Councilwoman Jen Campbell / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We had a good time on the podcast this week parsing some of the strange assertions and characterizations Councilwoman Jen Campbell made in an interview with KPBS’s Andrew Bowen this week about the race to become Council president, which she ultimately won.

One thing that we didn’t talk about that’s worth examining, however, is Campbell’s contention that her colleagues’ votes for her to become president over Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe, who is Black, “had nothing to do with race.”

The jockeying for the role that typically happens behind the scenes – among lobbyists and other power brokers – was this time remarkably public.

And as part of that public process, dozens (maybe hundreds?) of Montgomery Steppe’s supporters expressed support for her candidacy, and some chided Campbell for refusing to step aside.

Those seem to be the comments to which Campbell was bristling at when she told Bowen that her win, “had nothing to do with race. … Eight progressive Democrats, and even our Republican colleague is totally in favor of complete equality of all people.”

But I think that’s an inappropriately narrow lens for what we’re talking about here.

This discussion isn’t just about two specific candidates, it’s about how the selection itself is made and who gets to play a role in making it – a fact Campbell herself brought up. Whereas Campbell went out of her way to say on the record to KPBS that the campaign “should never have been taken to the public” and “should be done behind the scenes,” several prominent women of color who’ve risen to positions of power have spoken out about the ways in which that shuts out certain people, certain groups, certain whole communities.

Montgomery Steppe told us on the podcast that she favoredinvolving residents, getting residents’ feedback about something that has traditionally not been open to everyday residents, everyday people, activists, community leaders.”

As the Democratic Party was weighing whether to back a candidate, then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber “acknowledged it was new for the party to weigh in on the Council president decision, but argued that was a good thing because many traditions are just tools for entrenching the status quo,” my colleague Andrew Keatts reported.

Keatts talked late last year to Sandy Naranjo, a new Port commissioner who similarly won a role after an unusually public campaign. He asked her whether we’ll continue to see more public discussion around who holds important community roles.

“I hope it becomes a pattern,” she said. “It’s really important to have a campaign, so folks can understand the importance of these commissions. They make policy. They impact people’s lives. When it’s in the dark, it doesn’t benefit the public.”

Three women of color have told us that the way these decisions have always been made is shutting out the communities they represent. Why anyone would go out of their way to tell a reporter that those opinions are invalid is beyond me.

What VOSD Learned This Week

The local teachers union doesn’t seem to think San Diego Unified’s April 12 reopening target is all that likely to happen. One big detail still no one appears to have nailed down is how the district will address ventilation. Meanwhile, state lawmakers finalized a deal to incentivize schools to open by April 1. Kevin Faulconer has said he could muscle through a schools deal by being a better leader – we examined similar claims he made back in 2013 about a dispute in Barrio Logan.

And, we found a schools dispute that isn’t related to reopening: Fallbrook Union Elementary School District’s new board is facing lots of internal tension and a mysterious accusation.


Before the pandemic, local leaders recognized there was a lack of places where homeless residents could recuperate from hospital stays. They put efforts to address the problem on hold during the pandemic – but the problem itself didn’t pause.

Lisa Halverstadt found two men who lost their county-funded hotel rooms because they were hospitalized for the very conditions that made them eligible to receive the rooms.


Jesse Marx analyzed data that cast more doubt on the usefulness of ShotSpotter devices.


For some, getting outside has been a pandemic saving grace. But accessing the outdoors is still difficult for many communities, and a new state bill aims to address the issue.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Now, Ms. Rice occupies the West Wing office that was previously inhabited by Stephen Miller, President Donald J. Trump’s top policy adviser. Aware of the symbolism of a Black woman who has been vilified by conservatives occupying the space where Mr. Trump’s most hard-line immigration adviser used to dictate policy, Ms. Rice has decorated it with Haitian art and scented it with sage.” The details! The shade! I love it.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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