smile to my face,” Ward told the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club.

A “very outwardly liberal Democrat” who won election in a Republican town, Schumacher was hailed as someone “who is actually using this cycle, when she’s not running for re-election,” to help out fellow Democrats.

Ward spoke too soon.

Four days after the Wednesday forum, Schumacher announced a run for mayor of Carlsbad.

The District 3 councilman also turned heads by seeing defeat for competing November ballot proposals — SoccerCity vs. Friends of SDSU — to develop city-owned stadium property in Mission Valley.

“I would actually make the prediction that [both] will fail,” Ward told 150 people at the La Mesa Community Center. “I think there will be millions spent by both campaigns to tank the other.”

He cited the ballot defeats of the Strawberry Fields development in Carlsbad and Lilac Hills Ranch in Valley Center.

“All of those started well in the 60s (in approval rating). And a small amount of opposition campaign for both of those brought those under 50 percent,” he said.

The failure of both stadium-site plans to gain majority approval, he said, “will set us back on that question by two or three years, returning it to the city to actually do what it should have from the get-go, and show some leadership.”

Club member Jeff Benesch waved to someone while handling audiovisual chores. Photo by Ken Stone

On Monday, SoccerCity responded by saying Ward’s prediction isn’t surprising.

“Conventional wisdom is that having competing ballot measures on the same topic causes both to fail,” said a SoccerCity spokeswoman. “We have many reasons to believe this is the cynical strategy of the developers funding the SDSU West initiative, who would like nothing more than to see that land sit fallow, thereby reducing competition to their own nearby developments.”

The spokeswoman called that “an entirely self-interested effort disguised as a measure to help SDSU, made obvious by the fact that their measure doesn’t even attempt to match the benefits provided by SoccerCity…. Our project was designed to bring San Diegans together. Their initiative was designed to divide us.”

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Friends of SDSU, said San Diegans have called for an alternative to SoccerCity “that actually protects the Mission Valley stadium site to benefit the public, not just speculators pursuing a windfall profit.” (See complete statement.)

The spokesman didn’t address Ward’s remarks but defended the SDSU West plan, saying: “Further investments in higher education will yield long-term benefits that will positively shape the future of our region – far superior to those created by a shortsighted private development.”

Ward was one of five local office-holders or plugged-in political observers to handicap 2018 from their party’s perspective, letting their hair down in a supportive setting.

Moderated by Voice of San Diego editor in chief Scott Lewis — who promised “serious, heavy, unsubstantiated speculation about the future. Not fake news, though” — the panel also included La Mesa Councilman Colin Parent, KPBS “Roundtable” host Mark Sauer and political consultants Laura Fink and Eva Posner.

Parent, the first Democrat elected to his council in 26 years, said he thought if another Democrat runs in his city, “and does the threshold amount of work, they’re going to win by a wave.”

But that applies only to the council races — where Republicans Guy McWhirter and Bill Baber are up for re-election.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to challenge the [Republican] mayor” — educator and junior theater director Mark Arapostathis.

San Diegans should expect a Democrat to succeed Kevin Faulconer, however, the club was told.

“In 2021, there will be a new mayor — almost certainly will be a Democrat,” Parent said without listing names. “But what happens between 2018 and 2021 is all on Mayor Faulconer’s shoulders.”

Responding to the question on inspirational leaders, Parent* also mentioned Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and state Sen. Toni Atkins — poised to become Senate leader.

“We have the most talented legislative delegation from San Diego probably in our history,” Parent said. “It’s too bad that we’re exporting so many of our leaders to Sacramento.”

Female candidates and office-holders in the #MeToo era came in for special praise — even to the point where Sauer, the former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter, said he’d “favor the woman just to begin with.”

(He later amended that, opposing a possible Michele Bachmann bid to replace Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota.)

Political analyst Fink said she was fascinated by the 49th Congressional District race between GOP incumbent Darrell Issa and a raft of challengers including 28-year-old Sara Jacobs, granddaughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs.

Political analyst Laura Fink said: “No City Council incumbent has been knocked off in … decades. So let’s not kid ourselves. It’s no small task. But the demographics are shifting. … The energy has shifted.” Photo by Ken Stone

“If she’s elected, (she would be) the youngest woman ever elected to Congress,” Fink said. “The reason that’s remarkable to me is because she’s getting a lot of heat for it, I think, for being young.”

Fink said Democrat Doug Applegate, who barely lost to Issa in 2016, “will have an advantage.” But the big question remained: “To what degree do Republicans turn out” for the June 2018 primary?

“We know Republicans are depressed, which I’m kind of happy about because I’m tired of being a Democrat that’s depressed,” she said to applause.

Later, on the topic of women’s justice for past abuse, Fink said: “I want the middle-aged men to keep their Lamborghinis, but you do not get to any more have women as some kind of accessory to your power.”

Fink — one of former Mayor Bob Filner’s accusers — noted that the pipeline of female candidates has “exploded.”

“But I will ask this question: Are we going to run them through the same meat-grinder that we generally run women through?” Fink said. “I think women are exceptional. I think women self-select. … Because there are fewer of them, they tend to be much more qualified.”

She looked forward to when “not perfect” female candidates start to win elective office as often as imperfect men.

Voters will “stop asking about their dress or their voice, stop reacting viscerally to seeing women in power,” she said.

Sauer saw an opening for Democrats to oust Rep. Duncan D. Hunter in the heavily Republican 50th District.

Political strategist Eva Posner singled out San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott for praise, saying she “came out of nowhere. Very intelligent, she’s shrewd. She’s organized.” Photo by Ken Stone

“The race with Duncan Hunter is very interesting — it may well play out on the criminal side,” he said, referring to a federal investigation over his use of campaign funds for personal spending.

“That could be a bellwhether race nationally,” he said.

On the county level, Posner relished the prospect of Democrat Dave Myers upsetting incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore. Posner also hopes one of her clients, deputy public defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright, unseats appointed Summer Stephan, the choice of outgoing DA Bonnie Dumanis, for district attorney.

“These two seats together is criminal justice reform in one election cycle,” Posner said. “Think of the things that we can do with a progressive district attorney and a progressive sheriff.”

“If we can take both of them, in one fell swoop we can start to hit the school-to-prison pipeline. Start to work on racial profiling. … test rape kits. We can do so much with these seats.”

Next year’s San Diego City Council election offers a chance for Democrats to achieve a veto-proof “supermajority” of at least six seats if they pick up one more district.

Ward said D2 and D6 are the “more achievable,” since incumbent Lorie Zapf’s coastal District 2 “went for Hillary by over 30 points.”

Omar Passons and Ken Marlbrough listen to Nathan Fletcher make endorsement pitch. Candidate Lori Saldaña was home sick but sent a surrogate. Photo by Ken Stone

Without using Zapf’s name, he said: “The incumbent has not been doing a whole lot. This is the district that has the most potholes. [This] person who has skipped the most council votes. Like the final budget vote and SoccerCity.”

He added pointedly: “One thing the voters don’t like is not doing your job” and a number of candidates “would do a far superior job — just by calling their constituents back.”

La Mesa Councilman Parent offered advice to Democratic candidates: They can’t just be anti-Trump.

He called the president’s voting base “persuadable.”

“I think they are disappointed,” Parent said. “Look at Virginia and Alabama. Maybe they won’t switch, but they’ll certainly stay at home or cast protest votes.”

Parent concluded: “The moral of the story for club members, for Democrats or candidates is that — yeah, I think this is going to be the year for Democrats. But you can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to really work.”

*Correction: An earlier version of story mistakenly attributed this remark to Chris Ward.