ESCONDIDO — The numbers are in and the real estate industry has been crowned the kingmaker thus far in the first half of 2018 for the mayoral race in Escondido for the incumbent candidate, Republican Party Mayor Sam Abed.
According to campaign finance figures obtained by The Coast News from the Escondido City Clerk’s Office, Abed has received more than $30,000 in donations from that industry. That figure totals about half the entire war chest for his opponent, Democratic Party candidate Paul McNamara. The money has come from a range of industry players, from trailer park developers, business campus creators and higher-scale home development real estate companies.
Roughly two and a half months prior to the looming Nov. 6 elections, Abed leads his opponent Paul McNamara $187,093 to $61,356 in fundraising. This is a fact that Abed’s campaign director, John Franklin, boasted of in a press release disseminated via email by the campaign titled, “Mayor Sam Abed Leads Opponent by 3-1 in Funds Raised. 10-1 in Available Funds in Escondido’s Mayoral Race.”
“The strong financial support my campaign has received is another clear indication that Escondido residents and businesses endorse my leadership, and want me to continue to take Escondido in a positive direction,” Abed stated in the press release. “I am honored by the overwhelming support I continue to receive from our community, and I am passionate about continuing to serve the great people of Escondido.”
Franklin said the campaign money infusion symbolizes broader community support for Abed and his policy agenda.
“This huge cash advantage means Abed is well positioned to reach voters and decisively win his re-election,” wrote Franklin, who is a member of Vista’s City Council while simultaneously running a political consulting firm named Pacific Political Inc. “It demonstrates that the community clearly wants Abed to continue to lead Escondido and build on his successful record of financial stability, improved public safety, neighborhood improvement and economic prosperity.”
Though he has been out-fundraised by a multiple of three, McNamara has also taken a handful of bigger donations himself. Those have come from individuals such as Roy Garrett, an Escondido-based lawyer who gave a $1,500 donation, $4,100 from a self-described homemaker in San Marcos named Kacy Williams, and $2,300 from a Poway-based homemaker named Mary Vivanco.
McNamara’s campaign director, Nina Deerfield, described the three to The Coast News as a combination of an old friend of McNamara, a local professor and her husband and a friend of hers. None of them, she says, are real estate developers.
In 2013, the Escondido City Council voted to increase the maximum donation to the $4,100 amount, up from $540. It’s a move that’s come under criticism by McNamara.
“Unfortunately, since our Abed led city council raised the donation limits from $540 to $4300 per donor which is over 8X the city of San Diego limit and 16X the San Marcos limit, it makes our city open to undue influence from developers and outside interests,” the McNamara campaign said in a press release to which it referred The Coast News. “In effect we are for sale.”
Top real estate industry donors to Abed have included businesses such as Western Manufactured Housing Communities, Carefree Ranch Mobile Home Project, Sudberry Properties and Integral Communities. Of the top givers, Integral Communities was the biggest, clocking in at over $14,000 given to Abed from the companies’ various executives, including $4,100 — the maximum allowed donation — from Managing Partner Craig Manchester.
The Encinitas-based Integral Communities purchased the Palomar Health hospital location, situated in downtown Escondido, for $18 million in February. It will be converted into a mega apartment complex, one with more than 500 units envisioned. The company also is developing the Gateway Grand condominium complex, which will have 126 units. The two facilities are located on each end of downtown Escondido’s Grand Avenue, which Abed previously told The Coast News fits within the city’s downtown revitalization plans for the future.
“It’s going to double the number of housing in the downtown area,” Abed said at the time in February 2018. “We told the hospital we want to have the highest and best use. They are very appreciated that Integral Communities is going to do the project.”
San Diego State University Professor Brian Adams says that he believes the campaign cash flooding into Abed’s campaign from the real estate industry means that a political faction — in this case the real estate industry — is simply putting money into a candidate it thinks “is likely to win” as an investment for the future, of sorts, “because no one wants to bet on a losing horse.”
“Most incumbent raise money from a wide range of groups, so they have very broad fundraising coalitions,” said Adams. “Real estate is usually a large part of those coalitions, but not necessarily dominant. I don’t think the amount of money a candidate raises is really an indication of community support, but it’s really more of an indication over their chances of actually winning the race.”
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at email@example.com.