Mat Kostrinsky’s opponents label him as “labor’s guy” every chance they get. That’s because his last two jobs have been with labor unions.

His response: If we’re going to judge every electoral candidate in the city just on their last few years of experience, then Carl DeMaio’s only been a city councilman. We’ll have to forget all about his years as a small businessman and consultant.

Kostrinsky’s had a long and varied career. From making ice cream cones at Sea World, to working for a U.S. senator, he’s held several different jobs, including working for a stint at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

He promises to be a bipartisan councilman, influenced by his experiences and philosophy far more than by party politics, which he says he grew tired of after working in Washington, D.C., for Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

What matters is not the job each candidate has had last, but the whole breadth and length of their work experience, Kostrinsky told me at our first meeting at a bagel shop in Grantville last week.

And of the three candidates running for City Council District 7, there’s no question Kostrinsky’s the guy with the most experience playing the political game.

That’s exactly why people should vote for him, Kostrinsky says. He’s spent more than a decade hashing out compromises, negotiating and navigating public budgets. He has friends in labor, and friends who are anti-labor, he says. He’s the guy who can get everybody together around a table to work things out.

Of the three main candidates, Kostrinsky’s also the quickest and most adept at pointing out the flaws in his opponents. He’s clearly done his research on Scott Sherman and Rik Hauptfeld, and he knows how to subtly point out their weaknesses.

He says he wants to talk seriously about how the city can save money on salaries and pensions to make savings that can be directed towards services for residents.

And, he says, he’s the only candidate who will be able to sit down and have the tough, hard-fought negotiations with labor unions that will be necessary to enact those changes. He’s not labor’s guy, he says, but he knows how to talk to labor, and that’s a vital skill for any incoming member of the City Council.

Top Three Priorities

Fighting for Realistic Solutions: As a political insider, Kostrinsky is far more pragmatic than his opponents. He talks with the weathered experience of having fought through past political fights and come out of them with his own share of a compromise.

Thus, he doesn’t so much make grand promises as firm commitments to fight for his constituents. His major priority is not one specific issue, but a hunger to get into the thick of each issue in turn, forge compromises and make life better for the residents of District 7.

“If you’re involved in the community, you know that you can’t say ‘I will do X and Y will automatically happen,” he said. “You’re not just the only person on the City Council, you’re not the only person in the community.”

Keeping Public Spending Under Control: While Kostrinsky’s not as vitriolic on public spending as his two opponents, his message on city spending is clear: It needs to be controlled.

Kostrinsky doesn’t support Proposition B, the pension reform initiative. He argues that similar savings can be made by seeking a pay freeze from city employees, and he says he’s the only candidate capable of bringing about such a compromise. But he says he’s absolutely committed to reforming city employee pensions.

Neighborhood Revitalization: The city needs to stop concentrating on downtown and needs to look to its suburban neighborhoods and address their problems, Kostrinsky said. That means fixing roads, keeping streets safe, undergrounding power lines and maintaining city services.

Kostrinsky’s particularly worried about attrition at the Police Department, and said the city needs to do more to retain the police officers it has trained.

Best Way to Describe His Pitch

Basically, it’s this: Look, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know what I’m doing, I’ll represent your interests, and I’m not going to be a shill for labor.

What He Doesn’t Want to Talk About

The fact that his opponents say he’s a shill for labor.

Kostrinsky’s absolutely right, he’s had a long career that hasn’t just been working for organized labor.

Nonetheless, he has been, and currently is, the employee of a labor union. Formerly, he worked in governmental relations at SEIU Local 221, a union that represents local service workers.

He works for the union that represents the workers who provide home health care through the state’s In-Home Support Services program.

Kostrinsky stressed that he doesn’t represent union workers in their conflicts with employers. Nor does he negotiate labor contracts. He described his job as advocating for home healthcare programs to public officials and explaining the benefits of those programs to politicians and the public.

No matter how many times he tries to assure voters of his credentials both as a consensus-making politician and a moderate who can play fiscal conservatism with the best of them, his ties to labor will still automatically ostracize him from a bloc of District 7’s voters.

Interesting Fact About His Life

Kostrinsky spent six months working 12-hour days at an ice cream stand at Sea World. He said he can make 16 ice cream cones at the same time, which used to be a record.

What He Sees as Important in Each Area

Grantville and Mission Valley: Any additional development in these neighborhoods, including the thousands of apartments proposed for the Mission Gorge Corridor, must be completed in a way that residents are pleased with, Kostrinsky said.

Tierrasanta and San Carlos: The city has to maintain public safety and roads as its main priorities, especially in fire-prone areas like Tierrasanta, Kostrinsky said.

Linda Vista, Birdland and Serra Mesa: It’s time for the city to start paying attention to the needs of these communities, Kostrinsky said. He’s concerned about public safety, especially adequate policing, and maintaining services like libraries and rec centers.

Get in Touch with Him

Office phone + email: 619.500.3580 +



Twitter: @Kostrinsky

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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