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It’s Beef Week at Voice of San Diego. We’re explaining some of the region’s long-running tensions — and the characters behind them — to help you understand civic affairs in San Diego.

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The tale sounds like it comes right out of a storybook. A poor, immigrant family moves in down the block from a community center. The center’s leader gives the family $100 for Christmas gifts and, soon after, offers the father a janitorial job, which he ends up working for a quarter-century. Then the janitor’s son runs for office to represent the community where he grew up.

The storybook is supposed to end with the leader of the community center helping champion the victory of the janitor’s son. That isn’t what happened here with the leader of the community center, Rachael Ortiz, and the janitor’s son, David Alvarez.

Instead, they’ve got beef.

Ortiz has run Barrio Logan’s Barrio Station community center for 40 years, and employed Alvarez’s dad. Alvarez was first elected to the San Diego City Council in 2010 to represent the neighborhood and other southern communities. Ortiz has been one of Alvarez’s most prominent detractors throughout his political career.

In the 2010 election, Ortiz backed Alvarez’s opponent and intimated that Alvarez had been involved in gangs growing up. (Alvarez’s brothers were in gangs, but he was not.)

In the 2013 mayoral election, Ortiz backed a different Alvarez opponent. This time, she accused Alvarez of selling out the neighborhood because he backed a different community plan than she did. She also ridiculed Alvarez’s claim that he spent some time homeless. (Alvarez never lived on the streets, but he did have to stay with a friend for months while in high school.)

Alvarez has been far less personal when talking about Ortiz.

“She’s a very political individual,” Alvarez told me a couple years ago. “She’s been around a long time and she’s very clever about how she states different positions.”

The origin of this beef isn’t entirely clear, though Ortiz has been tight with the Hueso family. Ben Hueso is a state senator whose beef with Alvarez also is well-known. Alvarez defeated Hueso’s older brother Felipe in the 2010 City Council election to succeed Ben.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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