Democrats’ inability to get anyone to run for mayor has the leader of the region’s largest labor union agitating for a major change to elections in San Diego.

Mickey Kasparian, president of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, says it is time to change the rule that allows a candidate to win outright in primary elections if he or she gets more than 50 percent of the vote.

“We must change the City Charter,” Kasparian tweeted Monday. He elaborated at length during a recent interview with me. Francine Busby, chair of the local Democratic Party, also weighed in similarly, noting that Chula Vista recently made a change to eliminate outright wins in primary elections.

City Councilman Todd Gloria made the point in a recent interview as well.

“The outcomes of some of these elections are not necessarily reflective of the community’s feelings,” Gloria said. “Obviously far more people are present for the general election than the primary.”

Gloria chose not to run for mayor in 2016 and will instead be pursuing a seat in the state Assembly. Kasparian has said that many of the high-profile Democrats who would like to be mayor are choosing not to run because they can’t see a route through the June primary even though they could compete well in November.

“Through any polling, [Mayor Kevin] Faulconer can be beat in November. But it’s pretty difficult to beat him in June. And that’s why I think our city’s got to change the charter and align ourselves with the way they decide things at the state level,” Kasparian told me.

In the city of San Diego, the change would require an amendment to the City Charter, which voters would have to approve. The City Council has been going through a process to review the City Charter but it is not poised to put a bigger reform on the ballot.

It’s obvious what is motivating Kasparian. In June 2012, for example, Republican Scott Sherman barely got more than 50 percent of the vote in a hotly contested race in the district that includes Tierrasanta, San Carlos and Allied Gardens. The wave of Democratic victories that came in November that year suggest he would have struggled in the general election against his Democratic opponent.

But he didn’t have to worry about it. Kasparian says that’s disenfranchising.

The county has a similar rule. In 2014, incumbent District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, facing a well-funded and energized rival, was able to secure more than 50 percent in the primary and win outright without having to run again in November. It’s the same way in Orange County.

For almost all state elected office positions, however, the top-two vote-getters move on to a runoff no matter how much the lead candidate receives in the primary.

Kasparian’s coaltion spent more than $4 million opposing Faulconer’s election and supporting Councilman David Alvarez in his mayoral run. Labor or another group of interests could try to put together a signature campaign and ballot initiative to change the City Charter. It would seemingly have a big, long-term benefit for left-of-center candidates.

And Republicans and right-of-center business groups would likely oppose it.

“Seems like a sad excuse for poor performance at the ballot box,” said Ryan Clumpner, executive director of the Lincoln Club of San Diego, a business-friendly political action committee that supports Faulconer. Clumpner says such a movement wouldn’t worry him because his candidates can compete in big runoff elections.

“What I find troubling is the idea that we need to maximize participation from people who don’t care enough about local issues to participate in standalone local elections,” Clumpner said.

Gloria says it’s a discussion the city should have.

“I just sort of see it as a bit of a head-scratcher. I say that as someone who benefited from it. My re-election was done in June. It was nice to not have that second election,” he said.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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