Councilwoman Barbara Bry and Councilman Scott Sherman on election night. / Photos by Megan Wood

It’s unclear who Assemblyman Todd Gloria will face to be the next mayor of San Diego, but whoever it is will say a lot about the state of local politics.

Gloria, a Democrat, collected nearly 40 percent as of early Wednesday morning. The second spot in the November runoff will go to either Republican Councilman Scott Sherman or Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Bry. Sherman was leading by just over 2 percentage points early Wednesday morning.

If Bry closes the gap, it will mark a tectonic shift in local politics: after a Republican presided over City Hall for 26 of the last 27 years, two Democrats could face off to succeed Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Or, Sherman could make for a familiar race. Gloria is backed by most local labor unions, and Sherman has promised to scale back their influence at City Hall.

“It doesn’t change anything for me,” Gloria said. “You never saw me in this campaign tearing down my opponents, and voters have rewarded us for that positive campaign.”

A race against Bry could serve as a test case for a future that political consultants have long predicted, as the city’s demographics have shifted and Democrats have built a commanding lead over Republicans in voter registration. In that world, voters would mostly be deciding between different types of Democrats instead of choosing between candidates from different parties.

Gloria won the party’s endorsement this summer, then collected support from most local labor unions, shutting off those avenues for Bry. He later added support from the Chamber of Commerce, cornering the city’s establishment groups.

Bry responded with a populist campaign looking to assemble community members around loosely related issues, like the need for more oversight on big city real estate transactions, regulating short-term vacation rentals and opposing AB 5, the controversial new state labor law.

Tuesday night, she said those issues show just how different she and Gloria are, even if they share a party.

“He bought 101 Ash St., which is sitting empty, costing taxpayers $18,000 a day, because he probably didn’t understand the right questions to ask,” she said. “He supported AB 5, I would have taken a different approach, and I’m calling for the repeal of AB 5. I will adamantly enforce our existing laws against short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, he kind of waffles on what he’ll do about that.”

Sherman, meanwhile, argued that voters will have a clear choice between him and Gloria if he makes the runoff.

“Todd’s idea of government problems is more government solutions, and my idea is, look, government is most of the issue we are seeing in San Diego,” he said.

Sherman argued there’s no difference between Bry and Gloria.

“It’s the same thing – Todd’s been very pro-union in all his stuff, Barbara has voted pro-union on everything that’s come before Council. You’re going to get more of the same. Barbara might pivot and say she’s something different than her voting record shows, but that’s it.”

Bry rejected the attack.

“I’m pro-economy, pro-good jobs,” she said. “I want our work done by qualified contractors. I’m not pro-union, I’m not anti-union.”

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

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