Voters in San Diego's eastern neighborhoods are facing a stark contrast in the June primary, where two progressive Democrats are challenging incumbent City Councilman Scott Sherman, a conservative Republican.
The race is one of two council contests that will determine whether Democrats maintain their slim 5-4 majority on the council.
If Republican Ray Ellis wins the District 1 seat now held by termed-out Democrat Sherri Lightner, Republicans will take control unless Sherman loses to one of his Democratic opponents - Justin DeCesare or Jose Caballero.
Incumbents rarely lose in San Diego council races and Sherman had a dominating fundraising lead in contribution disclosures filed this winter, with more than $230,000 compared to DeCesare at $39,000 and Caballero at $19,000.
But Sherman avoided a November runoff by less than 60 votes in June 2012, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 26,429 to 23,124 in District 7, which includes Allied Gardens, Linda Vista, Mission Valley, Serra Mesa, Tierrasanta, San Carlos, Del Cerro and Grantville.
DeCesare, who spent the last two years as chairman of the Tierrasanta Community Planning Group, said he's confident Sherman will fall short of the votes he needs on June 7 to eclipse 50 percent and avoid a runoff.
He said his confidence stems from Republicans focusing more on the seat in 2012 because it was open, Sherman was an unknown, and they didn't have this year's crucial District 1 race to worry about.
But DeCesare, who's been endorsed by the county Democratic Party and environmental groups, said a bigger factor may be the especially high turnout expected this June because of the presidential primaries.
"The big difference between 2012 and this year is we have an open presidential seat with a big battle on both sides," he said. "Turnout will probably be exponentially higher than it was last time, which should theoretically help me because higher turnout is typically driven by Democrats."
Sherman said he faced three other opponents in 2012 instead of two, making a runoff less likely this time, and he didn't have a strong record of success four years ago.
"I'm a known commodity and people should vote for me if they like the way things have been going and they want more of the same," he said. "We've paved more than 100 miles of road in District 7, improved public safety and added hours at recreation centers and libraries."
Sherman, who lives in Allied Gardens, said he's also proud of his work as chairman of the council's Audit Committee, where he's helped reform personnel, code enforcement and other city departments.
DeCesare has criticized Sherman for not focusing enough on neighborhood concerns, specifically mentioning a dog park and senior center renovations that Tierrasanta has lobbied for.
"As soon as requests like that go to City Hall they get thrown on the back burner," he said. "They may not be big-ticket items that get politicians in the news, but they're very important and what we need to focus on."
Sherman said such criticism is surprising.
"I think that's kind of opposite of what our reputation is down here," Sherman said. "I'm proud of the ‘how may I help you' attitude my office has in the community."
He said examples of community projects he helped foster are a $3 million skate park in Linda Vista and new sports lighting in Tierrasanta.
DeCesare has also criticized Sherman for accepting large campaign contributions from developers, noting that Sherman hasn't voted against a single development project since taking office. Some of the projects Sherman has supported have been hastily approved without proper analysis, DeCesare said.
"The goal can't just be getting it up right now," he said. "With Grantville we need to make sure the development fits well with transit, unlike places like Civita in Mission Valley that is on the north side of Friars Road and just creates more congestion."
Sherman said he wants to restrict development to Grantville and Mission Valley so District 7's more suburban neighborhoods can retain their character.
Caballero, who lives in Del Cerro, said fewer intense developments would be needed to solve San Diego's housing crisis if the city enacted rent stabilization, which would help families avoid spiking rents that can force them to move.
"I'm not saying we can't raise rents, but we need to put a cap on how quickly they go up," said Caballero, who last year became the first local political candidate to endorse Bernie Sanders.
Another issue in the race is a June ballot measure that would incrementally raise San Diego's minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. DeCesare and Caballero support the hike and state legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, while Sherman opposes both. Caballero said he'd like the state to set aside some additional sales tax revenue created by increased wages to subsidize small businesses struggling to adjust to the hikes.
DeCesare and Caballero also oppose any public subsidies for a new Chargers stadium. Sherman criticized the downtown project the team proposed this week, but he supported a city plan last summer that included $350 million in taxpayer contributions.
"We're losing about $10 million a year on Qualcomm (Stadium) as it stands, so I thought why not repurpose that money over the next 30 years and put it into a new amenity for the citizens and a stadium for the Chargers," he said.
Sherman, 53, owns an insurance business. DeCesare, 33, is a real estate agent. Caballero, 30, is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in political management.
district 7Incumbents rarely lose in S.D.