Throughout his campaign to represent District 1 on the City Council, Ray Ellis has repeatedly declined to define his position on one of the biggest issues facing the city today. He won’t say who should be San Diego’s next mayor.
It’s not uncommon for candidates to avoid weighing in on other contentious races, lest they risk ostracizing potential supporters. Councilman Carl DeMaio, for example, is running for mayor and refuses to say whom he supports for president.
Ellis’ reluctance is odd because he appears to prefer one of the mayoral candidates but has decided not to give that preference the weight of an official endorsement.
All signs point to Ellis supporting DeMaio, a fellow Republican. Ellis contributed $500 to DeMaio’s mayoral campaign in August last year and said “hopefully Carl” will be the city’s next mayor at a political fundraiser last month.
At a District 1 debate last month, Ellis said he was “in more alignment with Carl when it comes to fiscal issues, when it comes to pension reform,” and was “very concerned” about Congressman Bob Filner becoming mayor. Ellis said Filner had shown “a very difficult leadership style for me to embrace.”
So why hasn’t Ellis endorsed DeMaio?
I pushed Ellis to answer that question last week and at first, his campaign tried ducking the question with a cookie-cutter statement. It responded:
Ray looks forward to collaborating and working with the next Mayor, and hopes those candidates share his views in strong support of pension reform, implementing managed competition, creating jobs and creating public-private partnerships.
Pushed on the subject again, Ellis agreed to an interview Friday. He reiterated his decision not make an endorsement, citing potential repercussions if he endorsed one candidate and ultimately ended up working with the other. Later, Ellis said he wasn’t afraid of any repercussions.
“I’m not going to formally endorse,” Ellis said. “Do I care deeply about the mayor’s race? Absolutely.”
Ellis said he thinks an endorsement could negatively impact his relationship with the next mayor and therefore his ability to serve District 1 residents. He contrasted the approach with his opponent.
District 1 incumbent Councilwoman Sherri Lightner has endorsed Filner, a fellow Democrat. At a Sept. 19 debate, Lightner said of Filner: “I believe he has a strong interest in the community. He has a very fine understanding of the city and the region as a whole.”
In our interview, Ellis argued that Lightner’s endorsement would put her in an awkward position if both she and DeMaio are elected. Ellis suggested DeMaio could retaliate once in power and make it harder for Lightner to represent her constituents.
“That’s going to be a problem for them,” Ellis said. “I want to be impactful. I’m trying to stay out of that (partisan) fray.”
But Ellis also insisted his reluctance to make an endorsement wasn’t motivated by his own fear of retaliation. If he endorsed DeMaio and Filner wins, wouldn’t he be in a similar situation? “The fear thing hasn’t crossed my mind,” Ellis said.
Ellis said the possibility of turning off voters isn’t a driving factor behind his decision to not endorse. His spokesman, Matt Donnellan, said campaign polling has shown that Ellis wouldn’t be hurt by endorsing DeMaio. He might even benefit from it.
But Ellis won’t give DeMaio his official backing. He said he will remain focused on his own campaign.
Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about the District 1 City Council election, local government and creates infographics. What should he write about next?
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