McCann Wins CV Mayor’s Race, 3rd Loss for Campa-Najjar
By Alberto Garcia
With all outstanding votes now counted, a Republican Councilman in Chula Vista has won a hard-fought race to become Mayor of the 2nd largest city in San Diego County.
John McCann, 54, who is serving his fourth four-year term on the Chula Vista City Council, defeated perennial candidate Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar by 2,712 votes, or more than 4% of the votes cast in the November 8th election.
On Election Day, McCann led Campa-Najjar by nearly 3,000 votes, but the Registrar of Voters (ROV) was holding over 700 mail-in ballots from Chula Vista with either non-matching signatures or missing signatures. The ROV sent letters to those voters, allowing them until December 6th to correct their signature issues.
During the addition of the outstanding ballots, Campa-Najjar narrowed the gap by about 80 votes, still leaving McCann with an insurmountable margin of victory.
This week, the final votes were tallied and the Registrar of Voters certified the final election outcome on December 8th.
Given his certified win, McCann says he is now looking forward to his being sworn-in on Tuesday, December 13th.
“We are hitting the ground running by creating a Mayor’s transition team with important community stakeholders,” McCann told La Prensa San Diego in an exclusive interview this week. “From Day One, we will start our agenda of fighting crime by adding additional police offices, protecting taxpayers by opposing the mileage tax, and helping homeless get off the streets."
Campa-Najjar, 33, who previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress in both 2018 and 2020, was heavily favored to win the race in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1.
According to the most current voter registration records, there are 75,616 Democrats, 36,455 Republicans, and 43,568 Decline-to-State voters in the City.
Campa-Najjar had major endorsement from the Democratic Party and powerful Democratic elected officials, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Alex Padilla, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, the majority of the current Chula Vista City Council, but not current Mayor Mary Casillas Salas.
McCann, for his part, had the endorsement of former Mayors Greg Cox, Shirley Horton, and Cheryl Cox, former Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano, and the Chula Vista Police Officers’ Association.
But, despite political party registration, McCann emphasized that partisan differences won’t keep him from working with his Council colleagues.
“The City Council is a non-partisan body and I look forward to working with all of the Councilmembers to focus on local issues and putting Chula Vista first,” McCann said.
McCann also highlighted that his 16 years of experience on the City Council which will help maintain institutional history after having lost nearly 40 years of combined elected experience with the departure of Mary Salas, Steve Padilla, and Jill Galvez.
“The most substantial change with the new Chula Vista City Council is moving from a majority of seasoned Councilmembers with over 50 years of collective city experience, to a majority Council with two brand new Councilmembers and another member with only two years’ experience,” McCann added.
Outgoing Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, who was barred by term limits from running again after two four-year terms as Mayor, has served a combined 18 years on the City Council.
Councilman Steve Padilla, who resigned his Council seat after having won a seat in the State Senate in last month’s election, had served a combined 20 years on the City Council.
Councilwoman Jill Galvez, who chose not to seek re-election to her Council seat when she ran for Mayor in the Primary Election, will have served four years on the Council. Galvez did not make it through the Primary and will leave office next week when her successor, water board member Jose Preciado, will be sworn-in.
Had McCann not won the mayoral race, he would have been termed out of the City Council this month, leaving only current Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas, who has only been in office for two years, as the most experienced member of the City’s leadership.
McCann, who owns a local real estate business with his wife, Myssie, is also a Commander in the US Navy Reserves. McCann was deployed to Iraq in 2010.
Political insiders predicted Campa-Najjar would win the race given the huge Democratic registration advantage and fundraising experience from his two congressional campaigns, but McCann’s decades of involvement in the community seems to have yielded higher than expected bipartisan support.
One of the major issues of the campaign was Campa-Najjar’s residency after McCann claimed that his opponent didn’t actually live in Chula Vista.
Campa-Najjar had been registered to vote at the home of his mother and stepfather in Jamul during his two campaigns for Congress between 2017 and 2020. In a 2020 interview, Campa-Najjar said he grew up in Jamul, and even called himself a “Jamuligan”, a slang term for locals from the rural community East of El Cajon.
