There is only one candidate in the District 9 City Council race still campaigning but the seat is far from won.
Candidate Kelvin Barrios suspended his campaign on Sept. 28 after a series of media reports about his use of racial slurs on social media years ago, missing income on financial disclosures, misusing funds and the week-long overlap between his work at City Hall and for LIUNA Local 89. There is also the possibility he is under criminal investigation for some of this financial mismanagement, although he has already paid over $4,000 in fines for mishandling donations to two political committees.
Still, Barrios told the San Diego Union-Tribune last week that even though he suspended his campaign, he would accept the seat if the voters decided to elect him over opponent Sean Elo-Rivera.
Before the latest round of allegations, Barrios came into the race with a strong lead. In the primary, Barrios garnered over 2,500 more votes than Elo-Rivera. Despite suspending the campaign, Barrios’ name will still be on the ballot. Elo-Rivera’s win is not a guarantee.
The decision to suspend the campaign came after some prominent supporters pulled their endorsement of Barrios. The candidate had already been less present on the campaign trail. He did not attend a handful of community forums leading up to the Monday announcement.
Some of those events were cancelled, while in others Elo-Rivera faced questions alone. One of the meetings where Elo-Rivera faced tough questions was the El Cerrito Community Council on Sept. 17. Initially meant to be a face-off between the two candidates, Elo-Rivera was cross-examined alone.
Elo-Rivera opened on a positive note.
“San Diego has everything we need to be a truly, truly world-class city... I want us to take the next step,” he said.
His background in conflict resolution and mediation as a lawyer was evident. After being asked a question, he would often state first where he hoped people could find common ground. In questions about the movement to defund police, he pivoted to his support of bipartisan solutions like having mental health professionals and social workers responding to certain emergency calls instead of police officers with little specialty training. While even this proposal received some pushback from members of the Zoom discussion, it kept Elo-Rivera from answering the much more thorny question of whether he would cut San Diego Police Department’s budget. Elo-Rivera said the budget was too complicated with too many factors to make any definitive promises while saying public safety will look different in every neighborhood.
His desire to find middle ground made him frustratingly elusive on some questions. It was not until the conversation turned to housing and homelessness when Elo-Rivera proved he could forcefully hold a position despite disagreement.
“I don’t think the way to solve this is through pure tough love,” Elo-Rivera said in regards to homeless people struggling with addiction.
Elo-Rivera launched into a story about his own mother’s struggle with alcoholism. Homelessness is a personal issue for him because he sees each unsheltered person as someone’s parent or sibling or child. Elo-Rivera’s strong support of adding housing earned him the endorsement of YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County along with two conservation groups.
Throughout the meeting, Elo-Rivera stressed his honesty and integrity without mentioning Barrios by name until the end. Notably, he faced tough questions instead of avoiding the forum entirely.
Voters like those on the El Cerrito Community Council will have to decide whether to cast their ballots for someone they disagree with but who engaged with them, or someone who has not been on the campaign trail for the final weeks of the election.
—Contributing editor Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.