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First-time Council Candidates Beat Elected Politicians

Created: 07 December, 2018
Updated: 13 September, 2023
6 min read

Vivian Moreno (Photo / Courtesy of Vivian Moreno)

t’s official! The San Diego City Council will have three new members when they are sworn in on Monday, December 10.
The three candidates, all women, also share another thing in common; they were each running for office for the first time and they each beat an elected official.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters finalized its vote count on Thursday afternoon. On Election Day, 490,000 ballots were still left to be counted and it took the Registrar nearly a month to complete the count.

In District 2, Dr. Jennifer Campbell, a family medicine doctor for over 37 years, received more votes that incumbent Councilwoman Lori Zapf, and ended up winning by nearly 9,000 votes. Zapf is serving her second term on the City Council.

Zapf, a Republican, is considered a moderate but was likely hurt by the surge in Democratic and non-partisan voters that turned out in record numbers during the midterm elections. Although the election is technically non-partisan, Campbell and Zapf each received support from traditionally aligned interest groups, including labor unions and Democrats for Campbell, and business groups and Republicans for Zapf.

Campbell enjoyed the support of several prominent Democrats, including former Councilmembers that are now in higher office; Congressman Scott Peters, State Senate President Toni Atkins, and Assemblyman Todd Gloria.

Zapf was criticized when she decided to run this year because she had already served two terms on the Council, the limit allowed by the Charter.

But, Zapf contends, her first term in 2010 was in District 6, then her home was shifted into District 2 during the 2011 reapportionment process. She ran and was elected to a new term in District 2 in 2014. Had she won this election, it would have only been her second term in the same district.

Although technically legal, many felt she used a loop-hole to run against the voter-approved term limit of two consecutive terms. A candidate that ran unsuccessfully in the June primary has filed a lawsuit to invalidate Zapf’s candidacy.

The outcome of the election to replace District 8 Councilman David Alvarez was one of a few races in the county that wasn’t declared until late this week.

The race was too close to call after the election because the gap between first place candidate Vivian Moreno and her opponent, Antonio Martinez, was only 766 on election night.

With over 490,000 votes still left to be counted after the election, neither candidate declared victory. Since election night, Moreno maintained her lead and, as of the final count on Thursday, ended up with a final count of 14,950 votes to Martinez’s 14,401 votes, besting him by 549 votes.

Moreno has served as a staff member in Council Alvarez’s office and has also held positions on boards of directors of local non-profits. Moreno, who grew up in San Ysidro and graduated from UCSD, also mentors young girls with plans to attend college.

“I am honored to be elected to represent the residents of District 8,” Moreno told La Prensa San Diego on Thursday. “I work for them, they are my bosses, and every decision I make will be based on what is best for our communities,”she added.

Martínez, a current member of the San Ysidro School District Board, had the support of the Democratic Party and many labor unions, as well as several high-profile elected officials, including Congressman Juan Vargas, State Senator Ben Hueso, and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Martinez was first elected to the Board in 2012, and re-elected in 2106. Had he won the race for City Council, he would have created a vacancy on the school board. He now remains on the Board, and has two years left on his current four-year term.

During the campaign, Martinez was criticized because of the financial and staffing issues at his school district. Since Martinez was first elected to the Board in 2012, the District has had eight superintendents, with two of them having been removed for financial irregularities, and one having been indicted and eventually convicted in a corruption investigation.

The San Ysidro School District has teetered on financial insolvency during the past six years and is currently facing deficits in the next two school years. A recent report by inewsource, a local web-based news outlet, found that residents of the District have been burdened with the second-highest bond debt in San Diego County, second only to Santa Fe school district.

The most surprising election outcome was in District 4 where Councilmember and former Council President Myrtle Cole lost her race against Monica Montgomery.

Montgomery, a civil rights attorney, used to work for Cole at City Hall, but resigned her job after Cole made comments at a Council meeting about racial profiling by police that have been called offensive by members of the African-American community.

“Myrtle Cole was not representing her district or the people, she was representing special interests, she got distracted,” said Reverend Shane Harris who was one of the first community leaders to criticize Cole for her comments. “Well, this election cycle, special interests lost. People interest won and I believe Monica Montgomery will stay focused on the people’s agenda,” Rev. Harris added.

Cole had the support of the Democratic Party and the San Diego Labor Council, the largest employee union group in the county, as well support from the Republican Party because Cole had joined with Republican councilmembers to broker her election as Council President in 2017.

Cole, the first African-American woman to serve on the City Council, was elected in 2013 during a special election to fill the seat vacated when Councilman Tony Young resigned. Cole was then elected to a full four-year term in 2014.

In the end, though, Cole lost by a margin of more than 15% of the vote, becoming the first sitting councilmember to lose re-election since 1992.

Councilmember Georgette Gomez now seems to have the support to become the new Council President. Gomez has the support of Moreno, Chris Ward, and Republican Chris Cate. Additionally, Barbara Bry has said she would join her Democratic colleagues and not vote for herself, so that would give Gomez the votes to become President at next week’s meeting.

With the election of Campbell, Democrats now enjoy a 6 to 3 advantage over Republicans on the Council, and, if they vote together, would have a veto-proof majority that could override any veto by Mayor Kevin Faulconer. That power would make the Council President very powerful in setting spending priorities for the City.

The Council will hold its organizational meeting on Monday, December 10, to swear in the new members and elect its President.