The discussions that have dominated San Diego civic life over the last several years have tended to be fiercely local – whether San Diego will keep its football team, whether to expand the convention center, how to solve the homelessness crisis on city streets.
This year, however, San Diego was also thrust into several intersecting national conversations about the border, security and how we treat the vulnerable people who arrive at the nation’s doorstep seeking a better life.
This year’s Voice of the Year list reflects San Diego’s place at the center of many of those conversations, as well as some of the lingering local policy dilemmas that continue to bewilder us all.
It includes people who’ve relentlessly pursued the spotlight, as well as those who inadvertently landed there in the course of doing their jobs; people who accomplished their goals and those who fell short; people who are widely adored, and others … less so.
What they share is that over the last year, they provoked the biggest discussions about the future of the region.
With that in mind, let’s get to it.
The 2018 Voice of the Year is …
Monica Montgomery made a modest declaration on Election Night.
She and her supporters, she said, had just changed how politics work in San Diego.
She defeated a Council incumbent – the Council president, no less – for the first time since 1991. She did it by 15 points. She was massively outspent. Labor unions attacked her. The Democratic Party, “the party that I love,” as she said, opposed her too.
On her side, Montgomery had her community.
The southeastern San Diego neighborhoods have for years advocated for a basic level of service that other districts take for granted. Residents there have demanded more and healthier grocery stores and restaurants, support for their small businesses, better-performing schools, safe and affordable housing and well-cared for streets and sidewalks. Montgomery’s campaign and the supporters who rallied to be a part of it renewed those demands – and emphasized that their dissatisfaction wasn’t just with the city’s downtown establishment and Republican mayor, but with labor unions and a Democratic Party that had for too long taken them for granted.
And Montgomery won on the shoulders of a movement that has not always found a political voice in a city known for its moderation. She made police misconduct and criminal justice central to her campaign, which started when she quit then-Council President Myrtle Cole’s office because Cole said racial profiling was justified because many black men commit crimes.
Montgomery tapped into and elevated a criminal justice reform movement that rose years earlier when former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis charged a group of young black men in connection with a murder she acknowledged they didn’t actually commit or even have knowledge of. In the years since, the movement rallied over police shootings, law enforcement stings, problems with the state’s gang database and the city’s handling of a racial profiling study. During her inauguration, Montgomery continued to promise big changes, including a pledge to give the city’s Community Review Board on Police Practices subpoena power to independently investigate police misconduct.
It would be a big change. At the same time, she pledged that her district – like other districts – would no longer live with illegal dumping on streets and sidewalks that goes days or weeks without city attention.
In her inauguration, Montgomery reflected on what she saw in her district when she decided to run.
“I saw that we had lost our servant’s heart for each other,” Montgomery said. “Now we have a chance to shift the paradigm.”
Montgomery won a campaign, as did dozens of other people this year. But her victory told a unique story of how the city has for too long interacted with its low-income neighborhoods, and how the members of those communities are taking matters into their own hands.
– Andrew Keatts
Below is the rest of the 2018 Voice of the Year list, click on each name to see why they made the list.