Chris Ward came out at age 21 to his Phi Kappa Psi brothers at Johns Hopkins University. Now 39, he’s aiming to become the fourth member of San Diego’s LGBT fraternity to represent District 3 on the city council.
Ward, Democratic chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Block, doesn’t flaunt his orientation. But he takes every opportunity to note two backers—former state lawmaker Christine Kehoe and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, both lesbians who began the 24-year gay reign in D3.
Todd Gloria, the popular, termed-out councilmember Ward hopes to succeed, hasn’t endorsed anyone for his seat. Ward delights in that because his rival, Anthony Bernal, also a Democrat, has worked for Gloria for seven years (as director of business and community projects).
Ward says: “Unlike my opponent, I have the endorsement of my boss.”
Bernal says: “Todd has done nothing but encourage me the entire time. And Todd’s running his race for state Assembly”—suggesting Gloria has other politics to weigh.
Surrogates are less polite.
Last year, longtime gay activist Nicole Murray Ramirez called on Bernal to drop out, saying in San Diego LGBT Weekly: “Would a serious Latino candidate run in the Fourth District? Would a serious African American run in the Eighth District? No!…Anthony Bernal…you can’t and will not win.”
Arguing for Bernal’s “qualifications and experience,” Franko Guillen responded by calling such pigeonholing “reprehensible.” Then Ramirez alleged that Guillen, a “popular Latina drag queen entertainer,” had a ghostwriter: “Sure, Francesca wrote that last one, just like I wrote the (U.S.) Constitution!”
Bernal spokesperson Nick Serrano says Guillen wrote the column after discussing it with Bernal.
Bernal and Ward support Hillary Clinton. But Ward claims the title of top liberal, saying: “I love, love with a capital-L Bernie Sanders.” And, he favors a $15-an-hour minimum wage for “the greater good.” Businesses would “make a minor adjustment in prices” to cope.
Bernal, 36, backs the June measure to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50, but worries about “mom-and-pop” shops choking on $15 an hour.
He has yet to use the slogan “Feel the Bernal.” But one person Ward and Bernal aren’t feeling heat from is ex-Green Beret Scott Sanborn—the braces-wearing third candidate in the race. The Iraq War veteran’s only advantage is height— he’s 6-feet tall to Ward’s 5-foot-9 and Bernal’s 5-foot-8.
Sanborn, an August graduate of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, will take the bar exam soon. He calls himself a “pissed-off veteran” who’d devote himself to what he calls “the most severe veteran homeless crisis in the nation.” He refuses donations and labels. (But he hands out purple T-shirts with a scottsanborn.vote URL.)
Registered as “no party preference,” Sanborn, 32, voted in the November 2014 election but not the June primary, according to records. He likes Donald Trump because the GOP front-runner isn’t dependent on donors.
“I think Trump is one who will make changes,” he said. “This could be good or bad.”
Sanborn won’t divulge his sexuality, but says “it’s awful you have to be gay” to vie in D3. Single, he lives in an East Village studio apartment and enjoys playing with denizens of the dog park next to the Quartyard public space.
Plans for the future: “Run for Congress and/or continue to build San Diego behind the scenes. My most important objective is to stay true to myself.”
Back to the main race.
Bernal said residents urged him to run after Gloria won re-election in 2012. Fit from years of distance running (now averaging 18 miles a week), he says he’s knocked on 5,000 doors in 20 weeks. “They remind me of the great work we’ve done together for the past seven years.”
Ward, a fellow policy wonk, hails Gloria’s work on the city’s climate action plan but wants to put “teeth” in it. A community college bond overseer, he’d support votes for tax hikes, saying he’d use “my smarts and my heart” to give people confidence in his stewardship of their dollars and “the public benefit that they are voting for.”
Both vow to deal with street people.
Ward: “I am pledging to make a personal commitment that at least 20 percent of my time will be devoted to homelessness solutions.”
Bernal: “I’ll spend once a month, working with the police department...getting out of the car and talking with these individuals.”
Days before disclosures were made public, the pair revealed what they’d raised in 2015.
“I’ll be over $100,000,” said Bernal, a downtown resident who married his wife, Amy, last March.
“We’ll be reporting over $150,000 raised,” said Ward of University Heights, who with his partner Thom Harpole (a human resources director at San Diego State University) adopted a daughter about to turn two.
Ward ties himself to Kehoe-Atkins as “clearly the progressive Democratic choice” in a district of 72,000 voters—50 percent Democratic, 30 percent independent and 14 percent Republican. Also in Ward’s corner: the League of Conservation Voters, almost-mayor Donna Frye and Councilmember David Alvarez.
“But I’m not so knee-jerk that that’s going to render me ineffective,” he said. “I do want to have everybody at my council table giving me the proper feedback. And sometimes, some sides are wrong—whether they’re in the business community or the environmental community or a labor organization.”
Bernal cites his “farmworker in the Central Valley” mother and grocery clerk dad, but doesn’t focus on the 11,758 Spanish-speaking voters in D3. “I am a proud Latino,” he says, “but I’m using my results and the things I’ve done in the neighborhoods.”
Asked about endorsements, he offers state Sen. Ben Hueso and former Councilman Tony Young. “Plus, the California Restaurant Association.”
Bernal hasn’t decided what his ballot title will be, but he clearly hopes to ride Gloria’s coattails in a district of diverse burgs surrounding Balboa Park, from Normal Heights and Old Town to downtown and Golden Hill.
“Todd worked under the leadership of (now congresswoman) Susan Davis,” Bernal said. “Susan provided the mentorship...I see myself in that same mold…I’ll tell you that this is going to boil down to the person that connects best at the doors.”