Jan. 20 2016 12:36 AM

A mixed cast of four Dems and one GOP candidate vie for the office

Gil Cabrera
All photos by Ken Stone

Which of the five candidates for San Diego City Attorney is an unabashed ’80s post-punk music fan whose last concert was Echo & the Bunnymen at Humphreys?

Unexpected answer: Robert “Bob” Hickey, the lone Republican in the field. He also surfs.

Ranging in age from 37 to 47, the Fab Five aren’t what you would expect of bidders for a button-down nonpartisan job—the top legal adviser in City Hall and prosecutor of misdemeanors. And note: A sex-harassment case is spicing things up in the race to replace termed-out Jan Goldsmith.

One candidate calls himself “the second coming of Mike Aguirre.” Another is a longtime friend of Mark Fabiani, the despised Chargers special counsel. The lone woman—who’d be the first female city attorney—missed her Olympic calling. She high-jumped an amazing 5-foot-7 in junior high but didn’t stay in the sport. And the campaign cash leader was a Nevada gold miner out of high school.

Gang-busting deputy district attorney Hickey, recruited by his longtime friend Kevin Faulconer and getting the GOP vote in the June 7 primary, is expected to make it to the general election against the top Democrat.

So what kind of liberals are rivals Gil Cabrera, Rafael Castellanos, Mara Elliott and late-bloomer Bryan Pease (he entered the race Jan. 8)?

Private attorney Cabrera (who got $500 from Fabiani) posted a video challenging other candidates to support common-sense gun laws. He says he’d be as “creative as possible” to keep seized guns from being returned to people convicted of crime.

Cabrera, 43, leans toward Hillary Clinton and vows to ramp up transparency, saying his “default” is to publicly disclose his legal-advice memos to the mayor and council. “Rarely does it undermine negotiations or litigation positions,” he said.

A marijuana smoker in college, the former city Ethics Commission chairman says the city doesn’t have enough legal dispensaries. He doesn’t like what he calls the current whack-a-mole response to illegal pot shops. With more legal ones, he said, neighborhoods would get used to their presence.

Rafael Castellanos

Castellanos, 41, is a son of Mexican immigrants who took law classes from Barack Obama in Chicago. A land-use lawyer, he was recruited for the Port Commission by Councilman David Alvarez.

He backs Clinton (“tough as nails”) and wore steel-toed shoes in his hardscrabble youth. With second half of 2015 disclosures coming at the end of January, Castellanos led the money race in July with $161,000.

He says he’ll “really prioritize going after slumlords” and push for community advisory panels, especially in Southeast San Diego, to advise police and his office on neighborhood issues. “We need to build trust,” he says. He’d send community reps into the field as well.

Mara Elliott

Chief Deputy City Attorney Elliott, 47, likes Clinton and would prioritize prosecution of domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. She favors “restorative justice,” giving people a chance to rehabilitate with the help of community courts.

Elliott hopes to appeal to Republicans as an Audit Committee lawyer, looking for ways to save the city money. And she’d hold Town Halls, perhaps quarterly, to take the public’s pulse. She trails Cabrera ($134,000) with under $22,000 in donations. But she expects a bump after being endorsed by the Deputy City Attorneys Association, and she hopes the Republican Goldsmith will back her too.

Bryan Pease

Private attorney Pease, 37, is a Bernie Sanders fan who founded a thrift shop benefiting animals. He hopes to corral enough fellow animal-rights and environmental friends to make a run. He hopes at least 100 will stump for him.

He vows to eliminate bail for the nonviolent poor, “a tax on the poor... funding city coffers with these excessive fees and fines.”

A one-time District 1 City Council candidate (winning 7 percent in a primary challenge of Sherry Lightner), he sued the city to protect the La Jolla seals. But Pease could have an albatross in Aguirre, the combative one-term city attorney who sparked an exodus of City Hall deputies.

Pease shares Aguirre’s “I represent the people first” stance, and says: “I’m probably the only candidate that does. So you can say I’d be the second coming of Mike Aguirre, but not a jerk to work for.”

The jerk issue has been raised about Castellanos, however. He settled a sex-harassment suit against Kate McSpadden, a former law-firm subordinate of his. He admitted no wrongdoing but has trashed her as money-grubbing.

Robert Hickey

Hickey (who favors Marco Rubio for president but also likes John Kasich and Carly Fiorina) says “it’s not my style” to exploit the McSpadden issue. “I’m a positive message person.”

Pease demurs, saying: “The voters can look at that.” And Cabrera told me: “To say you’re 100 percent vindicated—I don’t believe that’s a correct statement.”

But Elliott, who says she left one job amid harassment issues, wasn’t shy: “We just went through a lot as a city with Mayor Filner, and we’re still dealing with the fallout from that. I think the public has a right to ask questions. The city attorney is in a position of trust. And that was, in my opinion, a bad judgment call as a superior to have a relationship of some sort.”

Castellanos plays the professional-ethics card. “Any candidate for city attorney who is willing to perpetuate falsehoods is not fit to be city attorney,” he told me.

“They should at a minimum repudiate what the surrogates are doing. (They should know) what is a meritless lawsuit. If they truly want to be the city’s attorney, then they need to show that they are not reckless. That they have a good temperament. Not engage in reckless attacks against someone for political and personal gain.”

Considered by some to be the Democratic front-runner, Castellenos added: “Willing to win at all costs to have prosecutorial power over people, ability to sue—be careful what you wish for.”


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