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Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008 | The primary race between April Boling and Marti Emerald for the District 7 San Diego City Council seat was in large measure a battle of resumes. Who best to fix what ails City Hall: Boling, the conservative accountant; or Emerald, the liberal investigative reporter?
The June 3 primary election showed voters narrowly preferring the conservative accountant by a 1.5 percent margin. The showing disappointed Emerald’s backers — most notably labor leaders — who felt that with her union support and name recognition as Channel 10’s Troubleshooter she should have garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, and won the election outright.
“I think everyone who supports Marti felt she had an opportunity to win it in the primary,” said Christopher Crotty, a Democratic political consultant who does not have connections to either campaign. “By not doing so, she didn’t live up to expectations.”
So Emerald re-tooled over the summer, first by sacking campaign consultant Larry Remer and replacing him with Sacramento-based Richard Ross. And the Democrat began de-emphasizing her “Troubleshooter at City Hall” slogan, opting instead for a much broader fix-the-economy message that is in line with Democratic campaigns at the state and national levels.
For the past couple months, voters in the district — which includes Tierrasanta, San Carlos, Del Cerro, Allied Gardens and San Diego State University — have been hearing from an Emerald who is as concerned, if not more so, about creating new industries and middle-class jobs in San Diego as she was about “following the money” at City Hall, her core message during the primary.
Emerald now talks about City Council being a catalyst for new clean tech industries that will create well-paying jobs. She is particularly interested in solar power, going so far as to suggest a research and development partnership with Baja California.
“Why did people come here? Because it is sunny,” Emerald said. “Let’s harness that sun and create an industry around it.”
Boling, meanwhile, is sticking to her script from the primary. The Republican is campaigning on a reform from within platform — arguing that a native San Diegan schooled in the arcane details of municipal finance can open the city’s books and set it on a course toward both fiscal responsibility and stability.
“I am just a consistent person,” Boling said.
The stakes are high in the battle to replaced termed-out Republican Jim Madaffer. An Emerald win would put a Democrat in the seat for the first time since the advent of district-only elections nearly two decades ago. On the other hand, a Boling win, coupled with a win by Republican Phil Thalheimer in District 1, would end the longtime Democratic advantage on City Council.
Thus far, lots of money has been spent and few punches pulled in the race. Both have raised about $200,000 in campaign contributions, and have received support in the six figures through member communication spending by the parties and individual expenditures from organizations like the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council (Emerald) and the Lincoln Club (Boling).
The Boling campaign and its supporters have accused Emerald of being a shallow political opportunist who has contradicted herself on many issues, most notably in April when she told a group of students at University of San Diego that she would consider supporting a citywide trash pickup fee, and then quickly backtracked.
Emerald’s backers have characterized Boling as a classic San Diego insider tied to developers and the rest of the Republican establishment, citing her accounting work for the political arms of the Lincoln Club and the Building Industry Association.
Emerald insists that her new tack is the result of lessons learned on the campaign trail, not political maneuvering.
“My message is a reflection of what I am learning in the community,” Emerald said. “Since I entered the campaign, the world has changed. The economy has become far more difficult — more jobs have been lost.”
Regardless of her motives, Emerald’s new emphasis might be the right move this fall for several reasons, say political strategists. It gets her away from a theme that didn’t work for her in the primary, has a better chance of resonating with the far larger group of voters projected to show up in November, and aligns her with the message coming from Democrats nationwide.
“I have been doing congressional primaries all over the country,” Crotty said. “And those were the issues we were running on — it didn’t matter if I was in Massachusetts, Wisconsin or up the street.”
The turnout in District 7 for the primary was 44 percent, the largest among the four districts up for grabs. And a November turnout approaching 80 percent in the general election is not inconceivable, especially considering that school was not in session at San Diego State University on primary Election Day.
A high-turnout election will invariably include voters who have little interest in the machinations of City Hall and will respond to a broader message focusing on jobs and environmental issues, and then connecting it to San Diego, Crotty said.
On the other hand, Emerald’s emphasis on such broad issues that a city councilwoman would have little control over could turn voters off.
“In district elections voters expect to have candidates addressing very, very narrowly focused neighborhood issues,” said Tom Shepard, a Republican consultant who ran Mayor Jerry Sanders’ campaign, but is not involved in this race.
But Shepard acknowledges that Boling, by staying so close to her primary script, may have difficulty connecting with new voters, especially those in the College area.
Boling can count on strong financial support from the Republican Party as well as from independent expenditures from the Lincoln Club and other Republican organizations. “We are going to do whatever it takes to get her over the finish line,” said local Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric.
Shepard wonders if Emerald will get the same level support from the Democratic Party and the unions. In the primary, individual expenditures and member communication spending on Boling’s behalf was $105,000 more than was spent on Emerald’s behalf.
The local Democratic Party has had great success registering students to vote at San Diego State, said party Chairman Jess Durfee. As far as raising money, Durfee said the party will do “as much as we possibly can,” but added that “we are still building our resources.”
Evan McLaughlin, the Labor Council’s political director, said Democrat Marty Block’s candidacy in 78th District State Assembly race is the top priority for labor in the general election. But he said Emerald should benefit from Block’s coattails because there is so much overlap of the 78th District and District 7.