Money can’t buy love, and it apparently can’t buy political office in San Diego either.
That was the message many took from last week’s San Diego mayoral primary, which resulted in a strong first-place finish for county Supervisor Ron Roberts over a field of 11 other candidates, including a million-dollar-plus campaign waged by former banker Peter Q. Davis.
At presstime last week, following a count of outstanding absentee ballots, Judge Dick Murphy surged ahead of Davis by 175 votes, giving him the apparent right to face Roberts in the November general election. A final vote count on March 13 will determine the second place finisher, said assistant registrar Sally McPherson.
Roberts said the margin of his first-place finish, more than 10 percentage points (26 percent to Davis’ 16 percent), surprised even him.
It certainly shocked political analysts who assumed Davis, the front-runner in most polls for much of the race, would win the primary and Roberts would take second.
“I think everybody was surprised that Ron came in first,” said Ann Shanahan-Walsh, a San Diego consultant who was not working for any of the mayoral candidates.
To get his name and message out to voters, Davis spent more than $1.2 million on his campaign, all of it his own money except for about $75,000. Nearly all of that money was spent on television ads that began running in November.
While Roberts often criticized Davis’ purported attempt to “buy the election,” it was Roberts’ higher name recognition, and better political organization that made the difference in his taking first place, Shanahan-Walsh said.
“Ron has run for office so many times before that his name identification played a part in getting the amount of votes that he did,” Shanahan-Walsh said.
Machine In Motion
Plus, Roberts could count on a well-oiled political organization to get out the vote, while Davis showed little evidence of any campaign beyond his television ads, she said.
MaryAnn Pintar, Davis’ press secretary, said the campaign had a core group of about 100 volunteers.
Responding to Roberts’ charge of Davis’ record-breaking spending, Pintar said, “You cannot buy an election, but special interests can buy a mayor.”
Roberts’ extensive backing by the building and development community, some $2.5 million over the years, makes him beholden to that group, said Pintar, a former press secretary to Mayor Susan Golding.
But Davis may not get the chance to level those charges if Murphy or possibly fourth-place challenger Councilwoman Barbara Warden overtakes Davis in the final ballot count, expected to be completed by March 13.
Murphy’s surprising finish was attributed to a better volunteer organization (he said he had about 1,000 volunteers), and the turnout of conservative voters in the primary, Shanahan-Walsh said.
Unlike the majority of candidates, Murphy supported both Propositions 21 and 22, both of which were approved by large margins. The former increases the penalties for juveniles involved with gang-related crimes. The latter prohibits the state from recognizing gay marriages.
“Those issues showed I was a law-and-order, more traditional candidate,” said Murphy, a Superior Court judge who has presided over many criminal trials in the past decade.
Warden and the other two sitting council members running to succeed Golding were probably hurt by the continuous negative messages during the campaign about the council’s performance, said David Johnson, Warden’s press secretary.
Warden, who will reach her term limit in her 5th District at the end of this year, finished with 15 percent of the vote. The other two council members, George Stevens and Byron Wear, finished with 10 percent and 9 percent of the mayoral vote, respectively.
In numerous public appearances and in his ads, Roberts hammered at several key issues he said resonated with voters: the Chargers ticket guarantee; the expenditure of millions of dollars on a plan to convert sewage water to drinking water (“toilet-to-tap”); and the internal problems with the city’s water department.
“San Diego has a chance to be the most successful, incredible city in the country, and there are a lot of positive things going on in our city. But there is mismanagement at City Hall,” he said.
In comparison, while he has been on the county Board of Supervisors since 1994, the county has been a model of efficiency and financial stability after nearly falling into bankruptcy, Roberts said.
He helped turn things around at the county, and he can do the same at the city if elected, Roberts said.
In the four other City Council races, there was no outright winner taking a majority, setting up runoff elections for the seats in November.
In the 1st District, which includes La Jolla, Carmel Valley and University City, Linda Davis, a hospital executive and former nurse, took first place with 33 percent of the vote. Second place was still uncertain with attorney Scott Peters and businesswoman Lisa Ross separated by about 1 percent of the counted votes.
In the 3rd District, which includes Hillcrest, Normal Heights and Kensington, Toni Atkins, an aide to Councilwoman Chris Kehoe, tallied the most votes to runner-up John Hartley, a former councilman and substitute teacher.
In the 5th District, which includes Sorrento Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch, attorney Brian Maienschein took first with 35 percent, while council aide Tom Cleary took second with 27 percent.
In the 7th District, which includes Del Cerro, the College Area and Tierrasanta, the top vote-getter was Jim Madaffer, chief of staff to Councilwoman Judy McCarty. His opponent in the general election will be Deanna Spehn, a policy analyst for Golding.
All three county supervisors up for election this year won their seats outright by garnering more than 50 percent and precluding a November runoff.
Supervisor Greg Cox was unopposed. Supervisor Dianne Jacob beat La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid, 62 percent to 24 percent. Supervisor Pam Slater beat Solana Beach Mayor Marion Dodson, 62 percent to 23 percent.