The San Diego City Council's Fourth District is a collection of neighborhoods that are home to colorful wall murals; a community where libraries and community centers bear the names of human rights pioneers like Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and Cesar Chavez. District 4 is also where Blacks and Latinos, who make up the majority of the population, have achieved home ownership (59 percent of District 4 residents own their own homes, and 83 percent of those households are families, according to the 2000 Census).
African Americans have also played a vital role politically in District 4. Since 1969, every person who has represented the area on the San Diego City Council has been Black.
Representing District 4 means working to ensure that people of color get their fair share. It's more than a token seat, say the people who live there. True to recent history, two Black men, Charles Lewis and Dwayne Crenshaw, are battling for the Fourth District seat. Election day is Nov. 5.
Lewis and Crenshaw emerged from of a 10-candidate field after the March primary election. Lewis placed first with 40 percent of the vote while Crenshaw came second with 22.9 percent. Since no one got half the vote plus one, the two were forced into a runoff.
Both Democrats, Lewis and Crenshaw each hold years of political experience. Lewis, 36, served as chief of staff for outgoing District 4 Councilman George Stevens (who is being termed out of office). Crenshaw, 32, worked as former director of government relations for the Jacob Center for Nonprofit Innovation, in addition to several years at the state Capitol, working as a policy aid for Sen. Jack O'Connell and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Behind the race is the specter of Councilmember Stevens' reign and how it fits into each candidate's agenda. Lewis says that as the next district representative he would build upon the accomplishments of Stevens. Crenshaw, on the other hand, says that while Stevens' achievements in office were well intended, much more needs to be done.
The recent opening of a Home Depot near the intersection of Imperial Avenue and 45th Street is an example of one of Stevens' accomplishments that Lewis says he not only witnessed firsthand but also participated in. In addition, Lewis said that during Stevens' term, crime decreased in the 4th District, abandoned apartment buildings were transformed into units for affordable housing and 23 neighborhood councils were established to galvanize community participation.
“I can remember during the '80s when Euclid and Imperial were referred to as the four corners of death,” said Lewis. “I can remember Skyline and Meadowbrook when they were both run over with gangs. I can remember when we had abandoned apartments right in the heart of the community at 47th and Logan Avenue and when all of the retail [businesses] had left the community. And then I've seen for the past 11 years, since Councilman Stevens has been in office, the progress that we've made.... I've been a part of that change, but there's more work to be done. I want to make that happen.”
Crenshaw says his campaign is about getting the district its fair share of tax dollars for parks, libraries, streets and roads, as well as “restoring economic respect to the community [by] helping our small business owners on Imperial Avenue.”
“We're giving the big deals and the big breaks to the Home Depots,” said Crenshaw. “Not that Home Depot is a bad thing, but we need to help the little guys, because that's where most of our jobs are created from. While Home Depot's shipping off the money to the corporate headquarters in the Midwest, the small business owners are keeping their money right here in the community. Home Depot has not even been open a year. If that's your success for 11 years-this Home Depot-then that's missing the mark.”
And the words between Crenshaw and Lewis have become uglier as election day has drawn nearer, with Crenshaw firing allegations at Lewis claiming that he lives in Spring Valley, which is not in the district. Although he acknowledged owning property in Spring Valley, Lewis says he lives in Paradise Hills, which is in the district. “I'm choosing to stick with the issues, while my opponent is trying to make them up,” Lewis said.
Lewis has raised questions about Crenshaw's motivation for seeking the seat, charging that his opponent merely seeks a launching pad for his future political career. “I have a community agenda; Dwayne has a political agenda,” Lewis said. “He says his heart is in the community. I say he left his heart in Sacramento, and he wants to use [the City Council] on his resume to get back up there.”
Oftentimes referred to as Southeast San Diego, the District 4 is east of I-5, south of University Avenue and bordered by National City, Spring Valley and Lemon Grove. According to the 2000 Census, the area is 36 percent Latino, 25 percent Black, 22 percent Asian and 12 percent White.
The longstanding tradition of African Americans representing the district began in 1969 when Leon Williams, the current chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Development Board, was appointed to the position. William Jones, current CEO of CityLink Investment Corporation, was elected to the seat in 1982, followed by Wes Pratt in 1987 and George Stevens in 1991.
The Rev. George Walker Smith, the first African American elected to the San Diego School Board and founder of the Catfish Club, a lively, local political forum, believes that although blacks have been able to hang on to the Fourth District seat, that tradition is not necessarily something to be celebrated.
Smith was elected to the San Diego School Board in 1963-the first African American elected to any office in the county. After his election, other African Americans followed in his footsteps, serving as trustees on various school boards. “Now we're down to just one Black representative in a elected position in San Diego,” Smith said.
Even in state legislature, African American representation is the lowest it's been in recent years, with only six Black people holding office. And San Diego County has never sent an African American to serve in either Sacramento or Washington D.C.-a fact Smith called “pathetic. It's a disgrace to San Diego County. Black folks have been in this city ever since the city has started. And yet, politically, we're going backwards.”
In the money race, Crenshaw is the underdog. According to campaign-finance-disclosure statements, Lewis raised $123,692 in campaign contributions this year, compared to Crenshaw's $54,243. Lewis' contributors include developers and builders in addition to individuals such as Cecil Steppe, president of the San Diego Urban League, Abdur Rahim-Hameed, founder and CEO of the Black Contractor's Association and the Rev. Timothy Winters, pastor of Bayview Baptist Church. Lewis' endorsers include Assemblymember Juan Vargas, Mayor Dick Murphy and City Councilmembers Ralph Inzunza, Byron Wear and Jim Madaffer.
Labor unions figure prominently in contributors to Crenshaw's campaign, including Jerry Butkiewicz of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, one of Crenshaw's key endorsers. In addition, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union recently spent $5,600 on phone calls to voters on Crenshaw's behalf. Crenshaw's endorsements include the San Diego Police Officers Association, City Councilmembers Donna Frye and Toni Atkins and Congressmember Bob Filner.
Crenshaw says he doesn't mind the underdog label-he has confidence in the voters. “Mr. Lewis did not get the 50 percent plus one votes he thought he was going to get,” Crenshaw said. “Mr. Lewis may have got 40 percent of the primary, [but] the rest of us got 60 percent. People had the courage to say, ‘We need to make a change.' They're going to stay in that direction in November.”
No matter which candidate wins, he'll certainly have his hands full tackling issues such as the shortage of African American contractors on the city's payroll, helping stimulate the area's economy, reducing crime and advocating for disenfranchised ethnic groups.
“This district to me, is a multi-ethnic, multi-income district,” said Lewis. “A story that was told to me was that you have to treat it like a diamond, and you're going to be in charge of that diamond. So if you're the caretaker of that diamond, you gotta polish it-you have to take care of that diamond. That's what I want to do.”
“I like George Stevens-I like the fact that he's a fighter,” Crenshaw said. “But look at the conditions of our libraries, of our streets, of our businesses and of our parks. Do we really want to continue that for the next four years, and I think that the answer is clearly no.”