The San Diego City Council's rendition of musical (high-back, swivel) chairs is almost over. Thanks to redistricting and the need to carve out a new ninth district seat — which dramatically changed some districts — it's been quite the adventure for some incumbent council members.
District 3 Council member Todd Gloria had to move. That's because the newly drawn D-3 didn't include the neighborhood where he lived, City Heights.
Marti Emerald, who lives in the College area, was drawn out of District 7 — which she represented — and into the new District 9. So she ran for that seat.
Sherri Lighter? She got lucky. She represents District 1, and her La Jolla home was not drawn from the district. So she didn't have to call U-Haul or knock on any new doors.
All three won election in 2012 in the newly drawn districts. (Gloria ran unopposed, from a Hillcrest attic apartment he scurried to find, no less.)
In that year, the odd numbered council seats were up for election. This year, it's the even numbered ones — Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8.
Lorie Zapf, who currently represents District 6, was drawn out of that district and into District 2, which is comprised of mostly coastal neighborhoods. So she's running for that seat, meaning she's in a similar position as to what Emerald faced.
David Alvarez, like Lightner, was not drawn from his district, the city's 8th. So that's good news for him, again bad news for U-Haul.
The other council seats had been vacated, and newcomers sought them in 2012 and are now seeking them in this year's election. The primary is slated for June 3. In races where no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote-getters will face off in the November election.
So, by the end of the year, the dust will finally have settled. However, it's been stormy and emotional ride for a few. Gloria had a strong connection to City Heights and had lobbied for it to remain in D-3.
"I have terrific neighbors who have become friends over the years that I will miss very much," Gloria told the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, at the time. "I will also miss being able to tell people that I live on the same street that my mom grew up on — a true story that has helped illustrate the deep roots I have in our community.”
Making matters even more complicated was that Gloria's condominium was underwater — he owed more than it was worth — so he couldn't sell it.
But Gloria did get some benefits, acquiring high-profile downtown as part of his new district.
And since this is politics, naturally politics came into play at times.
Emerald, for instance, told the Voice of San Diego that she was no carpetbagger and didn't purposely move into District 9 to run. The new D-7, because of demographics, had turned dicey for Democrats. (Indeed, it was Republican Scott Sherman who won D-7 in 2012.) Emerald said she had moved to the College area shortly after her husband's death and before the new lines were drawn.
Also, the D-9 seat was drawn to give it a Latino majority to increase the chance for a Hispanic to gain a second seat on the council. (District 8 is the other Latino district.) Activist Mateo Camarillo stepped forward to run, noting his frustration that no Latino candidate was challenging Emerald, who is white.
However, less than 25 percent of the district Hispanics are registered to vote. Emerald easily won, thanks in part to white support from neighborhoods such as Talmadge and Kensington. Her previous four years on the council also gave her name recognition, so the power of incumbency was not severely weakened, political experts said.
And her bonus? She gets to run for the seat again. Council members can't run after two serving terms, but she's in a new seat. So that means she could be on the council for a total of 12 years.
Redistricting is done every 10 years to create a population balance among the districts. But a new district was needed because the city had moved to a strong-mayor form of government and it takes a two-thirds vote to over-ride a mayoral veto under that system. Six votes shoot it down.
Even though the three council members running in 2012 faced new boundaries, they were still in good positions to win, noted Carl Luna, a professor of political science at San Diego Mesa College.
"For Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner the redistricting was a smaller hurdle to clear because they are riding the growing Democrat/independent — who break more blue than red — wave,” he said. “Had they had intra-party challengers of note they might have had a harder time but, as incumbents, they were more immune to such internal partisan challenge.”
Democrats will continue to hold a majority of council, he said, but the question is how much so. Districts 2 and 6 are in play, he noted. Zapf, a Republican, may have something of problem with D-2, he said, because she's facing a strong challenger in Democrat Sarah Boot.
"Lori Zapf would have had in easier road in her old district where she would have been the incumbent,” he said.
Republican Kevin Faulconer, San Diego's current mayor, twice won the D-2 seat, but the new district is “more competitive and Sarah Boot, with her U.S. Attorney credentials, offers a strong resume to pick up both law-and-order types and women voters,” he said.
The result depends on turnout, he said. Off-year elections normally favor Republicans because their base has a greater tendency to vote. However, if Boot wins, look for D-2 to remain Democrat for years to come, he added.
District 4, the city's historically African-American district, is up for grabs again this year. A special election was held last year because former seat holder Tony Young resigned. Myrtle Cole won and is running again this year.
Another race with buzz is for District 6, which Zapf used to hold and is now wide open. That's caused the biggest rush of candidates, five in all. This district was drawn to give an advantage for an Asian Pacific Islander candidate. More than 30 percent of the district is of that descent, and four of the five candidates are Asian Pacific Islander. It's expected to be close.
And then that's it — until 2016, that is. But at least no incumbent will have to move …