After losing his second congressional race, Campa-Najjar launched a campaign for State Assembly in December 2020 using his aunt’s address in Bonita, but ultimately changed his voter registration to a condo in the Eastlake area of Chula Vista before deciding to run for Mayor last year.
His address is a family-owned condo where his aunt, her husband, and their daughter live. In addition to Campa-Najjar and those three relatives, four other relatives are also registered to vote at the address but don’t actually live there, including Campa-Najjar’s mother, grandmother, aunt, and his younger brother.
But, in September, McCann released videos and pictures showing Campa-Najjar had been living in a downtown San Diego condo with his girlfriend, Congresswoman Sara Jacobs. The videos and pictures also showed Campa-Najjar driving a Tesla sedan owned by Jacobs.
Local elections laws require candidates for local office to live in the city they where they are running, and state voter registration laws require a person to live at the address they use as their voting address.
In response, Campa-Najjar provided pictures of his driver’s license, electric bills, and old tax documents showing the Chula Vista address, but none proved he actually lived there.
Campa-Najjar sent those documents to several community leaders in Chula Vista, including former Mayor Cheryl Cox, in an effort to gain her endorsement. After reviewing the documents, Cox, who had not been engaged in the campaign at the time, decided to endorse McCann.
“Unfortunately, Ammar’s documents only raised more questions for me about statements he made over the past six years of running for Congress, State Assemble, and now, Mayor of Chula Vista,” Cox wrote in a letter she sent announcing her support of McCann.
MOST EXPENSIVE CAMPAIGN
Although the two candidates’ personal campaign committees reported raising nearly identical amounts, outside groups and Party spending greatly favored Campa-Najjar.
The last campaign reports covered the period through October 22nd, two weeks before Election Day. Committees must report their year-end totals in January.
In the last filing, McCann’s personal campaign committee reported spending $259,544.63, including $165,360 McCann contributed and $5,000 he loaned to his campaign. There were no independent campaign committees created to support McCann’s campaign.
Campa-Najjar’s personal campaign committee reported spending $253,237.48, including $55,635.55 still owed to vendors two weeks before the election. Campa-Najjar did not loan or donate any money to his own campaign.
But, in addition to his own campaign committee, Campa-Najjar benefitted from two independent committees created solely to help his campaign.
One group, named “Residents for a Brighter Chula Vista, Supporting Ammar Campa-Najjar for Mayor 2022”, reported spending over $350,000 through August 2022, including paying $50,000 to Grassroots Resources, a political consulting group owned by Jesus Cardenas and managed by his sister, Andrea Cardenas, who currently serves on the Chula Vista City Council.
That committee also received large contributions from companies, including a $50,000 contribution from a Chula Vista company named Modern Market Technologies, Inc., founded by local businessman José Frausto, as well as from wealthy individuals outside of the City, including matching $49,000 contributions from both billionaire QUALCOMM Founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan; a $20,000 contribution from their son, Gary Jacobs; $25,000 from Jennifer Vaught of San Diego; and $22,000 from Kimiko Hamilton of Carlsbad.
The other campaign committee, named “Real Working Families in Support of Ammar Campa-Najjar for Chula Vista Mayor 2022”, which reported spending over $205,000 through October 22nd, was primarily funded by local labor unions, including the Laborers Local 89 and the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union No. 230, along with $3,250 from a labor committee funded to support the failed campaign of Georgette Gomez for State Assembly.
Campa-Najjar also benefitted from political mailers, emails, and voter contacts paid for by the Democratic Party through its program to contact Democratic voters in Chula Vista. Although large contributions were directed to the Party to help fund the program for Campa-Najjar, the Party does not have to disclose its actual expenses spent on the mayor’s race.
Political insiders estimate that more than $200,000 was spent in by the Democratic Party in support of Campa-Najjar’s campaign, bringing the total spent in Campa-Najjar’s campaign to over $1 million.
No previous campaign for Chula Vista Mayor had spent anywhere near what Campa-Najjar’s campaign did, making this the City’s most expensive campaign ever.
