Jan. 27 2016 12:56 AM

In key District 1 race, city council candidates play the middle

Barbara Bry
Photo by Ken Stone

    Someone is pulling the electorate’s leg. Is it local media, which depicts the District 1 race for San Diego City Council as pivotal—a battle for one political party to hold a 5-4 majority? Or do you believe the two candidates are really “independent” and “nonpartisan?” One is a Democrat and one is a Republican, but both of their websites avoid using the R- or D-words.

    Barbara Bry says: “I have support across the political spectrum” and “my message really resonates.”

    Ray Ellis says: “I’m reaching out to eligible voters, and I think our message resonates with all types.”

    Bry, 66, started a pro-choice group that endorsed GOP favorite Bonnie Dumanis for mayor in 2012 and re-election to district attorney in 2014. Bry voted for Carl DeMaio’s pension-busting (and labor-angering) Prop. B. She proudly points to GOP disciples among her 440-plus donors. Her campaign slogan: “She means business.” (In fact, she owns the trademark.)

    Ellis, 58, volunteers at homeless-aiding nonprofits, and leads an environmental think tank called Equinox. He supports banning single-use plastic bags and believes in man-made climate change. He’s backed by Democrats Tony Young, the former city council president, and Mary Herron, the one-time Coronado mayor. The morning of this interview, he said he’d breakfasted with Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, on the “innovation sector.”

    Bry is the Democrat and Ellis the Republican. Our little secret.

    By the way, Bry doesn’t rhyme with Try; it’s pronounced like the cheese: Brie. She comes from German and Hungarian Jewish stock, and Bry stands for Ben Rabbi Yisrael. Her second marriage, to fellow entrepreneur Neil Senturia, resulted in a “Jewish Brady Bunch,” she once said.

    Asked for their presidential preferences, the candidates do begin to separate.

    Bry raised money for Hillary Clinton in 2007 and stumped for her in New Hampshire for a week leading up to the 2008 primary. Clinton is her only public endorsement this year, Bry says.

    Ellis, backed by the county GOP, says he’s still “sorting out” the field.

    “I admit it’s kind of painful to watch some of the discussions that go on,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to many of the conversations that are taking place—at least by some of the frontrunners. I think it’s very, very sad, quite frankly.”

    But it could be a presidential candidate named Bernie Sanders who decides District 1—if his passionate fans neuter the traditional GOP turnout advantage in June elections. Democrats are 35 percent of the electorate in D1, compared with 31 percent GOP.

    Bry and Ellis dismiss the Bernie scenario. They also agree that the Jan. 8 withdrawal of Democrat Joe LaCava from their council race means it will be decided in the June 7 primary. No November runoff. LaCava, who declined to comment for this story, has endorsed Bry.

    A rich source of votes is UC San Diego, in the middle of D1, which includes La Jolla (where Bry lives), University City, Carmel Valley (where Ellis lives), Torrey Pines and Del Mar Heights. The Registrar of Voters counts 1,131 Democrats and 239 Republicans in the seven precincts covered by UCSD—2,832 voters in total.

    (When Democratic City Councilmember Sherry Lightner, being termed out in 2016, beat Ellis in D1 in November 2012, she won by 5,700 votes.)

    Bry, who boasts long involvement with the school as a mentor via programs like CONNECT, has the backing of UCSD student Democrats. Several collegians (and an 18-year-old high schooler) were at work in her 900- square-foot office on Governor Drive the day she spoke to CityBeat.

    UCSD’s Cesar Solis, a club adviser, calls Bry “a strong candidate who mirrors some of the core beliefs that the College Democrats at UC San Diego stand for, like environmental preservation and community engagement. Her values and experience in the booming technology industry make her a candidate that we stand behind.”

    Solis says many volunteers have sprung up at a moment’s notice to help out—nearly 20 in a recent two-week period.

    Ellis claims UCSD student support, too. But college Republicans didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Bry’s young adult corps includes a 30-year-old field director—her daughter Rachel Kruer. A high school special education teacher with campaign experience, Kruer moved out from Chicago. Her salary is being paid personally by Bry. (But old San Diego warhorse Tom Shepard is a Bry consultant, too.)

    A Harvard-educated MBA, Bry started out as business reporter at the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times. She was recruited (while pregnant) by Neil Morgan to be business editor at the former San Diego Evening Tribune, but turned it down. She’d later become the first editor of the Morgan-launched Voice of San Diego news website. In the meantime, she got rich via tech startups.

    Ellis had business success too, starting at age 20 when he began a company selling Kawasaki Jet Skis in Virginia.

    Ellis claims the title of small-business and affordable-housing champion. He says he sat down with a group of Carmel Valley high school seniors, who told them their goal—after college—is coming back for a job in San Diego and not having to live with their parents.

    “There’s no reason it should take years to get a fairly simple apartment building in San Diego if it’s properly zoned,” he says, while declaring “Carmel Valley had a lot of affordable housing.”

    What D1 doesn’t have, yet, is a medical marijuana dispensary. One has been approved, though, at 10671 Roselle St. in Sorrento Valley.

    Would Ellis and Bry back more pot shops in their district?

    Saying she’d never been asked that, Bry took a day to think about it and emailed: “I support the system the city established to evaluate and, when appropriate, permit dispensaries.”

    Ellis called pot “a gateway situation,” but says of marijuana cooperatives: “We need to look at that community by community. I’m not a firm believer in one-size-fits-all.”

    Minimum wage? Bry is for the June ballot effort to raise San Diego’s minimum to $11.50 an hour in 2017, though she’s hesistant about the iconic $15 per hour wage. Ellis is OK with the state’s current $10 minimum, and thinks the June measure would hurt small businesses and depress employment.

    And so the Democratic and Republican stripes really begin to show.


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