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Steve Castañeda embracing the role of underdog

Created: 19 April, 2013
Updated: 13 September, 2023
11 min read

Steve Castañeda with his wife Tanya, and two sons Andrew 19; Rocco John 2 yrs.
Steve Castañeda with his wife Tanya, and two sons Andrew 19; Rocco John 2 yrs.

If you were to sum up the political career of Steve Castañeda, it has been one of seemingly insurmountable challenges that have been faced and overcome! In this Special Election for the 80th Assembly District, May 21, Castañeda is once again facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a challenge he believes he can overcome!

It was interesting to read the other day where the other candidate for the 80th Assembly, Lorena Gonzalez, made a veil comment about her opponent Steve Castañeda stating that “certain information could come up and potentially hurt him in the future.” Gonzalez went on to say that Castañeda “should take a pass” on this race.

What was interesting was that with this comment Ms Gonzalez clearly showed she did not know her opponent very well!
In his political career Steve Castaneda has had everything thrown at him politically speaking. He has had his personal life and political life picked apart including a couple of special investigations, he was even charged for what he might have been thinking, if that had stuck then we all could be charged for foul thoughts. Long odds are not new to him and he has never backed down from a political fight.

So, a veil threat about what could come up is like water off the back of duck, it just didn’t stick! And if anything only spurned on candidate Castañeda to work even harder in this election.

This special election has come about through a long series of elections that had been foreseen and long in planning and you cannot talk about this race without first talking about the Labor leaders’ advantage in this race.

Labor leader Gonzalez’ advantage

The road map to this special election had been envisioned for a long time. It hinged on the election of Bob Filner as mayor. With that mission accomplished, with major support from Union leader Gonzalez, the dominos quickly fell into place.

With Filner out as congressman, State Senator Juan Vargas, who in the past had challenged Congressman Filner only to be defeated, filed for the open seat, which he won with relative ease, again with major support from Union leader Gonzalez.

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Ben Hueso who was the 80th Assemblyman, he has a history of following in the footsteps of Vargas from city council to Assemblyman, quickly announced his candidacy to replace Vargas as State Senator and he won that special election in March, and yes with major support from Union leader Gonzalez.

This set of circumstances, or opportunities, which had long been rumored, discussed, and planned, now presented the opportunity for Union leader Lorena Gonzalez, who long has held political aspirations since her days when she ran for San Diego city council. Step 1 of this plan was for Ms Gonzalez to move from Crown Point to Sherman Heights which she did last year, which put her in the district to fill the Assembly seat vacated by Hueso.

Whew, got all that!

Being a Union leader has its advantages, and after years of supporting, endorsing, and contributing large sums of monies to candidates and causes, with Ms Gonzalez’ announcement that she is running for the 80th , endorsements and monies rolled into her campaign. Within the short time frame of a special election, Lorena Gonzalez has amassed a small fortune, at last count over $300,000. This has been followed by a who’s who list of Democratic endorsements.

With this as the backdrop, and well aware of the distinct advantage that Ms Gonzalez had going into this race we put it to Steve Castañeda why would he get into a race in which he knew he could not match the funds raised, the endorsements, and a race that most gave him little chance of winning?

The Castañeda factor

“When I first started thinking about running for the 80th, Lorena Gonzalez wasn’t a part of my thinking at the time. She didn’t live in the district, so I dismissed those rumors. Then I heard that she had moved from her Crown Point home, in Mission Bay, to Sherman Heights so that was when I figured she was running.”

With the introduction of Lorena Gonzalez into the race, all the other rumors of any other candidate running pretty much quieted down, with the exception of Castañeda. Who had decided that he had a distinct advantage over Ms Gonzalez that money couldn’t buy.

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“She is a politically influential and powerful person, who cleared a lot of folks who had previously talked about running for the 80th and I figured I had a pretty good chance if it was a head-to-head contest.”

“I have a track record in the district. Relationships over a long period of time, with the folks in the community and the neighborhoods, and a proven record of accomplishments in the neighborhoods that I seek to serve. Plus I have a good relationship with the folks in the South Bay that work every day to make their neighborhoods better.”

So how does it make you feel knowing that as head of the Labor Union, Ms Gonzalez has all this money, all these endorsements, and union workers who will come out and walk for her?

“It presents a challenge. But I got a history, and anybody who has followed it understands clearly that I don’t back away from challenges and just because somebody has got more money, or somebody has got more star studded endorsements than I do, doesn’t necessarily cause me to think twice. I have to look at what in reality what my chances are. So we did some polling, we looked at our name ID in the district, our popularity among people who will cast votes in this election and I was ahead.”

