San Diego City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez addresses the Brews and News crowd with Councilman David Alvarez in the background. / Photo by Scott Lewis

We held a happy hour in Barrio Logan Wednesday night, and Councilwoman Georgette Gomez spoke to the crowd for a few minutes and made some news.

Yes, she said, she wants to be Council president and is actively pursuing it.

“It’s definitely something that is in the mix, yes,” she said. “The opportunity that has been given, I think the voters have given something that I think if done correctly, we can truly change the narrative in San Diego and make an agenda that is community-based, that is equity-based, this is the beginning of that. So yes.”

The City Council will elect the Council president at its Dec. 10 meeting. Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Councilman Chris Ward are both speculated contenders as well, as the other veteran Democrats on the Council.

Gomez said she’d like to pursue policy priorities around housing, transportation and mobility, and that she’d like to see the Council take a stronger role in the budget process.

But she also said she identifies with two incoming Council members who just won: Monica Montgomery, who knocked off incumbent Council President Myrtle Cole, and Vivian Moreno, who is replacing termed-out Councilman David Alvarez.

She said that when she ran for Council, labor groups supported her in the general election, but her race was never a priority for them, and she was outspent by business groups who supported her opponent. In the primary, labor groups supported a third candidate. That left her campaign as one driven by the community.

That was all true of Moreno and Montgomery, who won despite virtually all of the establishment support going to their opponents.

“We’re proving that there is another way to run and be successful without that traditional infrastructure that’s there,” Gomez said. “I think there’s something there to not ignore that community’s voice.”

And she said it’s no coincidence that she, Moreno and Montgomery represent the city’s lower-income districts.

“The underserved districts are the ones that are asking for better representation,” she said. “I think that really reflecting on that, that that’s been the political landscape at City Hall has been, they utilize those districts to do special favors. And I think that conversation is changing, because we have more solid candidates that are representing districts, that people are waiting to see what happens once Monica, once Vivian comes, to be able to have a strong relationship working together to create a different narrative.”

Scott followed up on the that point. Did she mean that City Hall had developed a transactional relationship where entrenched interests were taking advantage of low-income districts, promising their representatives political support in exchange for favorable votes, which had kept those districts from getting the community-focused representation they deserved?

Gomez said that’s exactly right, and joked that maybe the sour beer she was drinking had more alcohol than she thought.

“We have to be honest that if you look at the track record of special deals, they’re there,” she said. “How we pick Council president is how we make special deals for supporting one item or another. That has occurred, and I don’t think that’s something we’re not aware of. The reason we still have communities that aren’t getting their fair share is, that’s not by accident. It’s by design.”

Councilman David Alvarez Told Us How He Really Feels

Brews and News
Councilman David Alvarez speaks at Voice of San Diego’s Brews and News event. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Councilman David Alvarez speaks at Voice of San Diego’s Brews and News event. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Alvarez came to the event as well, and he too had a lot to say.

He conceded: For one, he told us that earlier that evening, he called Sean Elo, his opponent for a seat on the San Diego Community College District board, to concede. He said Elo ran a hard and passionate campaign. Despite Alvarez’s profile, running as the party’s nominee for mayor just five years ago, Elo won the party’s endorsement.

He’s probably not running: He also told us that he doesn’t think he’s really running for the county’s Board of Supervisors in 2020, despite having a campaign committee open for that race with $92,686 in the bank.

On a scale of one to 10, with one meaning he was certain he wasn’t running, and 10 being certain that he was, Alvarez said he was a three, and that it was getting smaller every day.

“I don’t know if I’m running for supervisor,” he said. “I don’t think, at this point, that I am … I’m looking to do a career change, if you will, and serving this community still, in what capacity that is, I’m not entirely sure, but certainly community development, strengthening our border region.”

He’s tired of local politics: “I’m tired of the politics that is happening not just in our country, but in our city. Whatever you look out into, the decisions that get made at the city level unfortunately are driven by really a select group of special interest folks.”

He criticized the extent to which labor groups strike back-room deals on issues like who to support for Council president or on major legislative endeavors like the Convention Center expansion measure the mayor is pushing. He specifically called out United Food and Commercial Workers leader Mickey Kasparian as part of that system.

And Alvarez too said that Gomez, Moreno and Montgomery are a different kind of elected official that could change the nature of City Hall politics.

The New SANDAG Board

Last week’s election was good to county Democrats. It also could have reshaped the board at the San Diego Association of Governments.

Democrats could have picked up two seats on the board that had been held by a Republican or independent officials, depending on how the councils in those cities decide on a new SANDAG representative. Six other board members lost, were termed out or were elected to new offices, bringing a new face to the board if not a new party.

Combined with last year’s changes to the board’s governance structure – state legislation revamped the voting process, giving more weight to the votes of large cities and effectively transferring power from rural cities to urban ones – the new faces could move the powerful regional agency in a different direction.

A change in direction – or not: Just because Democrats have more control on the board doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll use it. SANDAG has for years been a place where Democrats and Republicans vote in unison, following the staff’s lead on major decisions.

That’ll be put to the test soon. For one, the agency has a new director starting next month. And the board will have to elect a new chair, since current chair Terry Sinnott, a city councilman for Del Mar, decided to leave politics. Poway Mayor Steve Vaus could replace him as chair.

The big test will come in early 2020, when SANDAG is expected to adopt a new 40-year outline for the region’s transportation network. If the Dems want to push the agency to the left by embracing transit improvements and deprioritizing highway widening, that would be their opportunity.

Names not colors: Potentially more meaningful than any partisan change is the individuals who moved on.

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed is now trailing his Democratic challenger, Paul McNamara, for re-election. National City Mayor Ron Morrison, an independent, was termed out of the mayor’s office and is now on the City Council; the city’s new mayor is Alejandro Sotelo-Solis, a Democrat. Morrison could retain his board seat.

Abed and Morrison are inner-circle figures at SANDAG. They both sit on the agency’s executive committee and are vocally involved at board meetings on contentious issues or major decisions, while many other board members take passive roles. Morrison was a former board chair.

Likewise, San Diego Council President Myrtle Cole lost her re-election bid. She was on the executive committee too, and carried an outsized vote on the board that she used this year to trump a decision on new housing targets for the region. San Diego’s Council president is automatically on SANDAG’s board, so whoever wins the race that’s playing out behind the scenes in City Hall will also have a major role at SANDAG.

County Supervisor Ron Roberts, another former SANDAG chair, has left SANDAG’s board after being termed out. The same goes for his colleague, Supervisor Bill Horn, was also on SANDAG’s board. The county’s two seats are now up for grabs. Those seats could go to any of the three incumbents on the Board of Supervisors, or to newly elected supervisors Nathan Fletcher, a Democrat, or Jim Desmond, a Republican.

Desmond had also grown into a vocal member of SANDAG’s board while he was mayor of San Marcos, so could continue in that role, but from a different chair.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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