By E.A. Barrera
Democrats still stung by Donna Frye’s loss in last November’s mayor’s race to Jerry Sanders, debated why the maverick councilwoman was rejected by San Diego voters and what could be done to salvage their party’s fortunes in the city. The one answer that rose above the other suggestions was victory - specifically a victory for 2nd District City Council candidate Lorena Gonzales over her Republican opponent Kevin Faulconer in the January special election.
“The Gonzales race will be the balance of power on that council,” said long time Democratic Party political consultant Larry Remer. “Every important issue - from the development surrounding the ballpark to jobs to paying the workers of this city a living wage is now hanging in the balance of who wins that election.”
Speaking before the Uptown Democratic club, which packed the meeting room of the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest, Remer was joined by former 76th State Assemblyman Howard Wayne and Uptown Democratic Club founder Mel Shapiro. Among those in the audience were current 76th State Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, former 3rd District City Councilman John Hartley, current chairman of the San Diego Democratic Party Jess Durfee, and representatives from the California Democratic Party and Gonzales’ campaign.
The evening was a candid assessment of what went wrong with Frye’s effort. While the partisans did not distance themselves from Frye, a consistent theme through out the night was what they saw as Frye’s lack of professional campaign staff in the face of Sanders’ financial advantage. Sanders was able to raise double the funds for Frye during the campaign.
“The one thing you can say after seeing the results of this election is that the establishment in San Diego is alive and well,” noted Wayne, who served two terms in the State Assembly during the 1990s. “The business interests in this town were able to successfully portray Frye as not being up to the job - of not looking the part of a mayor. Plus they had the money advantage. This is one reason why we need campaign finance reform in this town.”
Shapiro noted that the Sanders’ campaign received thousands of dollars in contributions from law firms and developers doing business with the city.
”They did not want her to be the first strong mayor this city had,” said Shapiro.
But Remer cautioned that blaming Frye’s loss solely on money and opposition from the business community of San Diego masked a deeper problem. Both he and other Democrats noted that Frye’s visibility and name recognition were very high - stemming from more than a year’s worth of campaigning for Mayor in three separate elections. The purpose of money in an election is often to make a candidate’s name and face familiar to voters. By all accounts, Frye had become a household name at the time voters went to the polls to pick a new mayor.
When Mayor Murphy resigned his post five months later, Frye emerged as the front-runner for the job, winning first place in a June primary with over 40 percent of the vote. But she was never able to gain much more than that total, garnering only 46.23 percent of the vote to Sanders 53.77 percent last November.
“Donna did not run the best campaign,” said Remer. “There was not the sort of professional help on her staff that she needed for a city-wide effort. She had one consultant early on that she got rid of because she did not want to use professional staff. This cost her in a number of the decisions she made - basically yielding the center of the political spectrum to Sanders. She aligned herself too closely with Mike Aguirre and she divided the labor movement.”
Democrats during the meeting did speak favorably of their chances in the January 10 special elections to fill the city council vacancies created when Michael Zucchet and Ralph Inzunza were forced to resign under indictment. Both men were found guilty of bribery, though most of Zucchet’s conviction was later thrown out by a judge.
“Faulconer has run in that district before and his name identification was high. Yet he only managed to get 35 percent of the vote,” noted Remer of the race in Council District Two.
Seventeen candidates faced off in the November election for that seat, with Faulconer finishing first, but Gonzales earning a strong second place finish.
“That is an unusual district, with almost a third of the voters not aligned with either the Democrats or Republicans. Most of the other candidates were to the left of Gonzales, so if Gonzales can win over the voters who supported all the other candidates, she will win,” noted Remer.
The special election will take place on January 10, 2006. The last day to register to vote for that election is December 27, 2005. For more information, contact the San Diego Registrar of Voters at 5201 Ruffin Road, Suite I, San Diego 92123. For more information, please call 858-565-5800.