David Alvarez entered his election party at a taqueria in Sherman Heights to a throng lined up to meet him.

“It’s like a wedding where you wait in line to talk to the person,” said one supporter a few back in the pack.

And so began the night for the vote leader in one of the area’s closest races, San Diego City Council’s District 8. The race to represent the city’s southernmost neighborhoods looked to be the only one in the city with substantial drama following early returns — and one that bucked the conventional wisdom.

Less than 200 votes separated the first-place Alvarez, a staffer for state Sen. Denise Ducheny, from fourth-place Felipe Hueso with 33.9 percent of precincts reporting. Six votes separated second from fourth place. The election’s top two finishers will go on to a November runoff in the fight to replace Ben Hueso as the councilman.

Alvarez, who led with 21.74 percent of the vote, guaranteed he would be there when the final results came out.

Nick Inzunza (18.48 percent), the uncle of Ralph Inzunza, the District 8 councilman until he resigned in 2005, was in second.

B.D. Howard, a former City Council staffer who walked more of the district than any of the candidates, was in third with 18.43 percent.

Felipe Hueso, Ben’s older brother, stood in fourth with 18.37 percent.

Alvarez banked support from the city’s fire and white-collar unions and raised more money than anyone else. He said District 8 voters wanted a change from the same names.

“In the beginning, I did think we had an opportunity because I do think that people want to see a fresh start,” Alvarez said. “They want to see a new start for our communities. I thought that would naturally allow some people to go with another candidate. But I had to be competitive when it came to fundraising, and I was able to do that.”

Fundraising appeared to play a role in the city’s other races as well. In District 6, which includes the city’s Mission Valley, Clairemont, Kearny Mesa, Serra Mesa and Linda Vista neighborhoods, the two top funded candidates held a big lead in the race to replace termed-out City Councilwoman Donna Frye.

Republican Lorie Zapf led Democrat Howard Wayne 35.14 percent to 25.90 percent with both looking likely to move on to the general election. Frye’s pick, her chief of staff Steve Hadley, languished in third.

“My expectation was to be in the runoff (with Wayne),” Zapf said. “The two of us had the most support and endorsements.”

The race promises to be a hard-fought November election battle between both parties. Democrats hold a 5 percent registration advantage in the district, and it’s the only council district that could change parties this election cycle because both Democrats and Republicans are running.

Democrats currently hold a 6-2 majority on the council.

Incumbent Councilmen Kevin Faulconer and Tony Young looked to be cruising to easy victories in their races. Faulconer, a Republican, picked up 61.93 percent of the vote against Patrick Finucane and Young took 63.85 percent against Barry Pollard.

The incumbent-of-sorts ballot proposition, the vote to make the city’s strong mayor form of government permanent, had nearly 61 percent support. Backers raised more than $500,000 in the race and had an aggressive television campaign. Opponents never formed a committee against it.

With few competitive city races, a clear focus turned to District 8. That’s  ironic given that candidates’ most frequent complaint is the lack of attention the city gives to its southernmost neighborhoods. It doesn’t help that the district has the lowest number of registered voters and the lowest turnout of any district.

“It’s District 8,” Howard said. “It’s kind of like the forgotten part of San Diego.”

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

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