Kristin Gaspar elected County Supervisor as Roberts concedes

Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar at Golden Hall on Election Day.
(Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Supervisor Dave Roberts conceded to Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar Monday, ending his effort for a second term and bringing a new face to county board of supervisors for just the second time in two decades.

Gaspar’s victory, coming nearly three weeks after Election Day, will remove the lone Democrat from the five-member board that oversees a sweeping array of regional land-use, social welfare and public safety agencies.

In her campaign, she offered herself as a more ethical alternative to Roberts, who last year became mired in a workplace scandal that resulted in payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars to three of his former staffers.

At the same time, she zeroed in on issues that have become staples of local politics.

“I ran on a platform of fiscal accountability, support for public safety, and addressing our inadequate mental health programs and exploding homeless crisis,” Gaspar said in a statement Monday afternoon. “There will be a lot of change at the County in the next four years and I’m looking forward to getting to work on those issues and make a difference for our taxpayers.”

Roberts personally contacted Gaspar on Nov. 28 to concede.

“I called Kristin to congratulate her and offer my sincere help in transitioning the office to her between now and early January when she takes office,” Roberts said in an email to supporters.

Gaspar was down 2,200 votes shortly after polls closed on Nov. 8, but as late returns and provisional ballots were counted, she took the lead on Nov. 18 and gradually widened her margin. As of Nov. 28, she was ahead with 50.27 percent of the vote to Roberts’s 49.73 percent, a 1,232 vote gap.

There weren’t any signs that Roberts would recover as more ballots were counted, said Gary Gartner, the incumbent’s campaign strategist.

“We gained five votes (one day recently) for the first time in a week,” he said.

The race seemed to turn forever in Gaspar’s favor during Thanksgiving week, Gaspar’s campaign manager, Jason Roe said.

“We realized that the trends were going the right way. We were still a little concerned about how the provisionals might break outside of the absentees. We certainly knew by (Nov. 25), if not by (Nov. 23) that it was a settled race,” Roe said.

It seemed that there were a lot of conservative voters who were distrustful of the Postal Service and decided to personally return their mail-in ballot at a precinct, causing an unusually high number of late votes that were not counted until well after polls closed, Roe said. Many conservative voters also decided to write-in a candidate for president, and it takes the registrar a longer time to process their ballot, he said.

These factors gave Gaspar the support she needed for a win well after election day, Roe said.

“We felt optimistic knowing what we knew, but it’s what you don’t know,” he said.

Gaspar’s win means that Republicans have a monopoly on the board of supervisors in a county where Democrats have a substantial plurality. As of the beginning of November, 36.9 percent of registered voters were Democrats, while 30.3 percent were Republicans. Another 27.7 percent did not belong to a political party.

Term limits will force two supervisors, Ron Roberts and Bill Horn, out of office in two years. Incumbents Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox were both re-elected in the June primary and will be termed out after 2020. Gaspar, should she win re-election, would then be the board’s senior member.

Roberts became the first new supervisor in 20 years after Republican Pam Slater-Price decided to not run for re-election. He and his staff said they made a major effort to attend as many neighborhood meetings, ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings and other ceremonies as possible in order to listen to the community and build a positive relationship.

But Roberts was rocked by a scandal last year that became campaign fodder for his opponents in the primary and general elections, not to mention a costly transgression for county government.

Over three weeks, four women who worked for Roberts abruptly resigned and accused their boss of misusing county resources for his personal and political gain, and for having an overly-friendly relationship with one of his staffers. Three of the women filed formal complaints against Roberts and supervisors approved $310,000 worth of settlements.

As the election approached, Roberts said he had brought stability back to his office and his staff was diligently serving his constituents. He said was collaborating with his colleagues on the board to help the county run efficiently and serve the needs of its most vulnerable populations.

The 3rd Supervisorial District includes northern San Diego up the coast to Encinitas, and encompasses Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Scripps Ranch, Carmel Mountain, Tierrasanta and other areas.

Campaign finance reports show that as of Oct. 22, Roberts had raised $634,444 in his re-election effort, while Gaspar had raised $584,024. While the challenger’s campaign trailed in fundraising, her efforts were boosted by two independent expenditure committees supported by the business-oriented Lincoln Club and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce that raised a combined $785,450. Developers contributed heavily to their efforts.

Roberts finished first in the June primary with 38.7 percent of the vote to Gaspar’s 34.34 percent. Escondido Mayor Sam Abed received 26.89 percent.

Ahead of the general election, Roberts also went on the attack. As he portrayed himself as a collaborative member of the board with endorsements from both major political parties, he cast his opponent as divisive. While his ability to work with other supervisors and broker practical solutions for the county’s problems resulted in the board voting unanimously nearly all the time, Gaspar couldn’t reach across the aisle, as evident on split votes on the Encinitas City Council, Roberts said.

County government is responsible for numerous services, but land-use policy is often one of its most contentious issues. It’s also where the two candidates most clearly differed.

Roberts said amendments to the General Plan, which guides new development in unincorporated areas, should meet a tough standard that considers the needs of the impacted communities. Gaspar said the county would be remiss if it turned down proposed developments if they don’t fit the general plan. Deviations, however, should mitigate impacts to neighborhoods, she said.

In the wake of last year’s scandal, Roberts lost contributions and endorsements. His legislative record also lost him some support as well.

The Service Employees International Union Local 221 said that Roberts’ re-election campaign didn’t get labor’s full backing because he was too much like his colleagues on the board.

“For organized labor and the progressive community, it proved challenging to garner resources and volunteers for someone who sang the same tune as the rest of the old guard Supervisors,” union political director David Lagstein said in a statement.

SEIU supported Roberts in 2012 because they believed he would get the county to spend more money “investing in San Diego families” but he “rarely voted or even spoke against the majority” of supervisors when community members tried to get more spending on services.

Roberts’ campaign disagreed with the union’s assessment.

“He fought to provide the first pay raise and health benefits in 6 years to In Home Support Service workers and expanded the mental health services budget to over $500.8 million to provide to those most in need,” the campaign said in a statement.

Gaspar will be sworn in on Jan. 2.

— Joshua Stewart writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune