Saturday, November 12, 2005 | The top two finishers in each of the City Council races held Tuesday will square off in a runoff election Jan. 10 to determine who fills the spots formerly held by two convicted councilmen.
While the top two finishers in Tuesday’s City Council races will compete in a runoff Jan. 10, it could be only the second of four times within a year’s span that voters in Districts 2 and 8 show up to their polling places to choose a council representative.
Because no candidate in either race won more than 50 percent of the vote, the two highest vote-getters in the Districts 2 and 8 elections will be extending their campaigns for another two months to compete for the council posts that were held by Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza, who stepped down in July after a federal jury found them guilty of corruption. A judge Thursday ruled that Zucchet was acquitted or will be tried again on the charges he was convicted of this summer, and Inzunza will serve 21 months in prison.
The winners on Jan. 10 will complete the four-year term of those council posts, but will likely be campaigning as early as February for a June primary and possible November 2006 runoff.
In other words, the expansive election cycle San Diegans have endured over the last two years – starting with the October 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis and continuing on with a presidential primary (June 2004), presidential general election (November 2004), District 4 special election (January), citywide special election (July) and Tuesday’s statewide ballot bonanza.
The voters of Districts 2 and 8 are lucky enough to face three more democratic endeavors in 2006, giving them the pleasure of having rallied to the polls eight times since the last governor’s race.
“I have sensed the frustration of voters. The political process has really come to their doorstep,” said Ben Hueso, who coasted in Tuesday’s District 8 primary with 39 percent of the total vote.
Hueso, an organizational consultant, will square off against school board president Luis Acle, who won 19 percent. The runoff will be a rematch of the school board race South San Diego residents witnessed two elections ago, when Acle defeated Hueso 52 percent to 48 percent in a constituency partly containing the City Council district they are competing to represent.
In District 2, public relations executive Kevin Faulconer and environmental attorney Lorena Gonzalez advanced on Tuesday, with Faulconer receiving about 35 percent and Gonzalez garnering 25 percent in the primary.
Several candidates in Tuesday’s election announced that they have decided they will not run next June, saying they were turned off by the amount of money and politicking it takes to get elected or want to make the contest for the next term less contentious than the current election to provide some stability for the district.
Ian Trowbridge, who placed seventh among 17 candidates in the District 2 primary, pledged before the campaign season officially commenced that he would not run in the June primary if he were defeated in the special election.
“The councilman or councilwoman will only have been in there for a few weeks and will have no record that is any different than the record they have now,” Trowbridge said. “The voters will have to go to the polls four times in one year and the taxpayers will have to pay for those elections.”
Although Tuesday’s election attracted 26 candidates to vie for two council seats, San Diego State University political scientist Brian Adams said he predicts much slimmer fields in those races come June. He said that constant-election conundrums like those in Districts 2 and 8 have occurred in Los Angeles, and that the winner of the special election usually runs unopposed or virtually unopposed in the subsequent contest.
“It’s not just voter fatigue, but candidates get fatigued, too,” Adams said.
Experts see the Jan. 10 election to have a low voter turnout, given that the runoff will be the only item on the ballot, not as widely publicized as major political races or state propositions, and the contest’s date is right after the holiday season when voters aren’t paying as much attention to politics.
More attention could be paid to the track records and positions of the qualifying candidates in the second legs of this election, experts said, but only for those voters who take an interest in the races. The casual voters will be even more casual this cycle because the races will be so low-profile, analysts said.
The ordinary voter is more likely to base his or her vote on a candidate’s endorsements or political affiliation.
“If it’s a low-profile race and I don’t know anything about any of the candidates, and I get a mailer from a party saying ‘vote this way,’ then that might matter,” Adams said.
San Diego Mesa College political science professor Carl Luna said that, while technically a non-partisan race, council elections are still a time for the major political parties to fly their colors.
In District 2, the local Republican Party endorsed Faulconer and spent heavily on advertising to voters registered with the GOP in the primary. The county Democratic Party endorsed Gonzalez and also made member communication expenditures on her behalf during the primary election.
Acle is backed by the Republicans in District 8. The Democrats endorsed teacher Remy Bermudez in the primary, but Hueso said he was assured by the local Democratic Party that he is its endorsee in the runoff. Calls placed to the county Democratic Party headquarters on Friday were not returned by press time.
Endorsements, especially from groups who will make independent expenditures on your behalf, will also play a big part in the runoff, analysts said, although it will not separate the candidates from each other the same way the well-endowed campaigns were able to distance themselves on Election Day from the majority of candidates whose only expenditures came from their own campaign committees.
The candidates maintain that the elections are about where they stand on issues and how well they communicate their track record, and experts say the runoff will allow for extra scrutiny of those because there are fewer candidates to focus on.
In District 2, Gonzalez said she thinks her position on development and career in public service will differentiate her from Faulconer.
“Voters want to know that their representative is making sure that San Diego isn’t picking up the check for everyone else,” she said. “For so long, residents have borne the costs.”
She also challenged Faulconer to make public the list of clients his public relations firm, Porter Novelli, handles. Gonzalez said her legal work for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is “under constant and intense scrutiny.”
Faulconer said he believes his business-world credentials will convince voters that he will be better at “turning around the financial mess at City Hall” than Gonzalez.
“Her experience is as a government staffer, and that’s not the type of experience we need,” Faulconer said. “We need somebody with a business background, who has an experience of making tough decisions, balancing a budget and hiring and firing people, and that’s the type of experience I have.”
Faulconer said he looks forward to the debates about taxes and government spending.
In District 8, Hueso said he believes the pressing issue voters will ultimately decide on is experience within the neighborhoods. Hueso said he has “worked for years to develop relationships within the community.”
“To provide representative leadership, you need to be in tune with the community and know what it takes to bring resources in,” he said.
Hueso said he wanted to challenge Acle’s involvement in the council district as well as his short track record on the board of trustees for San Diego City Schools.
Acle did not return calls as of press time, but has largely promoted himself as a problem-solver, claiming he has helped reform a broken public school system by leading the search for a new superintendent. Carl Cohn was selected by the board in July.
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