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Wednesday, January 11, 2006 | Ben Hueso has secured victory in one of the two council races Tuesday, while Kevin Faulconer’s razor-thin lead in District 2 in the midnight hour appeared to give him the edge in that much-anticipated race.
Kevin Faulconer leads with 51 percent of the District 2 vote against Lorena Gonzalez’s 49 percent with an estimated 1,850 provisional ballots remaining. A mere 550 votes separates the two candidates, and Gonzalez would have to garner two-thirds of the uncounted ballots to tie.
Faulconer gave a victory speech at 11 p.m. after all of District 2’s precincts were reported. Calls placed to Gonzalez’s campaign were unreturned by midnight. As of press time, she hadn’t conceded the race.
Hueso received 71 percent of the vote in District 8, beating Luis Acle, who garnered 29 percent after all of the district’s precincts were reported.
Faulconer and Hueso will join the eight-member council, which has been shorthanded for nearly six months as City Hall teeters on the brink of bankruptcy while switching over to an entirely new form of government. The new members are expected to be sworn in Jan. 23.
Local political parties, elected officials and local groups weighed in heavily with endorsements, money and volunteers for the elections, although the San Diegans with the most at stake in the races, the voters in Districts 2 and 8, were the only ones who could decide the winner.
Turnout in District 2 appeared to be nearly 34 percent, and about 19 percent turned out to vote in District 8, according to the county registrar’s figures at press time.
Tuesday closes out a campaign season that lasted nearly a half year, as more than two dozen residents launched campaigns in July to replace two resigned council members.
Former Councilmen Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza stepped down after being convicted on federal corruption charges in late July, just days behind Dick Murphy’s departure from the Mayor’s Office. Zucchet, the former District 2 delegate, has since been acquitted on seven of his convictions and will possibly stand retrial on the remaining two. Inzunza, the former District 8 council member, is appealing his guilty verdict and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
San Diego has gained notoriety for its questioned ethics and ill-advised financial decisions. The vacancies left by Zucchet and Inzunza themselves contributed to an aura of corruption, along with a notorious pension deal that is itself the subject of criminal proceedings, and the admission from a longtime congressman that he took more than $2 million in bribes.
The city government’s finances have drawn the public’s attention. The city has been unable to issue bonds for much-needed infrastructure projects since financial agencies downgraded and suspended its credit rating. Auditors have not certified the city’s books since 2003 and the government’s day-to-day budget has been slashed to pay for its ballooning pension deficit.
The candidate fields narrowed from 17 in District 2 and nine in District 8 down to two in each after the Nov. 8 primary, with the best-funded and party-backed candidates advancing to Tuesday’s runoff.
The seats will be up for grabs again this spring, as the city’s even-numbered districts will elect council members to full four-year terms in a June primary and, if necessary, a November runoff. Under San Diego election law, the top two candidates in the first-leg of an election advance to a runoff if no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the primary. Prospective candidates for the 2006 elections can begin their campaigns in February.
While campaign war chests and party endorsements likely played the most significant role in which candidates moved on to a runoff, the cleared fields allowed candidates to contrast themselves.
The district-only nature of the races forced candidates in both races to cater to issues specific to their communities. District 8 candidates spoke often about combating crime in the neighborhood, repairing potholed streets and installing new streetlamps in a part of town home to some of the city’s lower-income residents. Candidate forums in District 2 focused on curbing alcohol use at local bars and beaches as well as monitoring development to remedy its quality-of-life impacts.
But the candidates also made their case about how to rid the city of its current stench, as Faulconer and Gonzalez tailored their message to express that they were better prepared to make the city’s tough decisions while District 8 became a battle about ethics.
Faulconer, a public relations executive, touted his credentials in the private sector when arguing that he was more capable of balancing budgets and fixing the city’s financial mess. He signed on to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ recovery plan, which includes amending everything from the size of the city’s workforce to its retirement plan in an effort to make it more businesslike.
Gonzalez, an environmental attorney, flexed her vast educational background. A graduate degree in public policy and a law degree would empower her to be able to go line by line to sift out possible flaws. She promised to not be a “rubber stamp,” claiming that a go-along-to-get-along attitude caused the city’s problems.
The District 8 candidates fended off allegations of unethical behavior. Various media outlets have lumped Hueso, an organizational consultant, in with Inzunza and his brother, Nick, who is National City’s mayor. Nick Inzunza and Hueso were essentially branded as slumlords by critics who pointed to news accounts describing the dilapidated condition of properties they owned.
Acle, president of the board overseeing San Diego City Schools, faced cries of unethical conduct himself. Opposing ads alleged that he was a tax evader and that he had “blind ambition” to move up the political ladder, trading in the school board seat he won in 2004 for a council post.
In the end, however, the well-heeled candidates won.
Faulconer’s campaign spent more than $339,000 from August to December, compared to $114,000 for Gonzalez. Hueso’s spent $85,000 and Acle spent $65,000 during that same timeframe.
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