B.D. Howard’s shoes have the look of an underdog.

Torn and tattered, the Nikes have accompanied the District 8 City Council candidate as he’s spent 500 days going door-to-door in San Diego’s southernmost neighborhoods.

They’re splattered with blue paint from Howard’s homemade yard signs.

“I’ve been through a lot in the campaign with these shoes on,” Howard said. “It’s produced good results for me. I’m going to keep wearing them and resole the soles when the soles fall off.”

Although no incumbents are running for election in City Council Districts 6 and 8, the races don’t have the feel of a wide-open primary election. Candidates there are going to great and sometimes unusual lengths — from going negative to spending a year and a half canvassing city blocks like Howard — in an attempt to break through to a runoff election in November.

In both districts, candidates boast the familiar name recognition of a seasoned incumbent. In District 8, Felipe Hueso and Nick Inzunza actually share in incumbent names — Hueso’s brother is the current councilman and Inzunza’s nephew was the previous representative. And in District 6, Howard Wayne is a familiar face from his time in the state Assembly.

Howard’s strategy is walking, and he said the reason is simple.

“I don’t have the money or endorsements or family name to carry me to the runoff or the election,” Howard said.

Another District 8 candidate, David Alvarez, has both money and endorsements. He has more than eight times the cash on hand of his opponents and is the pick of the local Democratic Party and the city’s firefighter and white-collar unions.

Alvarez has used some of his money trying to turn voters’ familiarity with the Hueso and Inzunza names — the mailer calls them a dynasty — into negatives.

A mailer he has sent out has pictures of roaches and grime, and references news reports detailing shoddy conditions at properties owned by another Inzunza nephew, also named Nick, when that Inzunza was mayor of National City.

Hueso, a lawyer, is criticized for tax problems, being put on probation by the California Bar and saying “name recognition” is a qualification for office.

“Clearly part of the strategy is that people are running on their last name,” Alvarez said. “Since that’s the case, I’m trying to make sure people know who they are.”

Hueso and Inzunza are not amused.

Hueso’s campaign sent Alvarez a cease-and-desist letter about the mailer and Hueso said charges of “tax evasion” are false. Hueso conceded he had owed more than $100,000 to the IRS, but said he paid it all back. “I am not a tax evader,” Hueso said. “I paid every nickel.”

Inzunza’s political consultant, Larry Remer, criticized Alvarez for focusing the mailer on Inzunza’s nephew instead of the candidate.

Nick Inzunza, the District 8 candidate, had nothing to do with those properties, Remer said.

“The only thing about Nick Inzunza that’s true about him in that mailer is his name,” Remer said.

Remer also contrasted Howard’s strategy with Alvarez’s.

“What B.D. is doing, he’s campaigning,” Remer said. “What David Alvarez is doing, he’s cheating.”

Alvarez brushed off Inzunza and Hueso’s criticisms, saying it was fair to address their families because they brought their family names into the race.

He said he had no problem characterizing him as a tax evader. “He didn’t pay taxes,” Alvarez said.

In District 6, which includes Mission Valley, Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa and Linda Vista, candidates say voters are focused on the city’s finances. That includes the issues that flow from the city’s money problems like potholes, pensions, cuts to library hours and police and fire services.

“The one thing is the city’s debt,” said Steve Hadley, a District 6 candidate and chief of staff for termed out councilwoman Donna Frye.

Candidate Lorie Zapf has sent an advertisement trying to do the same as Alvarez based on Wayne’s assembly service. Her mailer attacks Wayne for being soft on crime and a profligate spender based on votes he took while in the state Assembly.

For his part, Wayne said he didn’t feel like an incumbent in the race, despite his past elected office, endorsements from major labor unions and a campaign war chest that dwarfs his opponents. Zapf’s attacks, he said, were nothing more than an indictment of state budget votes he took.

“I certainly don’t act like an incumbent, and I certainly don’t think the election is going to end on June 8,” Wayne said.

Zapf’s staff didn’t respond to a request to walk the district with her and she couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.

Local Republican political consultant Tom Shepard said Hueso, Inzuzna and Wayne were “sort of playing the roles of incumbents” in the elections. That likely is why candidates like Alvarez and Zapf are spending money on negative advertisements even though conventional wisdom says otherwise in these kinds of races, Shepard said.

“If people don’t recognize the person you’re attacking, all you’re doing is adding to their name identification,” said Shepard, who isn’t working in the race.

By contrast, lengthy district walking is a traditional tactic for underdogs, Shepard said, particularly in District 8 where there’s a smaller percentage of likely voters than other areas of the city. Walking helped Juan Vargas win his first election in District 8 almost 20 years ago, Shepard said.

Howard said his strategy helps him connect with the district’s voters. District 8 residents, candidates and consultants said, feel disenfranchised with city politics. Part of the district borders downtown, and the other section borders Mexico. Inzunza, for example, has tried to cast himself as the most passionate advocate for neighborhoods south of the San Diego Bay, where he lives.

Campaigning in the South Bay’s Otay Mesa/Nestor neighborhood last week, Howard spent as much as a half hour with some constituents and struck a populist tone — he tells voters he wants to roll back city employee pensions and eliminate homeowner property taxes. Howard commiserated with Jackie Mathews, a widow who has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years and owns apartment complexes in nearby Imperial Beach.

“They don’t even know we exist,” Mathews said of the city. “They like the tax money, but that’s it.”

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

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