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San Diego ‘blue wave’ continues with Democrats taking mayor’s seat, two more council seats

David Garrick –

San Diego’s city government continued its sharp shift to the left in Tuesday’s election, with Democrats flipping two previously Republican City Council seats and Democrat Todd Gloria replacing Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

In just four years, San Diego has gone from having a divided government featuring a Republican mayor and a Democratic council with a narrow 5-4 majority, to having a Democratic mayor and a Democratic council with a dominating 8-1 majority.

While there are still votes to be counted, Gloria and the two Democrats in Democrat-versus-Republican council races — Raul Campillo and Marni von Wilpert — had wide leads Wednesday afternoon that appeared insurmountable.

Not only is the new mayor a Democrat, but Gloria and fellow Democrat Barbara Bry were in a runoff this week because they finished first and second in the March primary.

State Assemblyman and mayoral candidate Todd Gloria speaks at a San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council drive-in rally on Election Day.

(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The leading Republican in the race, Councilman Scott Sherman, didn’t make the runoff because he finished third in March.

This kind of one-sided mayor’s race for the Democrats is in stark contrast to 2016, when Republican Faulconer was easily elected to a second term in the June primary over two Democratic opponents.

That year, leading local Republicans expressed optimism that they could flip north coastal District 1, a swing district Democrats had previously won by narrow margins, to take a 5-4 majority on the council.

But Bry easily defeated her District 1 Republican challenger in 2016. And this year, no Republican even entered the District 1 race, where Democrat Joe LaCava had a commanding lead Wednesday over fellow Democrat Will Moore.

After staving off the District 1 challenge, Democrats in 2018 increased their council majority from 5-4 to 6-3, when Democrat Dr. Jennifer Campbell ousted incumbent Republican Councilwoman Lorie Zapf in central coast District 2.

Todd Gloria, Raul Campillo and Mara Elliott

State Assemblyman and San Diego mayoral candidate Todd Gloria, Raul Campillo, a candidate for San Diego City Council, and City Attorney Mara Elliott, who is running for reelection, take part in an event where politicians and volunteers handed out campaign literature to be distributed around the region at the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council headquarters ahead of Election Day.

(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

And this week, Democrats appear to have increased that majority to 8-1 when Campillo defeated Republican Noli Zosa in central suburban District 7, and von Wilpert defeated Republican Joe Leventhal in north inland District 5.

The Democrats taking the District 5 seat is particularly notable, because the district has been represented by a long string of Republicans for decades.

But the percentage of registered Republicans in the district has been steadily decreasing, a trend that accelerated after President Trump was elected. And last year, the number of registered Democrats became higher than the number of registered Republicans for the first time.

In District 7, Campillo said Tuesday night that it’s been a long time coming for Democrats to take the seat because Democrats have consistently led Republicans in voter registration.

Sherman, this year’s Republican mayoral candidate, overcame that disadvantage to win the District 7 seat twice, in 2012 and 2016. But each time he was able to avoid facing the larger turnout of a general election by getting more than 50 percent of the vote in the spring primary.

In 2016, city voters made such election victories impossible by approving Measure K, which requires a November runoff even if one of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the votes in the primary.

Approval of the measure was characterized as a big victory for Democrats, because larger turnout general elections tend to attract more Democratic voters.

Gloria said Wednesday that the so-called “blue wave” in the city has been the result of many factors, including Trump’s election as president, San Diego’s shifting ethnic demographics and the quality of local Democratic candidates.

Marni Von Wilpert, a candidate for San Diego City Council

Marni Von Wilpert, a candidate for San Diego City Council takes part in an event where politicians and volunteers handed out campaign literature to be distributed around the region.

(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“As a lifelong Democrat, I think it’s because we have superior ideas and a better approach to government,” he said. “But we can’t ignore the context we find ourselves in, where the Republican Party increasingly is not available even to the people who were once Republicans. They don’t see themselves reflected in that party and they are troubled by the leadership of the current president.”

Councilman Chris Cate, who will be the lone elected Republican at City Hall after newly elected officials are sworn in Dec. 10, said Wednesday that he’s prepared to soon be the lone conservative voice on many issues.

“This is not going to be my time to be quiet or just go with the flow,” he said. “I’m there to inject ideas into the debate — ideas that Democrats haven’t thought of on issues of importance.”

Cate said he’s optimistic he can sway his Democratic colleagues on some things, and possibly persuade them to amend policy proposals based on concerns he raises.

But Democrats will now have eight votes instead of six, and vetoes are expected to be less frequent with a Democrat as mayor instead of a Republican.

So policy proposals by Democrats can be more bold, and compromises will less often be necessary.

Cate said despite that, he still hopes there will be a spirit of compromise.

“I like to work together with people and build coalitions,” he said. “And there will be internal differences among the Democrats based on how something affects their constituencies.”

In two other council runoffs, Democrats had large leads Wednesday over fellow Democrats. In District 3, Stephen Whitburn led Toni Duran. In District 9, Sean Elo-Rivera led Kelvin Barrios.

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