"Sometimes the best gain is to lose."
Just when it appeared the San Diego City Council race in District 4 to replace Tony Young seemed headed toward its coronation phase, an interesting twist has made the final month of campaigning worth watching.
Spin Cycle must admit it took a while to get over the woefully low voter turnout (20 percent) for the March 26 primary battle.
"We keep shooting ourselves in the foot," third-place finisher Barry Pollard told Spin, barely containing his scorn. "And then we complain and play victim, and we want to blame everybody else."
When the primary dust had settled, local labor's sweetheart, Myrtle Cole, found herself with more than twice as many votes as her nearest competitor, San Diego Pride executive director and community activist Dwayne Crenshaw. The race appeared over before the march to the May 21 runoff had started.
Pollard decided to change that dynamic. He gathered together the seven other primary candidates to arrange an unsolicited mass-endorsement for Crenshaw. Five agreed, including the lone Republican in the race.
Why the resistance to Cole? For the five, it seems that labor's financial largesse in her campaign—more than $80,000, Pollard said—puts Cole's independence in question.
"It's a political machine versus a community's interest," Pollard said. "That was more money than all of the other candidates had combined. That left a bad taste in everybody's mouth around here, and it became obvious to a lot of folks that labor and the Democratic Party came in to buy this thing for the benefit of another vote Downtown rather than what's in the best interest of the community."
Mayor Bob Filner endorsed Cole shortly after the primary, but it came during the annual Cesar Chavez Day march through downtown San Diego—not in District 4—and it came off to some as more how Cole could help Filner (the mayor mentioned, for example, how he needed her vote to get better wages for hotel workers) rather than what Cole had in mind to improve the lives of residents in District 4.
"There's a consensus that labor hasn't done much for this community," Pollard said, "certainly for African-Americans with jobs and visibility in the labor unions. When you go down to most of the labor unions, you don't see many black faces down there."
For CityBeat-endorsed candidate Blanca Lopez-Brown, a preschool teacher and Lemon Grove School District board member, endorsing Crenshaw came easily after interviewing both finalists.
"I wanted to see who would serve in the best interests of the residents of the 4th District but then be a key player down at City Hall, too," she said. "I just think the possibilities for the 4th are much greater with an independent thinker, not with a person who's beholden to labor."
Some of the five used the term "home team" to describe Crenshaw, a reference to his native roots in the district and Cole's residency issues when she first appeared on the election radar.
"Dwayne's lifetime of residency makes a big difference," said Tony Villafranca, a tireless community volunteer who finished eighth in the primary. "What we have here is a home-team candidate in Dwayne Crenshaw against what people in the 4th District are seeing as a person representing outside interests more than interests that are specific to the district."
Asked for specifics, Villafranca noted Cole's championing of the "Gaslamp East" redevelopment along Imperial Avenue. "Words like Gaslamp' suggest things in another district," he said. "The last time I looked, there weren't a lot of people in the 4th who relate to living Downtown. I think what we need here is something more inclusive of our multiculturalism, something with more of an international flair that evokes the ethnicity that's native to San Diego."
"He's the home team," concurred Bruce Williams, another born-and-raised District 4 candidate who finished seventh in the March primary. "He's been in the trenches, knows the good stewards of the area. It's important because if you have a staff that's just focused on doing what Democrats, what labor, what the mayor wants, who then will meet the needs of our constituents?"
Sandy Spackman, the sole Republican in the race, was the final contender to join the other Crenshaw endorsers. "I just decided not to think too much about it," she said, "just to think who would be the best person for this position, and the answer is no doubt Dwayne."
Cole, on the other hand, will "have to answer to a lot of people who want to dictate what's going to happen," Spackman said. "Myrtle is all about labor and all about what the mayor wants to do, and I don't see her being independent."
Bringing business—any business—into the district also seems a point of departure for the five contenders. Cole has staunchly opposed efforts by the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation to bring to the district another Walmart (there's already one in the College Grove Shopping Center).
However you feel about Walmart, it's one of the few businesses showing an interest in building in the district, Pollard said. "A lot of people don't necessarily agree with Walmart's business practices, but a lot of people think that's labor's fight," he said. "It's not like grocery stores are beating down the damn door to get into this community. Labor has been unwilling or unable to provide an alternative."
Asked for a comment, the Cole campaign issued a statement playing up her notable endorsements, from elected officials to police and fire organizations. "She'd rather have those endorsements any day!" the statement concluded.
Crenshaw, meanwhile, welcomed the support. "Like me," he said in a release, "Blanca, Barry, Sandy, Tony and Bruce have all lived in the 4th District for more than 30 years and have a real record of working in the community. I look forward to working with each of them."
Asked if the endorsements for Crenshaw from candidates who garnered 56 percent of the primary vote will help, Pollard hedged: "I want to have a good fight, but labor's got the money. My biggest fear for District 4 is nothing will change, that we'll be used as tools."