“You're the seal guy!”
A beaming woman in a floppy sun hat had just approached lanky, business-suited Bryan Pease at a rally last weekend to block the closure of the well-loved-but-not-historically-designated La Jolla post office.
The sun glistened as Pease smiled. “Yes, I am,” he said, pulling a campaign-contribution envelope from an inside pocket. The woman didn't hesitate to take it.
The setting was somewhat odd, considering the keynote speaker for the rally was City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, a fellow Democrat whom Pease is seeking to replace as representative of District 1, a moderate political enclave that includes tony La Jolla.
Lightner didn't appear all that thrilled with his presence there that day—Pease did get an unenthusiastic hand shake from her before she quickly turned away. But her only comment to Spin Cycle on being challenged by a fellow Democrat had more to do with column material than the actual challenge.
“How come you haven't done a profile of me?” Lightner asked before her spokesperson noted that she was late for another appearance and questioned the appropriateness of campaign questions during an official council function.
Spin Cycle did overhear Lightner speaking off-the-cuff to a group of men gathered around her who had noticed Pease in the crowd. “He's running against you, right?” a silver-haired man asked. Lightner nodded her head and added, “He just moved to the district from City Heights.”
“South Park, actually,” Pease corrected later.
Sure, call him a carpetbagger. Yes, he is a new resident of District 1, having recently rented a modest apartment in the UTC area. You can also call him determined, as in he plans to win.
“Let's face it,” Pease acknowledged during an interview at his Bankers Hill public-interest law office. “I'm going to piss some people off by running in this race. But Sherri has done a lot to alienate her base. People are not excited about her. The best thing I've heard about Sherri Lightner is that she's not Ray Ellis.”
That would be former city retirement-board president, philanthropist and businessman Ray Ellis, a Republican that mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio has boosted as one of three council picks he needs for grand plans to reform City Hall.
When Pease announced his candidacy a month ago, La Jolla activist Joe LaCava said on Twitter, “Somewhere Ray Ellis is smiling.” This would be a reference to conventional wisdom that Pease would pull votes from Lightner, making the conservative Ellis' election that much more likely.
Pease sees it differently. “I think I would bring out people who wouldn't normally vote in a June primary. If you want people to be motivated to vote, you want more Democrats in this race in June,” he argued. “So, I actually think I'm doing her a favor by getting in the race and exciting progressives to get out and vote. It could prevent Ellis from beating her in June.”
Pease, who's known in La Jolla for his dogged defense of a rope to separate seals from humans in that endless political tug-of-war over the historic Children's Pool, said he'll run a grassroots campaign that he acknowledges won't draw the money that his opponents will (both Lightner and Ellis had well more than $100,000 on hand as of the most recent campaign filing period).
But he's not shy about his thoughts on Lightner's first term on the council. “People refer to her as a centrist Democrat, but I think she's all over the map—almost like it's just incompetence or something.”
He can talk in minute detail about the seal controversy and Lightner's serpentine contortions on the matter. But is it a subject that can propel an unknown political newcomer into office? That seems to be the question.
It's hard to know the voting tendencies of animal-rights advocates or whether they make up a significant block during election time. Jess Durfee, chairman of the county's Democratic Party, doesn't think so.
The party has already endorsed Lightner, Durfee noted.
“We don't discourage people from running, and if he thinks he can motivate or inspire people to come out and vote, we say all the better,” he said. “But we're strongly backing Sherri Lightner, who we think has been good for her district.”
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, however, has not yet endorsed in District 1—that will come likely by month's end. As has been reported in this publication, some of Lightner's council votes on Walmart-esque big-box centers and managed competition have puzzled labor leaders, and it was actually the Labor Council's delay in endorsing Lightner that convinced Pease to enter the race.
He hopes to receive labor's endorsement, as well as those from local environmental groups like the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters, which have been critical of some Lightner votes.
Lightner's political consultant, Jennifer Tierney, acknowledged that her candidate can be puzzling sometimes, but that's a strong point.
“Sherri doesn't profile easily, since she votes for what is best for her district, not always with any particular block on the council,” Tierney said in an e-mail. “Her supporters run the entire political spectrum, so it is difficult to say that any particular candidate ‘hurts' her by jumping in the race. She is prepared to take on any opponent who files to run.”
A native of upstate New York, Pease came to San Diego in 2004 “for the same reason everybody else comes: the weather.” His past animal-rights activism brought him his share of run-ins with police and a subsequent bond with the Occupy San Diego movement, to which he has offered his legal services to defend free-speech efforts.
He did plead no contest to misdemeanor assault for using a stun gun—he called it more of a electronic-zapping toy—on a guy in 2004 whom Pease said was harassing seals and attacked him when he tried to intervene. He's seeking a governor's pardon on that, but no word yet.
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