In the most dramatic reshaping of the San Diego City Council in a decade, candidates Ron Roberts, Wes Pratt, Bruce Henderson and Bob Filner were elected Tuesday to four council seats being vacated by incumbents.
Final unofficial voting returns showed that Roberts, an architect, defeated public relations consultant Byron Wear in the 2nd District; Pratt, a county supervisorial aide, far outdistanced the Rev. George Stevens, an aide to Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), in the 4th District; Henderson edged Bob Ottilie, a fellow lawyer, in the 6th District, and Filner, a college history professor and former president of the San Diego City board, defeated lawyer Michael Aguirre in the 8th District.
Pratt's sweeping victory represented a remarkable comeback from an inauspicious beginning in which he was disqualified from the 4th District ballot last summer for failing to secure enough valid signatures of registered voters on his candidacy petitions. A Superior Court judge, however, reinstated Pratt's name on the ballot, ruling that he had "substantially complied" with the signature requirement.
The victories of Roberts and Filner were less surprising--in Roberts' case, because he heavily outspent Wear and drew support from a broad cross-section of community leaders, while Filner began the race with high name recognition due to his former school board service. Henderson and Ottilie, meanwhile, were both relative political unknowns prior to the campaign.
Despite warm, sunny weather Tuesday, the voter turnout was only 37.4%, below city election officials' projections and a disappointingly low figure, considering that the absence of heavily favored incumbents made this year's campaign the most wide-open, competitive council election in recent history.
In their bids for the $45,000-a-year council posts, the eight finalists spent a cumulative total of nearly $1.5 million. The campaign's overall price tag, including funds spent by losing candidates in the primary, could top $2 million, making it one of the most expensive council races ever.
With four open seats on the ballot, Tuesday's election was the first citywide race in the 56 years since the City Charter was approved in which no incumbents sought reelection. Many political activists felt that, with a 50% turnover on the council at stake--the biggest change in the council's composition since four freshmen were elected in 1977--the campaigns would generate higher-than-normal public interest.
That did not happen, in part because of the absence of party rivalry. Each of the four races featured Republicans running against Republicans or Democrats against Democrats--a peculiar happenstance stemming from the outcome of the Sept. 15 primary, in which the top two finishers in each district qualified for Tuesday's citywide runoff.
Moreover, with most of the candidates in general agreement on broad citywide issues such as growth management, public safety and budget priorities, few policy-oriented differences emerged during the campaign--with the 6th District race being a notable exception.
In the 2nd District race to succeed retiring two-term Councilman Bill Cleator, the campaign pitted the strong financial backing, impressive endorsement list and land-use expertise of Roberts against the longtime community activism and street-smart political savvy of Wear, whose political apprenticeship included work in numerous local GOP campaigns.
Wear finished first in a seven-candidate September primary, a mild upset attributed largely to sheer hustle--a talent more effective within the limited confines of a district than a citywide race, in which costly television and radio ads are needed to reach a geographically broader audience. That political reality gave a clear edge in the runoff to Roberts, who spent more than $225,000--including $38,000 of his own money--outspending Wear by about 3-to-1.
Roberts, 45, consistently reminded voters that during his 5 1/2 years on the city Planning Commission, he cast nearly 2,300 votes on land-use matters--one of the council's primary tasks. That background was a major factor in Roberts' endorsement by Mayor Maureen O'Connor, numerous public officials, all major daily newspapers and countless professional groups.
His opponent's daunting list of prominent supporters enabled Wear, a 33-year-old former city lifeguard, to cast the 2nd District race as "a political David versus Goliath." Pointing to his years of service in myriad community and civic organizations, Wear also sought to persuade voters that he had a better "feel for the diversity and needs" of the district, which includes Point Loma, Loma Portal, Mission Hills, Ocean Beach, Old Town, Middletown and parts of Hillcrest.