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Thursday, December 22, 2005 | The second legs of the two ongoing campaigns for City Council have gone much quieter than the first, and in the remaining days before the election candidates will compete not only with their opponents but also with San Diegans’ holiday plans.
Candidates, their consultants and election analysts are all predicting a low turnout on Jan. 10, saying that very few voters will weigh in on District 2 and 8 council races because it’s the only contest on the ballot and because candidates are knocking on the doors of residents who may be spending the holidays at Grandma’s.
“It’s a very odd time to be holding an election,” said Christopher Crotty, a local political consultant who expected less than one out of every five voters to cast a ballot in the election.
The candidates appear more driven to rally their supporters to the polls than pontificate on issues such as the downtown community plan update or the specter of municipal bankruptcy. Absentee voters may have heard from the candidates who are eager to chase them down before they mail in their ballots, but others in Districts 2 and 8 will likely wait until after the holidays before the direct-mail advertising rush ensues.
Nonetheless, the candidates competing to replace resigned Councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza are collecting endorsements from San Diego’s household names and pitching their messages door-to-door.
As with the primary, experts say, candidates are going to include party affiliation and endorsements in their message to turn out bases loyal to those groups. Although the candidate fields have narrowed, the council seat is the only race on the Jan. 10 ballot. Activists and those who are loyal to the candidates will probably show up to the polls, not casual voters.
Public relations executive Kevin Faulconer and environmental attorney Lorena Gonzalez beat 15 other candidates for the right to square off in District 2, which was formerly represented by Zucchet. School board president Luis Acle and organization consultant Ben Hueso are contending for the District 8 seat, formerly held by Inzunza, after placing better than nine other candidates in the Nov. 8 primary.
Zucchet and Inzunza stepped down from their posts in July after being convicted on corruption charges. Zucchet has since had several of his charges thrown out and the others appear headed to a retrial, and Inzunza is appealing the verdict after being sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Because no candidate in either race won more than 50 percent of the vote in November, the top two from each election advanced to next month’s election. Faulconer received 35 percent and Gonzalez garnered 25 percent in the primary for District 2, which includes the coastal neighborhoods from Mount Soledad to downtown.
Hueso won 39 percent and Acle won 19 percent in District 8, which includes the city’s swaths in the South Bay, as well as communities that are south of downtown.
The candidates say they expect only very active voters to cast ballots in the runoff. In an effort to catch these high-propensity voters, many have chased absentee voters by targeting individuals who have requested the mail-in ballot from the county registrar. These voters are more likely to decide who to vote for when reading direct-mail ads at the kitchen table than to be hesitantly scratching their heads in a voting booth, experts said.
“Whoever does the best vote-by-mail program wins,” said Crotty, who advised Tim Rutherford in his District 2 primary bid.
Faulconer, Gonzales and Hueso all acknowledged that they were paying attention to the absentee voters, and said that mail to other voters will pick up after the New Year, when voters get on with their daily lives. Acle did not return calls seeking comment.
Campaign experts say endorsements will be important for undecided voters who will more easily identify with high-profile politicians and political parties than the candidates themselves.
“Flying the party banner is going to help for the voters who might not even know these races are going on,” San Diego State University political scientist Brian Adams said.
Adams added that he expects absentee voters and political activists who tend to follow city politics to dominate the runoff.
The county Republican Party has thrown their support behind Faulconer and Acle, while the local Democratic Party is supporting Gonzalez and Hueso. Political parties are able to spend an unlimited amount of money to communicate, usually through direct mail or phone banks, with voters who are registered with the party, but cannot make general advertisements such as billboards or yard signs.
Groups and officials that normally make endorsements, and even some that usually don’t, have already thrown their support behind the candidates in Districts 2 and 8. The candidates have retained all of the same endorsements from the primary while garnering others from groups and people who stayed out of the race until the fields were narrowed.
Usually a force in local elections, the city’s public employee unions were largely absent from the mayoral election and the Districts 2 and 8 primaries. Only the firefighters union participated in the first leg, setting up yard signs for Faulconer and Hueso, but the Police Officers Association announced that it is backing the same two candidates.
Calls placed to the presidents of the city’s white- and blue-collar union were not returned, but it is expected that neither of them are supporting any council candidate
Local politicos representing the contested council districts have also thrown their weight behind the remaining candidates:
– Faulconer has received support from Mayor Jerry Sanders, county Sheriff Bill Kolender, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman George Plescia.
– Gonzalez is being backed by Rep. Susan Davis, Assemblywoman Lori Saldana and state Sen. Christine Kehoe.
– Hueso is supported by Assemblyman Juan Vargas, a former councilman.
Civic and political groups are also backing the council candidates.
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are backing Gonzalez while business organizations such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Club of San Diego County are endorsing Faucloner. The Lincoln Club is also backing Acle.
Hueso and Gonzalez won endorsements from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a political arm of the local AFL-CIO.
Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at