A screenshot of Lorie Zapf's campaign website
Lorie Zapf wants the City Council seat that Donna Frye has held for the last nine years. Based on fundraising, she's got a shot. But, if elected, she might not like some of the company she'll have to keep.
Zapf, a long-time Clairemont resident, has emerged as one of the only candidates in District 6 who might pose a challenge to Howard Wayne, a former state assemblyman and, before that, a deputy attorney general, who raised $78,000 in campaign contributions in 2009. Zapf posted only about $30,000, but that still puts her well ahead of Steve Hadley, Frye's current chief of staff. Frye endorsed Hadley (she's termed out and can't run this year), but he raised only about $22,000 in 2009, half of which he loaned to the campaign himself.
District 6 covers Mission Valley, Serra Mesa, Kearny Mesa, Clairemont, Linda Vista and Mission Bay and includes roughly 79,000 registered voters. City Council races are non-partisan, but there are about 5,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Wayne was an Assembly Democrat, and Zapf has held a seat on the San Diego County Republican Central Committee. More than 19,000 voters decline to state a party affiliation, though, so it might come down to who can woo independent voters.
In an interview with CityBeat, Zapf touted her credentials as a small-business owner and her time leading the San Diego Chapter of Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse as reasons people will vote for her—people are interested in “more private-sector principles” in government, she said. She was eager to talk about her priorities: She wants to cut costs and balance the city budget, train volunteers to fill gaps in staffing at libraries and parks, funnel more money into public safety—if voters will give her the chance.
But that's an opportunity, she has said, that no gay man or woman should have.
“I absolutely want to keep homosexuals out of public office and not be allowed to influence our schools, textbooks, altering marriage, children, and on and on,” Zapf wrote in a 2006 e-mail exchange obtained by CityBeat between her and James Hartline, an anti-gay activist.
Hartline had questioned Zapf about why she hadn't responded to a Christian Coalition Voter Guide survey when she was running for a seat on the Republican Central Committee. In the e-mail, Zapf tells Hartline she didn't get the survey but wasn't very interested in winning the seat anyway.
“Getting elected to that position is not top on my list,” she told Hartline.
She also made it a point to tell him she supported his cause: “I like that you are trying to keep homosexuals and homosexual activists out of public office because we both know what the long term agenda is.” And later: “I do believe homosexuality is a sin. I have three homosexual first cousins. I love them all and would ‘be seen' in a photo with them. I believe they all live in sin and frankly all are very unhappy people and had horrible childhoods as well.”
Hartline questioned Zapf's conservative credentials because of her work for Judy Riddle's City Council campaign that year, which, to him, meant she was supporting Mayor Jerry Sanders by proxy (Riddle was a vocal supporter of Sanders, Hartline said in the e-mails). That didn't sit well with him, because he believed Sanders had “repeatedly marched in gay pride parades and [had] recently hired two homosexual activists.”
In response, Zapf defended Riddle and took a swipe at Frye. “Judy is a STAUNCH supporter of the Cross and the Scouts, Pro-Life, pro family values… she is very conservative. We can only vote for the choices we have, and Donna Frye is an A.C.L.U. LIBERAL who is leading this city down the wrong path.”
Consider all that in light of San Diego's political scene (once described by CityBeat as “gay, gay, gay”). There's Bonnie Dumanis, the first openly lesbian district attorney in the country. She's also a Republican. Christine Kehoe, who, in getting elected to the City Council in 1993, became San Diego's first openly gay politician before going on to the state Assembly and state Senate. Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican, shocked the country and won the support of a lot of Democrats when he made a dramatic turnaround on gay marriage because he wants his gay daughter treated with equality. That same year, the council voted 6-2 to oppose Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that ended gay marriage in California. If elected, Zapf would have to work with two openly gay councilmen, Democrat Todd Gloria and Republican Carl DeMaio.
When asked if she believed gay men and women should be kept out of public office, Zapf said in an e-mail to CityBeat, “That's absurd. I strongly supported City Councilmember Carl DeMaio and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in their respective races. I believe you should judge individuals based on their positions on the issues that matter to our city and to our neighborhoods.”
When presented with copies of the e-mail, Zapf said her comments to Hartline “do not accurately reflect my views or actions then or now. For many years prior and after this e-mail, I've hired gays in my business and have endorsed gays for elected office. But, I recognize my words may still be hurtful, and I apologize for them sincerely.”
Her position with Californians Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), which Zapf touts as one of her main credentials, also isn't without political baggage. The organization says it wants to protect businesses and the public from an “ever-circling” plaintiff's bar in the “most litigious” state in the nation. CALA claims to be a citizen-led uprising against greedy lawyers out to make fast money, though questions routinely arise about the true nature of its financing and whether it's more Astroturf than grassroots.
Zapf told CityBeat that's not true.
“People like to say it's [CALA] supported by Enrons and Halliburtons and big companies like that, but it's not. The way I raise most of the money is by doing events and fundraisers,” Zapf said.
She said she became interested in so-called lawsuit abuse after the small business she ran with her husband Eric—Boulder Bar Endurance—was sued in 1998 in a case she says was frivolous and abusive.
“I realized how important it was to protect citizens and small businesses from these suits,” she told CityBeat. “You get hit with one lawsuit and it can cripple or put you right out of business.”
That hasn't stopped the Zapfs from hitting back.
They settled that lawsuit on the courthouse steps, Zapf said, but the next year, in 1999, filed a suit of their own against the plaintiff. A few months later, they sued him again for breach of contract. All told, between 1998 and 2002, the Zapfs filed seven suits related to their business alone. Eventually, they sold the company and stayed out of the courts until Eric Zapf sued Pioneer Electronics in 2007. He filed another suit in 2008 against a real-estate agent he says defamed him. That case is set to go to trial this week.
Zapf's aware of the irony, but she said the lawsuits she and her husband have been involved in are different than those her organization targets as abusive. She said they'd actually suffered harm in each case—too often, others, like class-action attorneys, use the system to try to get quick settlements.
CALA is “not about taking the right of anyone to sue if they've been harmed,” Zapf said.
Primary election day is June 8. Other candidates in District 6 are Kim Tran, Ryan Huckabone and Doug Beckham. None have so far filed any significant fundraising numbers, though Huckabone has raised about $5,000. Next week, all the candidates will reveal more about the financial state of their campaigns when the next round of reports covering the first two-and-a-half months of this year is due.
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