For comparison, out-going Mayor Mary Salas spent just over $140,000 in her 2018 re-election campaign, and, before her, Mayor Cheryl Cox only spent $114,000 in her re-election in 2010. Neither candidate enjoyed the benefit of special independent expenditure committees created to help they campaigns.
Given the total number of reported campaign expenditures, Campa-Najjar and the committees supporting him seem to have spent more than twice the amount of money used by McCann and his supporters.
CAMPA-NAJJAR’S FUTURE PLANS
Since the election, Campa-Najjar has not given any media interviews or responded to repeated requests for comments from La Prensa San Diego, so he has not announced any future plans.
Campa-Najjar has also not contacted McCann to concede the race or congratulate the incoming Mayor on his win.
Campa-Najjar did not publicly acknowledge his loss until late Thursday of this week, after the Registrar of Voters certified the election results, even though the outcome had been certain for weeks.
“While we were able to significantly close the gap and earn the support of nearly half the city, we weren’t able to achieve the outcome we hoped for,” Campa-Najjar wrote in an email to supporters.
Campa-Najjar suggested he plans to continue to seek ways to remain active in the community.
“I’ve dedicated my life to service, and at 33 years old, rest assured I will continue to for many years to come,” Campa-Najjar added. “I’m committed to continuing to serve our community in the most impactful, authentic way possible.”
Some Party insiders suggested this week that the new Democratic majority on the City Council, including Councilwoman Cardenas and newly elected members, Jose Preciado and Carolina Chavez, could seek to appoint Campa-Najjar to fill the remainder of Steve Padilla’s council term through 2024.
Campa-Najjar’s address where he has claimed to live during the election, however, is not within Padilla’s district, and, as of today, Campa-Najjar has not changed his voter registration address.
The City’s Charter requires that Councilmembers must live in their respective district when they file to run or when appointed to fill a vacancy.
Given that his residency was a major issue in the campaign, it would seem unlikely that Campa-Najjar would quickly move to yet another address in an attempt to qualify to fill Padilla’s vacancy.
Padilla, who won election to the State Senate in last month’s election, resigned his Council seat last week upon being sworn-in to the Senate.
Under the City’s Charter, the City Council can chose to appoint someone to a seat when less 25 months are left in the term, as is the case in Padilla’s district. Anyone appointed by the Council to fill the vacancy, though, would be barred from running for a full term in 2024, according the City’s Charter.
But, the City Council could also chose to fill Padilla’s vacancy through a Special Election, which would coincide with an election which will now have to take place to fill the vacancy created by Simon Silva’s election as City Attorney.
Silva, who was a Deputy City Attorney, passed away in September, just days after the deadline to remove his name from the ballot. The Democratic Party and local elected officials, including Mayor Mara Salas, continued to promote Silvia’s candidacy in hopes of forcing a special election.
Silva’s opponents, local attorney Dan Smith, is a Republican. Silva ended the election 661 vote ahead of Smith.
The City Council will hold its next public meeting on Tuesday, December 13th, where McCann, Chavez, and Preciado will be sworn-in to their respective offices, and, presumably, the vacancies of Padilla’s seat and the City Attorney will be declared.
Due to Silva’s victory but inability to serve any of the four-year term, a vacancy must be declared by the Council. Under the City’s Charter, any vacancy where 25 month or more are left in the unexpired term must be filed through a special election.
That election must take place within 120 days of the declaration of the vacancy, meaning that an election should take place by mid-April 2023.
Given that a special election must be held for the City Attorney’s vacancy, the Council could decide to let the public fill Padilla’s vacancy during the same election next Spring instead of choosing a candidate on their own.
The City’s Clerk, Kerry Bigalow, has estimated that a special election could cost the City up to $2 million, but recent Charter changes approved by voters in last month’s election now allow the City to hold the special election exclusively through mail-in ballots with no physical polling locations.
The City’s Measure K, passed with over 63% of the vote, added language to allow the City to call for a mail-only special election that is “not consolidated with a scheduled federal, State or local polling place election.”
The Chula Vista City Council’s meeting will be held at 5pm on December 13th.