Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | San Diego will have to wait until November to find out exactly how its new City Council will look, but Tuesday’s election did ensure that it will have one new — and loud — voice in District 5.
Republican Carl DeMaio, who began laying the groundwork for a run for political office almost since the day he arrived in San Diego six years ago, won a resounding victory, besting George George 66.5 percent to 33.5 percent.
The races for the other three open seats will continue into the November runoff — with the much-watched District 7 race as close as many thought it would be. Republican April Boling finished with 47.1 percent to Democrat Marti Emerald’s 44.6 percent.
Boling’s showing represented a comeback of sorts from polling early in the campaign that showed Emerald, who as a television reporter was Channel 10’s Troubleshooter for two decades, with a significant name identification advantage.
Also surprising many was Sherri Lightner’s showing in District 1. Lightner, a Democrat, garnered 36.4 percent of the vote, topping Republicans Phil Thalheimer and Marshall Merrifield who outspent her by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thalheimer and Merrifield finished with 33.7 percent and 29.9-percent of the vote respectively. Lightner will face Thalheimer in the November runoff.
In District 3, Democrats Todd Gloria and Stephen Whitburn made the runoff. Gloria finished with 40.5 percent and Whitburn with 28.5 percent.
The remaining candidates are competing for seats now held by termed-out council members who have been in office since 2000 — Scott Peters (District 1), Brian Maienschein (District 5), Toni Atkins (District 3) and Jim Madaffer (District 7).
Front and center for the city’s reconstituted legislative body will be battles over wages and pensions for city employees and the outsourcing of city services. Both organized labor and the Republican Party spent heavily on candidates opposite side of these issues.
Democratic consultant Christopher Crotty, who was not representing any candidates in the primary, highlighted Lightner’s victory.
“A lot of people were thinking she wouldn’t make the runoff because of the big bucks spent by Thalheimer and Merrifield,” Crotty said. “Sherri mined her contacts in the community and turned them into votes, and that rarely happens.”
John Kern, a Republican consultant, also credited Lightner with running a strong campaign. And he spoke highly of Boling’s effort.
“Marti was supposed to walk away with this thing,” said Kern, who did not represent a candidate in the primary.
The 33-year-old DeMaio, one of the loudest critics of the city’s fiscal management in recent years, declared his victory at 9:45 p.m. He told supporters that his win was born out of a desire among San Diegan’s to clean up City Hall.
“The public is stomping mad and needs reformers on City Council,” DeMaio said.
DeMaio’s victory was also the result of his almost 20-1 financial advantage over George, and a year of vigorous campaigning in District 5, which includes Mira Mesa, Sorrento Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch and Carmel Mountain.
George was incensed last night when he found out that DeMaio had declared victory so early in the evening. “That’s amazing,” George said. “Tell him, ‘God bless him, and I hope he doesn’t have to retract it.’”
Organized labor spent nearly $48,000 opposing DeMaio, most of it on the website dirtydemaio.com. Labor also spent heavily supporting George and Emerald in District 7. The Republican Party countered with significant spending in support of Boling, and to a lesser extent DeMaio.
Boling said her win gives her momentum going into the fall.
“Our message is resonating with the voters,” Boling said this morning. “And this gives us five months to meet with that many more people.”
Emerald and her camp were equally upbeat about their chances come November. “We’re feeling very confident that if we don’t take it here we’ll march ahead,” Emerald said.
Lightner said she didn’t share others’ surprise at her victory in District 1.
“I was outspent. But I wasn’t out-walked and out-volunteered,” Lightner said.
Early in the night, Merrifield called District 1 an “ole’ fashioned horse race,” with Lightner at 36 percent and he and Thalheimer both around 31 percent. But Thalheimer began to inch ahead with each new batch of precincts reporting.
Thalheimer said the election went like his internal polling said it would.
“We expected Sherri to win the primary by between four and seven points,” Thalheimer said. “You have two Republicans and one Democrat — as the evening progressed I continued to feel more comfortable with the numbers.”
In District 3, Gloria opened with an 11-point lead over Whitburn, which widened at bit as the night went on.
Both Democrats hit on similar reasons for their success. “The race that we’ve run has really been our own race,” Gloria said. “We haven’t changed our responses depending on the activities of the other candidates.”
Said Whitburn: “If you look at the votes for our campaign and the campaign of the other candidates who also stood up for stronger neighborhoods, you’ll see that that is something that people are really looking for in this district.”
Perhaps most surprising was John Hartley’s showing, given that in March he was arrested for, and later plead no contest to, committing a lewd act during a day of precinct walking.
San Diego police arrested Hartley, 65, on March 27 after a Kensington resident reported that he was urinating into a cup and masturbating in his truck that was parked in the 4600 block of Vista Street.
Nonetheless, Hartley finished with 18 percent of the vote. Not enough, however, to make it to the runoff.
Lea Yu contributed to this report.