If Democrats hope to win the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 4 seat, Ron Roberts says they’ll have to wait until he resigns.
“It would take my resigning for someone to beat me,” the 16-year board vet said. “I have enormous friendships not just in this district, but throughout the entire city.”
Despite the Supe’s claim, there’s a line of challengers up to the fight, including four Democrats: Sheila Jackson, trustee for the San Diego Unified School District; Margaret Moody, a retired San Diego school teacher; Juan del Rio, housing and foreclosure counselor for the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista; and Stephen Whitburn, communications manager for the American Red Cross’ San Diego blood services division.
Roberts – who served two terms on the San Diego City Council before beating Peter Navarro in 1994 in the Supes race – says voters want a leader with a track record of accomplishments. But politicos say the primary challenge for Democrats is money.
What will it take to beat Roberts?
Roberts is running a well-funded campaign, said campaign strategist Tom Shepard, who has run campaigns for all five members of the Board of Supervisors. Roberts has more than $100,000 in cash on hand with fewer than 90 days left before the primaries. Shepard noted the supervisors’ districts are large, and reaching voters in large districts is a challenge, creating high campaign costs.
Opponents will have to scurry to raise funds during tough economic times, but Shepard said that after eyeing the candidates who have filed to run, he’s not convinced any have a track record that suggests they’ll be able to raise a significant amount of money in just three months.
Some say Roberts and other incumbents have an unfair advantage, leaving many calling for term limits.
Jess Durfee, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, accused the supervisors of using the $2 million Neighborhood Reinvestment Program to buy support for their re-elections. He says the process of distributing NRP funds is corrupt and that organizations that receive funding are punished if they oppose supervisors when they’re up for re-election.
Roberts denied any wrongdoing. He said many community groups and nonprofit organizations have benefited from NRP funds, that anyone can apply and that the process is fair, transparent and subject to full board approval.
Roberts also said that despite the fact the supervisors are all Republicans, they are very different leaders with different perspectives.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to find a way to work together with people,” said Roberts. “What really matters is that you get the job done.”
Roberts’ challengers say there needs to be more diversity among the board, particularly because the five-member board has such wide-reaching influence.
The board of supervisors serves as the executive and lawmaking branches of county government and is in charge of public works projects including the county road system.
It oversees an operating budget of $5 billion, and provides services to more than 3 million county residents. It oversees health and welfare programs, social services, court and law enforcement and jails.
A candidate for supervisor that garners more than 50 percent of the ballot in June is automatically elected. If no candidate does so, then the top two vote-getters move to a runoff election held in November.
In June, San Diegans will vote on a ballot measure to impose a two-term limit on supervisors. If approved, the measure would not stop incumbents from running again, but would limit them to eight more years on the board.
‘At least one Democrat’
Whitburn, the past president of the San Diego Democratic Club who lost a District 3 City Council bid to Todd Gloria in 2008, said there are more Democrats than Republicans in Roberts’ district.
According to a county official, more than 620,000 residents live within San Diego County District 4, which stretches nearly 100 miles from University City on the north, Paradise Hills on the south, the College Area on the east and Clairemont on the west.
Because incumbency is so strong, Whitburn says Democrats have not been represented there for more than 15 years.
The candidate spent about $150,000 of his own money on his failed City Council bid, but says he’ll rely solely on campaign contributions from supporters for his Supe run. Whitburn says the board has not adequately prioritized social services for the needy, and the environment. He says board diversity is much needed.
“I believe that there should be at least one Democrat on the County Board of Supervisors,” said Whitburn, who has been endorsed by popular local Dems, including San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye (who was a favorite of local Democrats to run for the seat), former deputy mayor Toni Atkins and state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). “I’m eager to be that voice.”
del Rio agreed that the board does not represents San Diego’s diverse communities. The Latino activist, who works on behalf of low- to moderate-income San Diegans, has never held an elected position.
He says the board of supervisors is out of touch with the people and the issues. del Rio criticized the board on its record of dealing with people affected by the financial crisis, homelessness, foreclosures and the difficulty of trying to obtain food stamps.
He hasn’t raised money for his campaign, and said generating funds will be difficult. He said he intends to run a grassroots effort in the spirit of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’m not trying to out-collect anyone,” he said. “I’m trying to talk about the issues.”
Moody says she just wants to shake up the board.
The retired school teacher says despite running, she doesn’t expect to win. She said she will not be campaigning or fundraising. Moody used $1,400 from her personal savings account to pay the filing fees.
“I don’t think Roberts is bad,” she said. “He just doesn’t have any new ideas.”
At 75, Moody hopes to encourage elected officials to embrace new ways of thinking. Moody said she is not a proponent of term limits, but said she will be voting for a term-limit measure in the upcoming election in hopes of forcing Ron Roberts out of office.
Jackson did not respond to repeated attempts for an interview. According to the County Registrar, Jackson has raised only $3,210 for her campaign.
The San Diego County Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate, but Durfee is hoping a Democrat is elected to Roberts’ seat.
“All we need is one person coming from a completely different point of view,” Durfee said. “This is our opportunity for change and we don’t want to let this one pass us by.”
Manny Lopez is an SDNN contributing writer.