“Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, critics say, is old school, a stereotypically brash small-town mayor. His GOP creds have been challenged by his attempts to block a 99-cent store from coming to Escondido and his acceptance of union support during his 2014 re-election campaign.”
— Thomas K. Arnold
The race for the District 3 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is heating up, with just a month until the June 7 primary determining which two of three contenders square off in November.
Incumbent Dave Roberts, a Democrat whose first term has been marred by allegations that he mistreated staffers, costing taxpayers a $310,000 settlement, is being challenged by two Republicans. All three filed papers in March and are busy raising money for a race in which spending is expected to top $1.5 million, observers say.
Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar represents the new face of the party, a moderate who in her brief tenure as the city’s first elected mayor has shown her ability to work with a fractious council and steer them toward consensus. She’s the sole Republican in a family of Democrats, and both as mayor and as a member of the city council since 2010 has shown her practical Republican colors as an advocate of moderate rhetoric and fiscal restraint.
The other, Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, represents the established network of the county GOP. The county Republican Party has given Abed its official endorsement, riling some members who feel the party should have stayed neutral until after the primary.
Both contenders are seeking to snatch the seat that Roberts, a former Solana Beach Councilman, snagged four years ago.
The Board of Supervisors is officially nonpartisan, but Roberts is the board’s sole Democrat. He was pegged by the GOP as vulnerable after the scandal broke.
District 3 includes Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo and Solana Beach, as well as a large expanse of northern San Diego, including parts of Carmel Valley, Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch and Rancho Penasquitos.
Abed’s strategy has been to walk door to door and personally ask for votes. Since June 2015, when he announced his candidacy, Abed said he’s walked “nearly 15,000 homes in District 3, the equivalent of 426 miles. It’s the best formula to win elections – and to lose weight.” Abed also has been touting his endorsements, which include the Latino American Political Association, the Escondido Firefighters and Police Officers associations, and the county GOP.
Gaspar has been focused on working the phones and stressing her bipartisan approach — and appeal. She points out her record of avoiding partisan politics and her focus on listening to the people of Encinitas whom she represents. “This is about service, and it’s service at its finest,” she told a group of supporters at an April 14 fundraiser in Encinitas.
Gaspar also has a long list of endorsements, including the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce; San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; the Encinitas Firefighters Association; the Lincoln Club, a pro-business political group; and Jerry Sanders, San Diego’s former mayor.
As for Roberts, he’s done his best to campaign as if there were no scandal or costly settlement – talking up his record and pursuing photo ops, often while distributing money from his $2 million community grants fund. During an April 21 candidates’ forum he refused to say who’s paying the $310,000 settlement, telling moderator Logan Jenkins, “ask the county counsel.”
Abed immediately piped up, “I can tell you who’s paying — the county taxpayers.”
The three also have been busy raising money in what observers predict will be one of the most expensive supervisorial races ever.
Gaspar raised the most money in the campaign’s initial reporting record, the last six months of 2015. She collected $105,134 in campaign contributions, county records show, to Abed’s $76,195 and Roberts’ $73,780. But Abed began the year with the heftiest war chest, with $244,290 in cash, an amount that includes $85,000 in personal loans as well as transfers from his last mayoral campaign. Roberts, too, had previously loaned his campaign $75,000.
The three candidates also have participated in a number of forums and debates where Abed routinely blasts Roberts as being “disqualified” from holding public office because of his alleged mistreatment of staff members, which resulted in the filing of three formal claims.
Roberts denies the charges, but his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors nevertheless voted to settle the suits for $310,000.
On April 18, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said that after a year-long probe, her office would not file criminal charges against Roberts.
Abed, meanwhile, also has had the squeaky clean image he seeks to portray tarnished by several stumbles. He built a parking lot on land he owns without getting a permit, which would have required him to install a pricey stormwater treatment system. He linked the city’s website to his official campaign website. And he passes out a two-sided business card with “mayor” on one side and “Pacific West Consulting, Real Estate Development, Sam Abed, President,” on the other. The real estate development side also lists mayorsamabed.com as one of its websites.
Thomas K. Arnold is a veteran San Diego journalist who throughout the 80s and 90s wrote for the San Diego County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Reader and San Diego Magazine. He has won numerous awards from the San Diego Press Club and the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Arnold is currently publisher and editorial director of Home Media Magazine, a weekly trade publication serving the $20 billion home entertainment industry. He is a former City of Carlsbad planning commissioner, editorial editor and editorial writer for U-T San Diego, and columnist for U-T San Diego and the North County Times.