Saturday, November 05, 2005 | Part One: The Business of Ballot Designations
The candidates running for two vacant City Council seats have been fighting to get their campaign messages out to voters, but have had to compete with various statewide ballot initiatives and the mayor’s race for attention.
While the propositions and the candidates vying to replace resigned Mayor Dick Murphy are snagging headlines, those running to serve Districts 2 and 8 have more-or-less had their campaigning efforts limited to sporadic news stories, yard signs, ballot designations, a handful of election forums and direct-mail advertising.
These campaign vehicles have been used more frequently as Tuesday’s election draws nearer – save the community group forums, which for the most part wrapped up two weeks ago – and candidates are exerting every effort they can to separate themselves from the crowds of competitors.
There are 17 District 2 residents running to replace Michael Zucchet and eight candidates vying to succeed Ralph Inzunza in District 8. Zucchet and Inzunza resigned from the City Council in July after being convicted on federal corruption charges.
The crowded candidate fields have forced the candidates in each race to do whatever they can to stick in the minds of San Diegans who may be more likely to pay attention to the more publicized mayoral runoff and statewide referenda. In the waning days of the election, they are trying to distinguish themselves by rolling out their endorsements and experience.
Some voters may want to get into the minutiae of candidates’ positions on the role of the city attorney, the pension plan or Mission Bay Park, but experts say that casual voters are more likely to be wooed by the endorsements candidates have garnered or by relating to their biography.
“After a candidate’s name and profession, endorsements are the next thing you read,” said Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College. “When candidates do their designations and statements for the ballot, they’re really drumming up constituencies that voters can relate to.”
A ballot designation – where a candidate’s job or profession is listed – is the most visible identifier because it is listed underneath the candidate’s name. It’s also the least expensive.
The city’s municipal code prohibits a candidate from listing their race, religion or political affiliation – identifiers that may sway voters one way or the other – but voters think professional experience could be a good indicator of a candidate’s qualifications, experts said.
“The conventional wisdom is that a good ballot designation can equate to a 3- to 7-percent bump alone,” said John Dadian, a former political consultant. “And if you can’t get a positive on it, you certainly want to avoid a negative.”
Positive career attributes, campaign specialists say, include designations that have connotations of business, management or popular constituencies – such as the environmentalism in the coastal District 2.
Of the 17 candidates running in District 2, nine – Kathy Blavatt, David Diehl, Kevin Faulconer, Greg Finley, Linda Finley, Rich Grosch, Allen Hujsak, Jim Morrison and Ian Trowbridge – have the words “business,” “investor” or “entrepreneur” in their ballot designation. In District 8, candidate Ben Hueso identifies himself as a “small business owner.”
Blavatt owns a graphic communications business; Diehl is a self-employed investor; Faulconer is a public relations executive; Greg Finley and Linda Finley, who were formerly married, owned Finley’s House of Carpets; Grosch owns the Ocean Beach Hotel; Hujsak co-owns a software company; Morrison is an apartment manager; Trowbridge spends his retired days investing and Hueso owns an organizational consulting business.
Just what business these potential politicos are in requires reading beyond the ballot designation, but political analysts say it doesn’t matter much.
“A businessman is everything from running a lemonade stand to running General Motors,” Luna said. “We love businessmen in America except for when things like Enron happen.”
San Diego State University political scientist Brian Adams said that candidates who play up their business backgrounds are showing candidates that “that they have been responsible for finances, are efficient and know how to be profitable.”
Some public criticism has been toward candidates who are not going out of their way to disclose their true career paths. A news story and a letter to the editor in a local newspaper have called into question the nature of two candidates’ lines of work – Faucloner and Hueso – by hinting that they were lobbyists.
Both men deny the allegations. Faulconer said his public relations firm, Porter Novelli, does provide lobbying services, but that he has not since advocating on behalf of San Diego State University in front of the City Council four years ago.
An Ethics Commission complaint was filed against Hueso, claming that he had a conflict of interest when he worked for the city’s Community and Economic Development department while simultaneously owning the Central Commercial District Revitalization Corp., which received city dollars. The Ethics Commission exonerated Hueso in 2002.
Dadian, who is a registered City Hall lobbyist, said that being associated with his profession is a political death wish after a federal jury found that both of the councilmen these candidates are aiming to replace succumbed to the influence of lobbyists and their campaign contributions.
“We just came off a summer where the whole episode involved a lobbyist,” he said, referring to Lance Malone, who worked on behalf of Cheetahs’ strip clubs to sway the council to repeal an ordinance that bans nude dancers from coming within six feet of patrons.
Some District 2 candidates are flexing their environmental credentials in a part of town laced with beach and bay shoreline. Carolyn Chase opted to promote her title as CEO of an environmental nonprofit rather than state on her ballot designation that she is a planning commissioner for the city of San Diego – choosing to use a leadership position with the green-friendly group rather than play up her urban planning experience.
“Earth Day is what I’ve been with the longest,” she said. “I have more recognition because of that.”
District 2 candidate Lorena Gonzalez also decided to promote her green credentials over her public policy experience, listing herself as an “environmental attorney/mom.” Gonzalez has worked on land and environmental issues for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Chase said some of her opponents are avoiding calling attention to parts of their profession that may have negative connotations.
“Kevin will never use ‘PR’ in anything he says and Lorena will never use ‘Cruz Bustamante’ in anything she says,” Chase said.
Both Faulconer and Gonzalez defended their ballot designations.
“My experience managing accounts, managing people and managing budgets is something desperately needed at City Hall right now,” Faulconer said. ” ‘Businessman’ is a title people know and understand, and that’s my objective.”
“I work in an environmentally minded area, and I think that would be attractive to voters who care about clean water and beaches,” Gonzalez said. “I have a trained profession. Could I have used ‘public policy advisor?’ Maybe.”
Gonzalez also clarified why she decided to use ‘mom’ in her ballot designation when several of the candidates have children but opted not to list that they were parents.
“In the last few years, I’ve reduced my working in order to be a mom to my kids,” she said. “So much in what I do is being a mother and it brings a different perspective and changes priorities. What kind of San Diego are my kids going to be brought into?”
Another ballot designation with a positive ring to it is “teacher,” analysts say, because the profession is associated with community service. In District 2, Blavatt, Grosch and Tom Eaton state they are teachers. District 8 candidate Remy Bermudez is also listed as an educator.
Blavatt’s choice of “teacher” rankled at least one candidate, Grosch, who complained that she should not use the term in her designation because she does not hold a teaching credential.
Blavatt said she teaches two savants and has authored textbooks that have been used as curriculum in some schools. Grosch said he has since dropped his dispute with Blavatt.
“We didn’t pursue it past the first week so it’s a non-issue, but she keeps bringing it up,” Grosch said.
But the municipal code has restricted at least one candidate: retired professor Ian Trowbridge initially tried to use “civic activist” on his ballot designation, but the City Clerk’s Office determined that he did not fit that role in an official capacity. Trowbridge is a frequent critic of San Diego city government and credits himself for exposing mismanagement at the San Diego Data Processing Corp., the city’s information technology arm.
“Rules are rules, I suppose,” Trowbridge said when he filed for candidacy in August.
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