San Diego’s 73rd City Council was sworn in on Thursday alongside new Mayor Todd Gloria, bringing a Democratic supermajority to the council chambers.
Departing councilmembers Georgette Gómez, Barbara Bry, Chris Ward, Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman offered thanks to the citizens of San Diego and words of advice to incoming councilmembers Joe LaCava, Stephen Whitburn, Marni von Wilpert, Raul Campillo and Sean Elo-Rivera as the city faces one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.
Later on Thursday, in its first official act, new council voted 5-4 to choose Jen Campbell as the next Council president, edging out Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe.
Both councilmembers are Democrats, but Montgomery Steppe as backed by the local party and progressive groups. Campbell, who represents District 2, positioned herself as a moderate candidate and vowed to work will all constituencies. She succeeds Gómez in the powerful position that controls the council’s docket and committee appointments.
The 73rd City Council must contend with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and all the physical, economic and budgetary issues it presents the city. Other major items before the council, which now sits at an 8-1 Democrat advantage, include the city’s Climate Action Plan and battling climate change, homelessness and rising housing prices, the cleanup of the Tijuana River Basin, social and racial justice and large-scale projects such as Pure Water.
A visibly emotional Gómez thanked her family, wife and supporters for a brief but significant four-year term representing the city’s District 9. Her tenure, including the last two years as Council President, saw a citywide focus on climate change, racial justice and infrastructure projects.
Her replacement, Elo-Rivera, said he would continue radical reform to better the city. He drew issue with the description of the many problems caused by COVID-19 as “unprecedented.”
“For too many San Diegan families, the challenges presented by COVID- 19 are not unprecedented but all too typical,” he said. “We must not go back to normal. Normal is not good enough.”
Bry, a candidate for mayor against Gloria, said she was proud of her four years representing District 1 and that she would continue to “demand accountability,” from city government. She pointed to the 101 Ash Street real estate deal and the failed Soccer City proposal as examples where she blew the whistle about backroom deals.
Her replacement, LaCava, said his engineering background would continue Bry’s policy of no-nonsense straight talk. He hoped to work with all city departments to survive the pandemic.
“Successful navigation of these uncertain pandemic waters will take all of us working together,” he said.
District 3’s Whitburn thanked his predecessor, now-Assemblyman Chris Ward, for continuing to “break the rainbow ceiling.” He was sworn in by former Councilwoman Christine Kehoe — the first openly LGBT person elected to office in San Diego County in 1993 — and all LGBT former District 3 councilmembers were in attendance. This included Kehoe, Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, Gloria, Ward and now Whitburn himself.
He said he wanted to move forward with the city into a new era.
“We need to advance past the us versus them mentality,” that he said plagued politics around the country but especially in San Diego.
Von Wilpert took over from Mark Kersey in District 5 and said she was dedicated to empowering justice throughout the city. She said action must be swift and decisive on how to tackle COVID-19.
“With a vaccine on the verge, hope is on the horizon,” she said, adding the importance of bipartisanship. “We must reject anger and division.”
In District 7, former Councilman Scott Sherman said he stuck to his guns and didn’t sell out to special interests.
He reminded his former colleagues and the new elected officials of their responsibility.
“It’s not your money,” Sherman said. “We are stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”
His replacement, Campillo, said although he comes from a different political party than Sherman, all the members of the council serve their constituents.
“We must not let the past impede us,” he said. “San Diego has more young people, more diversity, but more to fix than ever.”
The vote to select Campbell as council president came after an hours-long meeting that began at 2 p.m. Hundreds of residents called into the meeting, many expressing support for Montgomery Steppe.
Campbell received the support of new councilmembers von Wilpert, Campillo and Whitburn, as well as Chris Cate, the only Republican remaining on the council. Montgomery Steppe was backed by new councilmembers LaCava and Elo-Rivera plus incumbent Vivian Moreno.
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, criticized the choice of Campbell, saying she “was selected because of a shadow campaign that was launched by powerful special interests.”
Updated at 7:30 a.m., Friday, Dec. 11, 2020
City News Service contributed to this article.