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Has San Diego Councilwoman Myrtle Cole become an underdog in her re-election bid?
Why this matters
San Diego City Council incumbents almost always win re-election. None has lost since the early 1990s. So when one has a close primary, it could signal voters have concerns about the incumbent.
She barely came in first in last week’s primary, capturing about 200 more votes than Monica Montgomery, who finished second in a four-person contest to represent the southeastern San Diego council district.
Other numbers that show a less-than-enthusiastic embrace of Cole: Almost 61 percent of the people who voted in the primary supported someone other than Cole. Montgomery also won 28 of the district’s precincts, just five shy of Cole’s total.
That’s all despite Cole having a commanding money advantage over Montgomery and the backing of the San Diego County Democratic Party, which spent about $37,600 supporting the councilwoman.
Cole has raised almost $127,000 for her re-election, more than three times the roughly $38,700 Montgomery has raised. The incumbent also heads into the November general election with more than $45,200 available to spend compared to less than $5,000 for Montgomery.
“It is what it is,” Cole said on Wednesday. She added that the general election will be different but declined to comment further.
Montgomery, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said she’s undaunted by her fundraising gap with Cole.
“You need money to move forward, but money is not going to win this campaign and money can’t buy a movement,” she said.
Comments Cole made two years ago at a City Council meeting about racial profiling of blacks angered some of her constituents and led to Montgomery quitting as a policy adviser for the councilwoman.
“There’s more black-on-black shootings in our nation than ever before,” said Cole, who is black and a former police officer. “Blacks are shooting blacks. So who do (the police) stop? They’re not going to stop a white male. They’re not going to stop a Hispanic male or Asian. They’re going to stop an African-American. That’s who they’re going to stop, because those are the ones (who are) shooting.”
Cole later apologized for her comments amid calls for her resignation.
“I left the office the day that she said that black people deserve to be profiled because black people commit all the crimes,” Montgomery said.
She said that was the “last straw” for her and made her realize it was time for new leadership in Cole’s district.
“Most of the people in District 4, as we can clearly see from June 5th, agree with me that we need better leadership,” Montgomery said.
Brian Pollard, who lost to Cole in a special election in 2013 when she first won her seat, said he has remained neutral in this year’s election but sees Cole having trouble.
“That momentum has changed, and now she is the underdog,” said Pollard, who runs the nonprofit Urban Collaborative Project, which works in Cole’s district.
He said the close primary results might encourage some people who were skittish about backing a Cole challenger to start campaigning for Montgomery.
Mapping the vote
After the June 5 primary, inewsource analyzed a precinct-level voting map of Cole’s district, which includes the communities of Oak Park, Encanto and Paradise Hills. The district is predominantly minority, including 40 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian and 15 percent African-American.
The voting map shows Montgomery was particularly strong in the western part of the district, winning precincts in Lincoln Park and Chollas View. Montgomery said the results match where her campaign focused its efforts.
Cole did best in the central and northern parts of the district, winning precincts in Oak Park and parts of Skyline.
In a potential sign of her strength, Montgomery collected 50 percent or more of the vote in five precincts that had more than two voters. Cole did the same only once.
A third candidate, Republican Tony Villafranca, collected 17 percent of the vote and tied in two precincts. Villafranca, who said he raised no money for the campaign, intends to be active in the November election.
“What I’ll be doing is identifying which one of the two candidates most dearly shares not just my value system but the program, the direction, that I would be looking for, and also my followers would be looking for, the community to go in,” he said.
In her first council victory, Cole replaced Councilman Tony Young, who resigned to head the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross. Montgomery and Villafranca were among the nine candidates in that election, and came in last and second to last, respectively.
Cole won an easy re-election in 2014 and is serving her second year as council president, a position the City Council votes on annually. If she wins in November, it would be her last four-year stint because of term limits.
If she loses, it would be the first time an incumbent lost re-election in the southeastern San Diego council district since 1991.
We’ll let you know when big things happen.