In its first formal action toward filling the 8th District seat vacated by former Councilman Uvaldo Martinez, the San Diego City Council on Wednesday narrowed to six the list of candidates seeking appointment.
Martinez, 43, resigned last week after pleading guilty to two felony counts of misappropriating public funds and falsely accounting for public funds, after it was revealed that he illegally charged dining and entertainment expenses on a city credit card.
If numbers alone are any indication of the council's preference for Martinez's successor, attorney Celia Ballesteros emerged as the leading contender. Ballesteros, 55, was the only candidate to receive a vote propelling her into the final round from every council member and Mayor Maureen O'Connor.
In contrast, John Rivera barely survived the first elimination of candidates from a field of nine, receiving the votes of three council members. Rivera is an administrative assistant with the county. The other nominees and the votes they received are:
- Attorney Henry Empeno, 34, seven votes.
- Paul Grasso Jr., Martinez's former administrative assistant, seven votes.
- Architect Kathryn Willetts, 43, seven votes.
- Louis J. Cella, 32, a public relations consultant, six votes.
Ballesteros ran against Martinez in 1983 and won in the District 8 primary, but lost to him in the citywide general election. A member of the California State University Board of Trustees, Ballesteros alluded to the 1983 primary election during her short address to the council.
"I have been tried and tested by the fire of the electoral process," Ballesteros said, urging the council to follow "the expressed wishes of the district voters in 1983."
Each candidate was allowed to make a three-minute presentation to the council. According to the City Charter, council members were required to narrow the list of candidates by voting for no fewer than four candidates and no more than six.
The six finalists were asked to return on Monday, when they will be questioned by the council and the public. Martinez's successor is expected to be chosen at Monday's hearing, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the council chambers. Council members chose not to question the finalists on Wednesday, and the City Charter allows them 30 days after a council vacancy occurs--in this case until Dec. 12--to fill the seat.
The council voted to appoint a temporary successor who will serve as caretaker until December, 1987, when a new, elected council member will be sworn in. The appointee must agree not to run in next year's election.
Most of the finalists listed better-regulated land-use and renewed economic development as the major problems facing District 8, with Cella stressing the need for more affordable housing in Barrio Logan and a revitalized business district for San Ysidro.
District 8, which has a heavy concentration of Latinos, runs from the Mexican border along a narrow path that parallels Interstate 5 to downtown and the Golden Hills area. Willetts spoke of the need to appoint someone who can respond to the concerns of the district's Latino residents, and received a few surprised stares when she identified herself as Latina.
"I know that I don't look Hispanic. . . . I've spent 20 years being embarrassed by my blond hair because my cousins were dark-haired and dark-eyed," said Willetts.
The City Council had a choice of filling the vacancy by calling a special election or by appointment. It voted 5 to 4 to appoint a successor over the objections of O'Connor, who lobbied for an election.