In 2020, San Diego voters approved Measure C, which transformed board elections from city-wide races to ones in which the residents of each sub-district elected board members. It was pitched as a way to level the playing field and give candidates who may not be armed with the funds needed to run across the entire city a chance to be more competitive.
November’s election, in which voters will put two new members on the five-person San Diego Unified Board of Education, will be the first to use those new rules.
One of the seats up for grabs is the one representing sub-district C, which runs along San Diego’s coast, stretching from Point Loma in the south to Torrey Pines in the north. It’s the whitest of the five districts, with 64 percent of the population being White people, but politically it leans liberal.
The sub-district C election is largely a tale of opposites. Cody Petterson, a longtime Democratic activist and senior advisor to Supervisor Terra-Lawson Remer, and Becca Williams, the co-founder of a network of charter schools based in Texas could hardly be more different.
Petterson is an unapologetic progressive who’s earned the endorsement of Democratic officials and teacher’s union, while Williams is a conservative “outsider” who’s harnessed the frustration felt by some parents about the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its mask and vaccine policies. Thus far, Williams has significantly outraised Petterson, but that funding imbalance may not amount to much given Petterson’s institutional backing. For years, the board has been dominated by candidates backed by the local teacher’s union, which often spends big on its preferred candidates.
The liberal lean of the sub-district will also represent a challenge for Williams. In June’s primary election for example, Petterson received around 45 percent of the vote to Williams’ around 32 percent, even as the liberal vote was split between Petterson and another Democratic candidate.
Still, Williams hopes her willingness to push back against school board orthodoxy and the lingering anger felt by some toward the district’s pandemic policies will resonate with voters, while Petterson is relying on his knowledge of the sub-district, his experience working on local education policies and his progressive bona fides to carry the day.
To register for the Nov. 8 election, visit the website for San Diego’s Registrar of Voters.