Mayor, council races could shake up city politics

SAN DIEGO - San Diegans will go to the polls Tuesday to decide two major races, but will be faced with four possible outcomes that could impact the direction of city government.

In the mayor's race, Councilman Carl DeMaio, a driving force behind voter-approved Proposition B and efforts to cut what he calls wasteful municipal spending, faces Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, who derives much of his backing from organized labor, which opposed the pension reform initiative.

Meanwhile, voters in the northwestern part of the city will decide whether to retain incumbent Councilwoman Sherri Lightner or replace her with businessman Ray Ellis.

If Lightner wins, Democrats will keep control of the officially nonpartisan body. An Ellis victory would give Republicans a 5-4 majority.

"There's a couple of possibilities, right? You get a Democratic or Republican mayor with a like-minded City Council, or another combination that's off-kilter," said T.J. Zane, CEO of the Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

How much of an impact any one of those combinations has will provide drama after the new mayor and council members are inaugurated Dec. 3.

The City Council with its current Democratic majority largely avoided partisanship under the direction of Tony Young, and its members have worked collaboratively with GOP Mayor Jerry Sanders to pass fiscal changes and end the structural deficit.

However, the campaign season has seen city politicians line up behind candidates of the same stripe.

At a news conference Thursday, Democratic council members lined up to support Lightner against what they believe are misleading attack mailers sent by the Ellis campaign, while GOP members did not attend.

The mayor's race has also seen its share of barbs flying back and forth.

"It's the nastiest campaign I've seen in 25 years," according to San Diego political consultant John Dadian, who is not affiliated with any of the four candidates. He said many of the claims by the candidates have had to be retracted or "smoothed over," with the campaigns "shooting from the hip."

However, he said the City Council result is probably more important for the city's balance of power than the mayor's race.

"No matter who is in the mayor's office, the council is a check and balance," Dadian said. "If they are in the same party, there is no check and balance."

Gridlock could be the result if the mayor and City Council are aligned with different parties, he said.

Democrats hold a citywide registration advantage of 40 percent to 27 percent over Republicans, with about 28 percent declining to state, according to the most recent figures from the county Registrar of Voters.

In Lightner's District 1, Democrats lead by almost 3,000 registered voters out of more than 79,000.

Historically, however, Republicans have been able to overcome the registration disadvantage in San Diego and get elected to citywide office. San Diego voters haven't chosen a Democrat for mayor since Maureen O'Connor in 1988.

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