On Thursday, a highly contentious battle for the San Diego City Council Presidency ended with Councilwoman Jen Campbell edging out Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe by a 5-4 vote, despite most public testimony favoring Steppe.
The Council’s decision marks the second big transition of power in San Diego this year following former Assemblyman Todd Gloria being elected Mayor and replacing now-former Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
The decision over the City Council President went on for over seven hours on Thursday. Steppe, an early favorite, had noted her successes in bringing more civilian oversight over the San Diego Police Department and, as a black woman, in keeping racial calm in the city, especially during the George Floyd protests earlier this year.
“We are looking at a city where in my community, parents cannot allow their children to to bike down the road because they don’t want them to get hurt or slamming into a pothole,” said Councilwoman Steppe on Thursday. “All I want to do is ensure that San Diego is the same for all of us.
“The work I’ve done in this area really, I think, allows me to lead on this issue as council president. The people closest to the pain are the ones that are going to help us resolve the issues we have in our city.”
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Campbell touted her two years putting forth everything for the city and championing solutions to some of the city’s biggest problems. In particular, she stressed her actions and views on racial justice in the city.
“My entire vision as council president is predicated on making sure that each one of our nine council districts can succeed in improving their communities while advancing the goals of our city at the same time,” noted Campbell. “I have always fought my whole life, with passion, for civil rights and equality, and I will make sure to continue on this road here in San Diego. I am devoted to equality for all people.”
However, over 300 members of the public hailed Steppe as their choice noting that, despite both councilwomen being Democrats, she was more in touch with the minorities of the city and would be a better advocate for them in the city. Many also noted that Steppe had the support of the Democrat Party and most major political groups.
“We’re facing a reckoning with our country’s history of racial injustice,” said Councilwoman Vivian Moreno in support of Steppe on Thursday. “It will take intentional policy reform to right these wrongs. Equity will not happen by itself.”
Campbell elected Council President, strength in other issues carried her victory over Steppe
Despite the overwhelming support, Campbell had a fair amount of support as well, with supporters touting her closeness to the city. After a long debate, it was finally decided by a 5-4 vote that Campbell would be the new Council President.
Many prominent Democrats quickly called this decision into question, saying that special-interest groups and unions had specifically fought for Campbell to be Council President.
“None of this matters because of powerful special interests have locked up this decision behind closed doors, and I’m left feeling powerless,” explained San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy on Friday.
However, many analysts noted that the election was fair and that Campbell had a lot of support that wasn’t as vocal.
“Jen Campbell’s supporters are more quiet in their support, which is why it seemed like a surprise to many,” explained San Diego-area political analyst Maria Castillo to the Globe. “Steppe was just seen as the winner because of all the racial strife that happened earlier this year, and people thought her election was a foregone conclusion. But the Council went with experience and someone who has proven they can help run a city over someone with significantly less experience and had been playing on recent political trends to win.
“And this is what a lot of people don’t understand. There were a lot of factors other than racial justice in play. That was just the one people focused on. When it came down to the nitty-gritty, as in helping run a city, a lot of different issues need to be looked at. Steppe may have been better in racial justice, but Campbell was stronger in a lot more areas, including working with other parties, which is really important in a city like San Diego.”
Campbell replaces outgoing Council President Georgette Gomez, who decided to forgo another Council run in favor of a House run in the 53rd district this year, which she lost to fellow Democrat Sara Jacobs 60% to 40%.
Campbell, a former Doctor from Pittsburgh, is expected to be Council President until at least 2022.