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Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006 | A year ago, this election was shaping up to be a real barnburner.
The Chargers were supposed to go before the public once and for all to decide the fate of their new stadium designs for Mission Valley. The region was squaring up for a rollicking discussion that would solve the airport question after a half-century of hand wringing and, perhaps, signal San Diego’s choice for what kind of city it wanted to be. The new mayor’s agenda would also be put to its first major test.
Instead, this local election’s been a dud. So much so, in fact, that it’s been tough to find a yard sign or bumper sticker along the lawns and roads of the city of San Diego.
Work’s been slow in the political industry, said consultant Bobby Glaser. He said he’s normally contracted to do field work – such as walking districts and posting yard signs – in between 1,200 and 1,500 precincts in a heated election. This year, Glaser’s been hired for only 100 precincts.
“It just didn’t come to a boil,” he said.
Andy Berg, director of governmental relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association, said the public is burnt out on elections in San Diego. “We seem to have one every six months,” he said.
Indeed, San Diego’s had its fair share of hot elections as of late, with a 2004 mayoral contest resolved in court and a handful of special elections needed in the last year to replace a resigned or convicted politician. But, at a time, Nov. 7, 2006 looked like it would hold the long-term fate of the region’s professional football team, air transportation and more.
Now, on Election Day, the local election season has breezed by with nary a peep. The Chargers canceled their San Diego stadium plans and instead are negotiating with other cities in the county. The airport battle seems to have been fought and finished before the ballot language was even penned. And one of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ two ballot measures faces no formal opposition.
To be sure, there is an exception. Due to a wording choice, the second of the mayor’s initiatives has recently gained strong opposition – a month after it, too, had no funded, organized opposition.
And incumbency and gerrymandering has left few competitive races for San Diego’s local, state and national representatives. Only one assembly race and one congressional battle appear to even be nominally up in the air on Election Day. Incumbents won by sufficiently decisive margins in the June primary to take all four of the San Diego City Council seats up for election.
And an uncompetitive governor’s race has added little trickle-down effect. “This ticket’s got no pizzazz,” Glaser said.
What’s left: an airport measure, Proposition A, that failed to rally the support of elected officials and a major chunk of the business community, and a ballot initiative that has the potential to drastically reshape the city’s work force through privatization.
But the airport debate never came down to whether San Diego was comfortable with its size and stature or wanted to be something bigger. Instead, it became a simple advisory vote – and mainly a battle between an obscure bureaucratic agency and the U.S. military.
“It would have been a real pivotal moment in the history of San Diego,” said Christopher Crotty, a Democratic political consultant, “and it just petered out.”
Earlier this year, Crotty relished the idea of taking on the mayor’s two initiatives, Proposition B and Proposition C, this fall. But no one came knocking on his door, and now he’s in Washington, D.C., focused squarely on national races.
“I remember talking to (Mayor Sanders’ political consultant) Tom Shepard when the mayor first announced that these were going to be on the ballot,” Crotty said. “We anticipated a huge fight. The new strong mayor against the very powerful labor unions.”
But the unions haven’t flexed their political muscle this time around. Proposition B, which would require voters to approve any pension increases for city workers, has no organized opposition. And until a month ago, opponents of Proposition C didn’t have a campaign committee set up to collect and spent donations.
Since then, firefighters and police have begun a television campaign with the financial backing of the blue-collar workers union, seizing on a judge’s ruling that the measure could potentially open public safety up to privatization. But they are taking on a campaign that had a head start, deep pockets and Sanders’ popularity.
“I have no idea what happened to the unions,” Crotty said.
Steve Erie, political science professor at the University of California, San Diego traced the ballot malaise to an airport measure that “got more complicated” because of the opposition of the military, NIMBYs and San Diego County Taxpayers Association, as well as the measure’s shift from binding to advisory status.
“It sort of lost its teeth,” he said.