REGION — The first of a potential two-round political battle reaches the midway point Tuesday in the race for the District 3 seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
Incumbent Dave Roberts, a Democrat, takes on challengers Sam Abed, mayor of Escondido, and Kristin Gaspar, mayor of Encinitas, both Republicans in the primary. The supervisor seat, however, is a nonpartisan office.
Abed and Gaspar have taken Roberts to task for an office scandal and county policy violations, which cost the county $310,000 last year to settle. Roberts’ lack of an explanation gave Abed and Gaspar their opening to challenge the incumbent, the pair said.
The two challengers have hammered home the allegations made by three former staffers in Roberts’ office as they hope to upend Roberts Tuesday. Abed and Gaspar’s attacks on Roberts’ integrity and trust has been a driving force in each campaign.
Roberts, however, said his efforts on the campaign trail have produced positive feedback from voters, who he feels have moved on from the scandal.
“From my vantage point, I have seen the negative campaign by both my opponents has gotten traction,” he said. “My audiences are very supportive of my four years of work, and they want me to continue solving problems that matter. They don’t want to talk about a short time period where I had personnel issues.”
Roberts said his opponents have yet to challenge his record in office because his efforts have produced results from mental health facilities, opposing landfills next to rivers and overdevelopment, and the county becoming one of a handful in the country to have a triple-A rating from all three credit agencies for the past four years.
His financial acumen, Roberts said, is yet another strongpoint for the incumbent.
“In 2013, the county for the first time, got a triple-A bond rating,” Roberts said. “That is my strength. My strong fiscal background, working in the Pentagon on the airport budget, creating the Tri-Care Military Health Care System, which has a strong fiscal component to it.
“I haven’t heard from either of my opponents one thing they want to do. All they seem to do is want to talk about is personnel issues from over a year ago. From what I’m hearing from my constituents, is they are voting on the issues.”
Roberts, though, said the attacks on him are down from his first campaign running for supervisor four years ago (12 negative mailers in 2012 to eight this cycle). In addition, he was surprised at Abed and Gaspar’s attacks on each other, as both have traded barbs over Abed’s parking lot and Gaspar’s claim of being an educator opposed to a volunteer.
Nevertheless, Roberts said his record and experience, which also includes being appointed as a health policy advisor for the administrations of presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, is what set him apart.
But to survive the race means questions and consistent claims of a lack of integrity for Roberts. He stressed the matter is behind him, took responsibility and said he cannot discuss the matter in greater detail as it is a confidential personnel issue.
Abed said he was the first to call for Roberts’ explanation, and when none was provided, he announced his candidacy last summer. Gaspar followed in the fall and both quickly began taking shots at Roberts’ credibility and integrity.
As mayor of the largest city in the district, Abed said he doesn’t want a “corrupt” supervisor to represent his city, so he decided to join the race.
“We have a different political philosophy and I didn’t have an issue with that, until story after story, scandal after scandal came out,” Abed said. “It was really a shock. It reminded me of (former San Diego mayor) Bob Filner. Dave Roberts just ignored it and think he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Gaspar echoed Abed’s sentiments.
“My expectation is that elected officials should be held to the highest standard of ethics and integrity,” she said. “It is disappointing how he managed his office.”
The challengers, meanwhile, have said little about Roberts’ record on the issues up to date.
Abed stressed he is the most qualified candidate heading into Tuesday’s primary and November’s general election.
He said Roberts’ lack of trust with the voters coupled with his crossover appeal to independents and democrats make him the strongest choice. In addition, Abed said his experience on the board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), is another star on his record.
“None of my opponents have the experience on the SANDAG board,” Abed said. “That is a $1.4 billion budget. This position is very important. You are talking about the fourth largest county in the nation. I’ve dealt with billions of dollars in budgets and I think the voters will clearly see, bottom line, is I have one opponent (Roberts) who doesn’t have any integrity and the other opponent (Gaspar), who is shady on integrity doesn’t have the experience. I wouldn’t have said that about Gaspar until she sent those lies (in political mailers).”
