It appears the San Diego City Council will have a 6-3 Democrat supermajority, making it immune to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s veto, with incumbent Lorie Zapf headed for defeat.
Though the City Council is technically nonpartisan, Zapf is a Republican and her challenger, Jen Campbell, is a Democrat.
In addition to Zapf, another incumbent, Myrtle Cole, was also trailing badly, though her district will remain Democratic.
It was a stunning development because historically no San Diego City Council incumbent has ever lost an election.
District 2: Lorie Zapf vs. Jen Campbell
With a council supermajority on the line, the partisan race for the council’s seat representing District 2 has became one of the fiercest in the city.
With 73 percent of the precincts reporting, incumbent Republican Lorie Zapf was trailing her challenger, retired physician and Democrat Jen Campbell, by 44.5 percent to 55.5 percent. It was a stunning upset after Zapf cruised through the primary with 44.6 percent of the vote, more than double anyone else’s share of votes in the district.
Zapf shook off an August challenge to her re-election eligibility by third-place finisher Bryan Pease, who argued that Zapf was termed out because she had already served two terms.
Zapf’s argument, held up by an appeals court panel, was that she served her first term representing District 6 and was redistricted into District 2.
Campbell has argued that Zapf is more closely aligned with President Donald Trump than the coastal district’s left-leaning population, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 10,000.
District 2 residents have also had campaign advertisements and mailers thrust upon them, highlighting past comments by Zapf — which she later apologized for — disparaging gay people and homosexuality. Zapf’s mailers have argued that Campbell may have committed disability fraud and should be dismissed as a viable candidate on that allegation alone.
Both candidates have received large amounts of financial support from outside groups — labor unions for Campbell and business groups for Zapf. The campaigns of both women could theoretically spend a combined total of $2.4 million on the race by the time the election dust settles. Should Zapf lose, she would be the first incumbent City Council member to lose a re-election bid since 1991.
District 4: Myrtle Cole vs. Monica Montgomery
City Council President Myrtle Cole trailed fellow Democrat and civil rights lawyer Monica Montgomery by 45.5 percent to 54.5 percent with 67 percent of precincts reporting
Cole’s second-place finish in the June primary, albeit by a meager six votes, surprised City Hall politicians on both sides of the aisle. Cole suggested to Voice of San Diego in July that her lack of a ground game during the primary was the main cause of the result.
The district, sandwiched between City Heights on the west and Lemon Grove on the east, is deeply blue, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans 3-to-1. However, Cole is the most moderate of the five current Democratic City Council members, a fact that might have caused Montgomery to enter the race.
Montgomery is a former member of Cole’s staff who resigned last year when Cole suggested that some racial profiling is useful. Montgomery has argued that Cole is twisted around the axle of City Hall politics, keeping her from effectively representing her District 4 constituents.
Cole stepped up her campaigning after the primary and has received significant financial backing from labor leaders in recent months. Last week, Cole also received support from a somewhat unlikely source.
A report by Voice of San Diego revealed that Mayor Kevin Faulconer nixed two planned campaign expenditures that would have gone to Montgomery and has helped raise money for Cole since September. Theoretically, a Democratic council with Cole as the swing vote would be more beneficial to Faulconer than the more progressive Montgomery.
District 6: Chris Cate vs. Tommy Hough
Democrats had also hoped to flip District 6 to ensure a supermajority, however, early returns show Christ Cate handily beating former radio personality Tommy Hough. Cate is leading Hough 58.1 percent to 41.8 percent.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 6,000 in the district, which includes Mira Mesa, Clairemont and Kearny Mesa.
Cate appears nowhere near as vulnerable as Zapf due to his success in the primary and vast fundraising lead. Cate took 58.5 percent of the primary vote, while Hough mustered 16 percent. Cate also led Hough in fundraising $151,320 to $4,860 as of Sept. 22, according to KPBS.
Hough argues that he will narrow the gap between him and Cate with his ground game and claims Cate has handled multiple issues poorly during his term, like vacation rentals and community choice energy, which the city plans to implement by 2021.
Hough has also railed against Cate for providing a confidential memo from the City Attorney’s office about Measure E, the SoccerCity initiative, to SoccerCity officials in June 2017. Cate paid a $5,000 fine for the leak, but the state Attorney General’s Office opted in May not to charge Cate.
Cate, meanwhile, has mostly campaigned on his City Council record of fixing roads and saving two senior centers in the district from closing. Cate argued to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the race should be focused on results.
District 8: Vivian Moreno vs. Antonio Martinez
Considered the wild card this election because current City Councilman David Alvarez, a Democrat, is termed out. In his stead, his staffer Vivian Moreno is running against San Ysidro School District Board member Antonio Martinez, ensuring the council will have at least one new face when it reconvenes after the election.
Moreno is leading Martinez 54.7 percent to 45.2 percent. Both are Democrats.
Moreno led the way in the June primary with 35.8 percent of the vote while Martinez advanced to the general election by just three votes over human rights advocate Christian Ramirez. Despite the narrow margin, Martinez has received the endorsement of both Ramirez and the San Diego County Democratic Party.
Martinez frames himself as something of an outsider, claiming that the City Council largely ignores District 8, which is geographically separated and includes Barrio Logan, Otay Mesa and San Ysidro.
“Our community has been ignored for too long,” Martinez said in his official statement. “I’ll fight for the fair share our neighborhoods deserve.”
Moreno, however, is running on her experience in City Hall, arguing that the transition from Alvarez to her would be negligible. Moreno would also be the first woman to represent the region on the council. Moreno is supported by Alvarez, the Sierra Club, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez.
Local Bond Measures: K and YY
Two local ballot measures are also noteworthy entering the election, measures K and YY.
Measure K would correct the phrasing in the City Charter’s term-limit provision for City Council members, limiting them to two terms regardless of district. In essence, Zapf would not be eligible for re-election this year had the specifications in Measure K already been on the books.
Measure K will pass with an overwhelming majority. Voters approved the measure 88.2 percent to 11.8 percent.
Measure YY, meanwhile, has faced staunch opposition from taxpayer groups and local conservatives, who argue that it will run up an eight-figure debt for the county.
The measure would authorize the San Diego Unified School District to issue $3.5 billion in bonds to fund repairs and upgrades to schools across the district.
The bonds would fund improvements to school security, classroom technology, plumbing and campus infrastructure and, most importantly, remove asbestos from campuses and lead from drinking water.
It is passing with 60.2 percent of the votes in early returns. It only needs 55 percent to pass.
— City News Service contributed to this report