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Party Politics Is Out in S.D. Council Races : It's GOP Versus GOP and Democrats Against Democrats in Campaign

September 28, 1987|BARRY M. HORSTMAN | Times Staff Writer

To those accustomed to interparty rivalry in politics, this fall's San Diego City Council elections will come as a jolt.

Eight candidates--four Republicans and four Democrats--are seeking four open seats on the council. But in a political oddity, each of the four races features Republicans running against Republicans and Democrats running against Democrats--a peculiar happenstance that has some candidates worried about whether normal political donors will show much interest in elections viewed more as family fights than typical two-party battles.

In the words of former local Republican Party Chairman Allan Royster, the unusual nature of this year's races makes them comparable to "trying to decide who to root for in a football game when you like both teams."

"It kind of takes a lot of the fun out of it," Royster said. "In a way, whatever you do, you end up sort of working against yourself. The us-versus-them angle isn't there."

Others share Royster's sentiments about the political rarity produced by this month's council district primaries, which resulted in no partisan differences between the two finalists in each of the council races. Both finalists are Republicans in the 2nd and 6th Districts, while the contenders in the 4th and 8th Districts are Democrats.

A Truism Comes True

"People always say that party affiliation doesn't influence how they vote, even though it does," political consultant Nick Johnson said. "But this time, that will be the truth."

In the 2nd District race, retiring Republican Councilman Bill Cleator will be succeeded by one of two fellow Republicans--consultant Byron Wear or architect Ron Roberts. The other Republican-versus-Republican contest will occur in the 6th District, where lawyers Bruce Henderson and Bob Ottilie are competing for the seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Mike Gotch.

In the all-Democratic contests, the Rev. George Stevens and county supervisorial aide Wes Pratt are seeking the 4th District seat recently vacated by Democrat William Jones, while former San Diego city school board member Bob Filner and lawyer Mike Aguirre face each other in the race to succeed Democrat Celia Ballesteros in the 8th District.

The impact of the absence of partisan distinctions in the four citywide council races may be felt most, some candidates believe, in their campaign fund-raising. Aware that in terms of party affiliation, the outcome in the races--as well as the council's partisan balance--has already been determined, many traditional political donors may opt to simply keep their checkbooks shut this fall.

'Why Should I Pay?'

"There's definitely a viewpoint out there that says, 'Why should I pay money to two people from the same party who theoretically are pretty similar, just to watch them beat each other over the head?' " 6th District finalist Henderson said.

Royster added: "Most Republicans aren't going to kill each other over which Republican is going to get elected and I assume the Democrats feel the same way. If you're getting hit up for contributions by both candidates in some of these races, that approach wouldn't be a bad one to take."

Although the eight council finalists are still in the initial stages of expanding their campaigns from the limited confines of their respective districts to a citywide focus, most anticipate that six-figure campaign treasuries--in some cases, double or triple what they raised in the primary--will be needed to finance the expensive television and radio coverage needed to reach a broader audience.

With partisanship not a factor in the races, some candidates fear that fund-raising may prove to be an even more daunting task than normal. Some argue that the nature of the races could deter members of the candidates' own party from contributing to either them or their opponents--on the theory that, regardless of the outcome, the election is a no-lose proposition. And, trying to solicit donations from registered Republicans as a Democratic candidate, or vice versa, may require an even more persistent selling job.

"This disrupts the normal patterns of campaign contributions," 8th District candidate Filner said. "If you're a Democrat running against a Republican, you usually would get most of the normal Democratic money. But that's not the case here, because the Democratic money will be split between Aguirre and me. So that cuts down what you would normally receive from people in your own party.

Two Choices for GOPers

"Then, when you look at Republican money, one of two things can happen. They could either say, 'A plague on both your houses,' and just sit it out, or think, 'Well, we'll have to work with one of these guys, so let's pick one we think we can work with and give to him.' I hope it will work out the second way. But I'm not sure."

Regardless, the success of the candidates' fund-raising appeals this fall, Henderson explained, will hinge on their ability to convince potential donors both within and outside their party that "there is a reason to give."

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