However, Gaspar has also chided Abed for his explanation of a controversial parking lot, which he said was targeted by the state for a lack of storm water mitigation. Abed said the matter was drummed up by a political rival during his mayoral re-election campaign in 2014, and after the city said his lot met the requirements, paid $75,000 to pave the lot to kill any speculation of wrongdoing.
In addition, Gaspar has repeatedly questioned Abed’s role in the recovery of Escondido, the district’s largest city. She said the city’s financial health, which has seen four consecutive years of surpluses, is based more on the recovery of the economy than any policies or direction implemented by Abed.
Regarding his parking lot, Abed stressed he was in compliance with the law and gained the necessary city approvals.
“The Union Tribune … misled the public and it was media hype,” Abed said, referring to a Jan. 24 article.
The lot was already “semi-paved” with crushed concrete when Abed went to the city to determine if it needed to be fully paved. The city came back to the mayor saying that it was in compliance with their standards.
“My opponent in the mayor’s election went to the (state) water board,” Abed said. “We are not friends with the water board on a policy level because they are overreaching and putting a burden on affordability of housing. As a citizen, I would have fought with that because it’s a judgment call. I didn’t want to deal with it so I paid $75,000 to do (it). It was done ethically.”
Abed said his record consists of improving the bond rating to AA-, attracted nearly 1,000 new businesses to the city plus the jobs associated with those businesses, created an $8 million surplus, brought about $1 billion in investments and lowered the crime rate by 22 percent in 2014.
“This has been a major turnaround for the city of Escondido,” he added. “Some people tell me it’s a historic turnaround. I think that’s why I will be elected to the county and nobody has that kind of record.
“Encinitas is a dysfunctional city politically because they are dealing with the wrong issues. Banning plastic bags and Styrofoam cups. There are more important issues such as affordable housing and public safety.”
Abed also referred to Gaspar’s stance of being an educator instead of volunteering at schools. In addition, the accusations of her mailers against Abed have struck a nerve.
“This is just all lies,” he said. “I understand she is desperate and I have never accused anybody of those kind of things. The people know I am leading in this race and we are responding with the facts. I’m the only candidate with experience, integrity and leadership.”
Gaspar, who has positioned herself as a political moderate in the race, said she is proud of her record of fiscal conservatism and prioritization of public safety and infrastructure improvement, issues that she said cross over into the third district.
“I think public safety and infrastructure are universal issues that have no partisan slant,” Gaspar said. “In Encinitas, we have been able to balance our budgets and grow a surplus as we have emerged from the recession, and my priorities have always been to keep our constituents safe and to make sure they have more than adequate infrastructure.”
Encinitas has been able to maintain some of the best paved roads in the county, and Gaspar said she fought on the council to make fully funding road and infrastructure maintenance the council’s funding priority.
In the voting minority, however, she has lost some of those battles, but Gaspar said that Encinitas has come a long way from previous councils, where voting majorities and minorities often publicly clashed at meetings.
“I am proud to have restored a level of professionalism that didn’t exist, and that we are operating as a cohesive group,” Gaspar said. “That is something important at the county level as well.”
Gaspar, however, did not back down from her criticism of Abed, calling herself the only candidate without a track record of scandal.
“We talk about the need to restore integrity and ethics. Both have incredible flaws in the areas of ethics and integrity,” she said. “Both have a track record of participating in scandals and they have presented huge bills for the taxpayers to cover. In the case of Abed, there are documented cases of him thinking that the rules don’t apply to him.”
Should Roberts advance to the general election, he said the noise surrounding the scandal will continue, but noted how Abed and Gaspar have gone after each other.
“Kristin has been harping Sam on raising taxes 100 times,” Roberts explained. “I think if anybody looked at Kristin’s record, she’s raised taxes as many times because it’s what city council’s do to make sure that their resources keep up with their service level commitment. It’s just odd to see that going on in this race.”