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Not since 1987 has a Republican won a City Council race in District 6, a middle-class, mostly inland pocket of northern San Diego.
This year, Lorie Zapf is giving the party its best chance in a decade. She also is local Republicans’ only hope at denting the council’s 6-2 Democratic majority, and erasing memories of the party’s two close losses in other districts in 2008.
“Clearly, Lorie Zapf is the first stepping stone to push back against the labor-dominated City Council,” said Tony Krvaric, chairman of the local Republican Party.
What kind of council member would Zapf be? It’s pretty clear.
During a City Council meeting this summer, she jokingly called herself, “the female T.J. Zane” — referring to the head of the fiscally conservative Lincoln Club and manager of the campaign against the Proposition D sales tax hike.
Asked in an interview if she had any policy positions different than Councilman Carl DeMaio, a radical proponent of pension reform and scourge of organized labor, Zapf paused for a moment.
“Perhaps public art,” Zapf said. “I’m not sure. I’m a big believer in funding arts and culture to really make a memorable, beautiful revitalized city. I’m not sure exactly where he stands on that, though.”
Zapf ticked off her support for DeMaio’s positions on pension reform and competitive bidding.
“The things that he’s for and I’m for, this is what the taxpayers are for,” Zapf continued. “He needs another voice on implementing some of these much needed reforms.”
(Zapf was right about DeMaio’s position on public arts funding. The councilman’s spokesman said that the city has other priorities in a financial crisis.)
In interviews, campaign appearances and literature, Zapf emphasizes translating her private sector business experience to City Hall.
High employee pensions and the lack of competitive bidding for services are the cause of the city’s difficulties, she argues.
“The number one problem the city faces is an unsustainable financial situation,” Zapf said.
District 6 has the second-closest voter registration breakdown between Republicans and Democrats in the city. Democrats make up 37 percent of voters, Republicans are 33 percent and decline to state are 25 percent.
Zapf finished first in June’s primary, outpolling former Democratic Assemblyman Howard Wayne 36 percent to 25 percent.
The district’s neighborhoods also are a Republican-Democratic battleground in another local election. Both campaigns in the San Diego County supervisor’s race between incumbent Republican Ron Roberts and Democrat Stephen Whitburn are counting on Clairemont Mesa to swing their way.
Wayne isn’t casting himself as a traditional Democrat, either. He, too, keeps pointing out the need for further pension reform and competitive bidding. He’s also taken positions contrary to the district’s current representative, Democrat Donna Frye.
Frye is one of the city’s top promoters of recycling sewage to meet San Diego’s water needs. Wayne has taken a wait-and-see approach. Frye opposed making the mayor in charge of the city bureaucracy permanently. Wayne supported it. Most importantly, Frye was the chief architect of Prop. D and says the city’s budget deficit only can be fixed with financial reform and new revenues. Wayne is against Prop. D.
But Wayne denies that he’s running to the right in an election that’s expected to be tough on Democrats nationally.
“I’m explaining to people how I reason and why I get to places,” Wayne said. “Sometimes they’re not the places you expect a Democrat to be.”
Both local political parties and key interest groups are pouring money into the campaign in an effort to flip the district Republican or keep it Democratic. The Republican Party gave an unprecedented $20,000 donation directly to Zapf in the spring. Local Democrats gave Wayne $17,000 a few weeks later. The Lincoln Club is a major supporter of Zapf. The city’s employee unions back Wayne.
Counting outside expenditures, more than $565,000 has gone to the Wayne campaign and more than $430,000 has gone to Zapf. That’s more than 2 1/2 times the money spent in the District 8 council race between two Democrats, David Alvarez and Felipe Hueso.
Krvaric, the Republican Party chairman, says a Zapf win would be the first step toward Republicans taking control of city politics in 2012.
If Zapf is victorious next week, Krvaric said, in 2012 Republicans would need to keep the Mayor’s Office and pick up a seat in one of three potentially close City Council elections. That would allow the next mayor to veto decisions made by a 5-4 Democratic council majority without the threat of an override.
The final thing Krvaric said he plans to do before watching Nov. 2’s election night returns is walk District 6 neighborhoods for Zapf.
Correction: This post originally incorrectly spelled the name of San Diego County supervisorial candidate Stephen Whitburn. We regret the error.