For those folks who have lived and voted in the South Bay, the Castañeda name is a familiar name, not only for his accomplishments as a city councilman but probably more so for the Grand Jury investigation and with the DA, Bonnie Dumanis, charging him with felony perjury and other criminal charges.

The crux of the charge was that he didn’t do anything wrong per se, but that he might have thought about do something wrong. As observers we couldn’t figure out what this case was all about and evidently neither could the DA’s office. After a year’s worth of investigating and a million dollars spent on the trial, Cast-añeda was cleared of most of the charges, with the jury deadlock on a few minor charges that were later dropped.

This case had been described as one DA Dumanis’ “biggest charging blunders.” And for the Hispanic community it seemed like vendetta/witch hunt against another one of our Hispanic politicians. The outcome of this case was that the DA’s Public Corruption Unit, which seemed to solely focus on Chula Vista, quietly went away in disgrace.

Steve Castaneda is a San Diego native and has been living in the City of Chula Vista for past 23 years. He graduated from Helix High School in La Mesa, and continued his education at Grossmont Community College, Miramar Community College, and National University.

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In 1980, he served as police officer for the San Diego Police Department, for one year, and 1987, he continued his work with the city as a Policy Advisor and Community Representative for San Diego City Councilman Ron Roberts. While working as a Community Rep, Castaneda worked directly on the development of the Gaslamp Quarters, advocated for the Convention Center expansion plan, created a coalition of military and law enforcement agents to combat prostitution in the Midway community, and took part in creating a Pro Kids Golf Clinic for less fortunate youth.

In 1992, Castañeda served as a Transportation and Land Use Committee Consultant and Legislative Specialist for San Diego’s Intergovernmental Affairs Department, where he analyzed state and federal legislation, coordinating the city’s legislative program.

In 2004 Castañeda made his first run for public office for Chula Vista city council. In that race Castañeda was then, as is now, the underdog. Dan Hom the Republican candidate had a who’s who list of endorsements and far out raised all the other candidates in campaign contributions. And, back then as now, Castañeda rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

In that primary Hom received more than double than all the other candidates in the race. But in the general election when the race boiled down to just Hom and Castañeda, it was Castañeda who prevailed. This election launched Castañeda’s elected political career.

He took a couple of side steps when he challenged Cheryl Cox for mayor of Chula Vista and lost both times, but he did win reelection to the City Council and achieved some significant accomplishments while serving the city. Such as seeing the demolition of the South Bay Power Plant and passage of Prop. B for district elections.

There had been some difficult times on the council as well. Having to deal with city budget issues and lost revenue during the financial crises of the past years. Managing a city and budget and to continue city services, with diminishing funds.

There were some tough votes, city staff layoffs, fewer library hours, and to cut the tourism and marketing district.

The bottom line is that after eight years as a council member the City of Chula Vista is on solid ground and prepared to move forward.

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Besides seeing the demolition of the power plant, one of the things Steve Castañeda is most proud of is in creating a network of community committees that would be involved with the decision making within their neighborhoods.

If Steve Castañeda has a chance in this election it is going to be because of the community work that he has done over the years and the networking that he has tried to create. We will see if community involvement triumphs over big time money.

South Bay Candidate’s Forms for the 80th Assembly District:

Southwest Civic Association candidate Forum

Come hear the candidates for State Assembly, District 80, question each other. Lorena Gonzales and Steve Castaneda have been invited to help us get to know them on Wednesday April 24 at 6PM at the South Chula Vista Library 389 Orange Ave. 9191, room B. Car2Go will also give a short presentation about putting cars in Chula Vista. Info. 619 425-5771

Southwestern College to host 80th Assembly Candidates’ forum

What: Southwestern College will host a candidate forum on the special election for the vacant seat in the 80th Assembly district. The two candidates—former Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castaneda and labor leader Lorena Gonzales—have confirmed their attendance. The forum will be hosted by Southwestern College Political Science Professor Phil Saenz.

When: 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Thursday, April 25th. Free and open to the public

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Where: Student Union Patio, Southwestern College, 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista, CA 91910

Candidates Forum-80th Assembly District

Location: Chula Vista Civic Center Library (4th & F)
Address: 365 F Street, Chula Vista CA 91910
Event Date: Wednesday May 15, 2013
Start Time: 6:00 PM – 7:45 PM

Northwest Civic Association and National City Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a forum of the candidates for 80th Assembly District. Recently, Ben Hueso, past 80th District representative, was elected to the State Senate. His seat is now vacant. There will be a Special Election on May 21 to elect a new 80th District representative. Steve Castañeda and Lorena Gonzalez are the sole candidates for this seat and both are confirmed to attend this forum. Free. For info call Ken Wright at 619-307-3460.

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