by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
L to R: Dwayne Crenshaw, Myrtle Cole, Tony Villafranca
The predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality were unable to agree on a candidate to endorse in the March 26 special election in San Diego City Council District 4. At the club’s January 31 meeting, three of the nine candidates — Dwayne Crenshaw, Myrtle Cole and Tony Villafranca — appeared to seek the club’s endorsement. But the main battle was between Crenshaw and Cole, both African-Americans with long histories of involvement in community politics both inside and outside the district. The club deadlocked between them and ultimately voted to rate both candidates acceptable, a level of support below endorsement the club can use if it finds there is more than one candidate who supports Queer equality, women’s reproductive choice and the club’s other key issues.
Both Crenshaw and Cole scored 100 percent on the club’s issues questionnaire. Villafranca scored 98 percent; the only issue on which he differed was his support for school vouchers. With all three candidates on board with the club’s key issues, the questions asked of the candidates and the club members’ debate afterwards turned on issues like breadth of support, electability, endorsements and the candidates’ personal histories.
Cole, a former police officer and currently representative of the United Domestic Workers (UDW), a branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) that represents in-home caregivers for seniors and disabled people in San Diego County, is pursuing a classic “inside” strategy. She worked on the campaigns of San Diego’s first two openly Queer elected officials, City Councilmembers Christine Kehoe and Toni Atkins, as well as the two immediately preceding District 4 Councilmembers, the late Charles Lewis and Tony Young. (Lewis died in office and Young’s recent resignation to become president of the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross triggered the March 26 election.)
Cole touted a list of high-powered endorsers including Kehoe, Atkins, current District 8 Councilmember David Alvarez, former San Diego County Democratic Party chair (and former San Diego Democrats for Equality president) Jess Durfee, openly Gay San Diego Unified School District board member Kevin Beiser, San Diego-Imperial Counties Central Labor Council head Lorena Gonzalez and longtime club activist (and former club president) Gloria Johnson.
Though he came in with a slicker and more elaborate leaflet than Cole’s, Crenshaw presented himself as an “outsider” candidate. While Cole’s opening statement stressed her record of working with previous Councilmembers, Crenshaw’s stressed his ties to the Queer community and his status as one of San Diego’s few prominent African-Americans who is also openly Gay. He reminded the club members that he had briefly served as the club’s treasurer and that his current job, from which he’s taking a leave of absence to run for office, is executive director of San Diego LGBT (Queer) Pride.
Some of the questions for the candidates dealt with substantive issues, including what they’d done to fight Proposition 8, the November 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriages in California. “In 2008 I worked with Ryan Hurd and Jess Durfee, and we opened the Obama Unity Office in a community that voted 70 percent for Obama and 70 percent for Proposition 8,” Crenshaw said. “I stood up against Proposition 8 and made phone calls at 301 University,” the local headquarters of the No on 8 campaign.
“In 2008 I was working hard for health care providers,” said Cole. “That’s a seven-day-a-week job.”
“I was not involved in Proposition 8,” said Villafranca. “I had my own personal issues. I had groups of friends who would enlighten me.” Though Villafranca endorsed the club’s positions on both marriage equality and reproductive choice in the questionnaire, he said he’d had to do “a lot of soul-searching” to get to that point.
Asked whether they would support reproductive choice in general and Planned Parenthood funding in particular, Cole said, “I would not want anybody in my community to tell me what I can do with my body.”
“I have been supported by Planned Parenthood in the past,” said Crenshaw. “I support Planned Parenthood personally, and when I was the grants director at the Jacobs Center we made grants to Planned Parenthood. I’m a lifelong member of Planned Parenthood, and I want to ask Myrtle [Cole] if she talks this way to all communities in the district.”
Though there was at least one other substantive question on an issue — rent control, which Cole and Villafranca said they supported and Crenshaw said he opposed — most of the remaining audience queries concerned issues like whether the candidates had supported openly Gay candidates for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Crenshaw said he “walked and wrote checks for” both former club president Stephen Whitburn’s failed campaign against Ron Roberts in 2010 and Dave Roberts’ win for an open seat in 2012. Cole said she personally supported Dave Roberts even though her union endorsed his Republican opponent, Steve Danon.
Other issues that came up included Crenshaw’s multiple runs for elective office — including two prior campaigns for the District 4 Council seat — and Cole’s residency. Though the City Council districts were redrawn in 2011, a quirk of the city’s charter requires the special election for Young’s seat to be held in the old district boundaries. When the vacancy occurred Cole was living within the new District 4 boundaries but not the old ones, and she had to move in order to be eligible to run. She’s been called a “carpetbagger” for doing this, though her supporters in the club pointed to other local candidates who’ve had to move — including current District 3 Councilmember Todd Gloria, who had to relocate for his re-election when his former home in City Heights, where he’d been living when he first ran, got moved out of the district in 2011.
Asked how they planned to win the race, Crenshaw said he had “run strong” in District 4 — even though he lost his two previous tries for the seat. “In 2004 we won the absentee vote and we lost on election day by 107 votes,” he said. “In my race for the Community College Board I won District 4. A poll released today has me first, with 24 percent of the vote. The next runner-up has 15 percent.”
“You win if you walk,” said Cole in answer to the same question. “I’m walking door to door, and I’ll have 100 people this Saturday walking with me.”
The club was so closely divided on the race that even the motion to make an endorsement at all — which is usually unanimous, or nearly so — was opposed by about one-fourth of the members present. On the first ballot, Crenshaw received 32 votes out of 61 cast, to 26 for Cole, none for Villafranca, and three for no endorsement — 7.5 percentage points short of the 60 percent threshold the club’s rules require for endorsement.
Under the club’s rules, Cole was dropped from the second ballot because she got the fewest number of votes of any candidate who got any votes, and Crenshaw got 27 votes to 23 for no endorsement — once again winning a majority (54 percent) but falling short of the 60 percent threshold. The final motion to rate both candidates acceptable passed by voice vote with only one in opposition.
In a far less controversial vote, the club also overwhelmingly endorsed California State Assemblymember Ben Hueso in the March 12 special election to fill the State Senate seat Juan Vargas vacated when he was elected to Congress last November. The vote for Hueso was 50 to seven for his Democratic opponent, author and activist Anna Nevenic, and five for no endorsement.