Jen Campbell
Jen Campbell celebrates her San Diego City Council win on Election Night. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Supporters of newly elected City Council President Jen Campbell are taking the threat of a recall campaign against her seriously.

The Union-Tribune’s Michael Smolens reported this week that a bipartisan group led by Democratic strategist Dan Rottenstreich and lobbyist Chris Wahl organized an anti-recall campaign. Others on the call, Voice of San Diego learned, included lobbyists Kim Miller, Rachel Laing, Jim Madaffer, Ben Haddad and James Lawson along with Jaymie Bradford of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Wahl said Friday he would not comment on the reason for the call, or what the group would do next. Laing declined to comment. Miller did not return a phone call Friday.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Bry, in an interview with KUSI last week announcing that she would be part of the recall effort, said the campaign’s leaders planned to file that notice of intent in mid-January. That means we could be looking at an election at the end of next year, if the recall campaign hits all of its marks.

What it would take: It first requires a petition, which needs to follow several steps and then collect signatures from 15 percent of voters in Campbell’s district as of election day. The district includes Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and the Clairemont area. The city clerk is still awaiting the official numbers on how many registered voters there were in District 2 of the City Council on Election Day.

As of December, however, the City Clerk had the number at 97,652. If that were the number, it would mean supporters of a recall would need to gather 14,648 signatures from registered voters in District 2.

If they have to pay about $5 per signature, that would be more than $73,000. And campaigns typically turn in more than the required signatures, anticipating that some will be deemed invalid.

The recall campaign has 120 days to collect and turn in their signatures, once it officially registers its intent to pursue the recall. After that, the city has to hold the recall election between three and six months after the City Council accepts the petition. It can wait for a regularly scheduled election if one is going to happen within six months, but that’s unlikely to be the case here. The city’s next scheduled election isn’t until June 2022.

Montgomery Steppe, One Week Later

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, who lost her bid to become the next Council president over Campbell, is staying out of the recall.

“The Council member thinks the recall is a matter for the Council president and the constituents of District 2. It would be inappropriate for her to comment or be involved with the effort,” Montgomery Steppe spokeswoman Perri Storey said.

That’s true, too, of the coalition of progressive groups that formed to launch a public campaign for Montgomery Steppe’s Council president bid.

Kyle Heiskala, a spokesman for the group, said it has no connection to the recall effort, but that it had its own strategy call this week to reflect on its attempt to help Montgomery Steppe become Council president.

“The group met and expressed that the effort was worthwhile and successful in bringing a process that’s normally done behind closed doors into the public arena,” Heiskala said. “And while there are no clear next steps at this time, the group will be exploring possibilities of continuing to work together in the future.”

Elections: Not Done Yet

There could be another major election before a possible recall election next fall.

Keith Maddox, executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, announced this week that he won’t seek re-election as the head of the region’s largest labor group.

That will leave the more than 100 union groups that are part of the Labor Council, and their delegates, to elect a new leader in the early part of the year. The Union-Tribune’s David Garrick speculated that Brigette Browning, president of the hotel union Local 30 Unite Here, and Carol Kim, political director for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, were the leading contenders for the job.

Kim and Browning have, indeed, been increasingly influential in city politics in recent years. And both were strong supporters, like Maddox, of the March initiative to expand the Convention Center, with workers from both of their unions directly affected by the project.

Judge Sends Restaurants and Strip Clubs (and Supervisors) on Roller Coaster

It’s not often that local judges change everything about our lives but it happened this week. San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil, an appointee of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who will have to face voters in 2022, ruled abruptly Wednesday that not only could strip clubs, which had sued, reopen but that his reasoning applied to their restaurant services and thus to other businesses with restaurant services.

So just a couple weeks into this new stay-at-home order where all dining (indoor and outdoor) was banned, it was suddenly not banned and restaurants across the region opened, including Escondido’s Tony Pepperoni Pizzeria, where it was like the Before Times suddenly.

But then, just as abruptly, late Friday, the state Court of Appeal put a stay on that order, so restaurants again have to close any dining operations.

A truly emotional roller coaster for one supervisor: Supervisor Jim Desmond had his own roller coaster. He started the week openly defying the stay-at-home order and supporting business owners who were keeping dining options open.

He supported a ruling that had allowed strip clubs to remain open and voted against the county’s decision to appeal it.

Then Wohlfeil’s order came out, opening not only the strip clubs but all dining, and Desmond rejoiced.

But Friday, Supervisor Dianne Jacob called an emergency session. She wasn’t sure she wanted to appeal the strip club ruling if it now included restaurants.

The supervisors unanimously agreed to appeal the whole ruling but to asked the court to allow outdoor dining. That includes Desmond. He voted to ask the court to close everything back down (except outdoor dining). The state itself had already appealed.

And a few hours later, the Court of Appeal agreed with the state and put a stay on Wohlfeil’s ruling. But it didn’t make any room for outdoor dining.

Desmond was outraged: “Today’s decision to close restaurants one day after they were allowed to open is tragic for San Diego’s workforce. The seesawing of people’s livelihoods one week before Christmas is devastating,” he wrote.

It’s Port Time, Again: A Throwback

For several weeks, we have been discussing the unprecedented public fight for City Council president this year. Almost 14 years ago, there was a similar precedent-breaking public battle for a Council appointment: Port Commissioner Steve Cushman wanted a third term on the port against City Council policy, which limits terms to two.

It was just a policy, not a law, so the Council could waive it. But another candidate for the job, Laurie Black, a consultant and maven in Democratic politics, was pushing hard for the seat. They both had committed supporters, and nobody knew how it would come out.

On the Council then was Toni Atkins, who is now the leader of the state Senate. Atkins had told Cushman she supported him. But when the vote came up, she got cold feet and told him she did not support waiving the policy and would be supporting Black instead.

“So I will stand up and witness and testify and apologize to Mr. Cushman for offering support early,” Atkins said that day.

The vote came to waive the policy and it deadlocked: 4-4. (There were only eight Council members for a while.) That left Black as the only eligible candidate nominated. But then the Council deadlocked on her, too, 4-4.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre asked them if they wanted to try again. They went back to consider the policy change, Atkins flipped her vote to waive the policy and then supported Cushman after all.

He served four more years.

Now, the Council policy could be tested again. The city gets three seats on the Port Commission. Two of them are up. Rafael Castellanos wants a third term. The Council will have to again waive its term limits to make that happen.

Another leading candidate? Atkins’ wife, the high-powered land-use and housing consultant Jennifer LeSar.

As long as we’re talking about local boards: Mayor Todd Gloria gets to unilaterally pick a person to serve on the Board of Directors of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. And he has chosen Gil Cabrera, who had been rumored to be seeking a Port Commission seat. Gloria also gets to pick the chair of that board, and that looks like it will be Johanna Schiavoni, a San Diego appellate attorney. She was already on the board.

As long as we’re talking about the port: The port is also looking for a general manager. There were rumors that former City Councilman Mark Kersey was pursuing the job. He confirmed he was not and he did not apply.

Since next Friday is Christmas and the next Friday is New Years, we’re probably done with the Politics Report for the year. The Voice of San Diego site and podcast will still be going, however. Try to enjoy the season and relax. We’ll party so hard next year. If you have any tips or feedback for the Politics Report, send them to or 

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...

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

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