Voters will decide who will replace Nathan Fletcher as supervisor

After hours of public testimony calling for a special election to replace Fletcher, the Board of Supervisors decided to call a vote, with a primary slated for August.


Voters will choose who will succeed Nathan Fletcher, the Board of Supervisors decided unanimously Tuesday, May 2, responding to scores of speakers who overwhelmingly urged them to put the matter to a vote during an impassioned, hourslong public hearing.

The special election will determine who will represent the nearly 700,000 people in District 4, a seat that has been in limbo since Fletcher took medical leave in March amid accusations of sexual misconduct. He said days later that he would resign effective May 15.

The board had the option to hold a special election, appoint a replacement, or appoint an interim supervisor until an election takes place.

After more than two hours of public comment from 85 speakers, most of whom called for a vote on the matter, the board voted to hold a primary election on Aug. 15, with a potential runoff on Nov. 7 if no candidate wins a majority in the primary.

“I don’t think four people should be making a decision about who should be on the board, especially when we have three and a half years to go,” Chair Nora Vargas said.

Supervisors acknowledged that each of the options posed problems, particularly given the timing of the decision.

Staging an election will cost up to $5.2 million, according to county staff, and could leave the district without a representative through the end of the year and during the upcoming budget process, which starts this week.

But the length of time that remains in Fletcher’s term and the disturbance his abrupt departure has caused made it hard to justify appointing a replacement, supervisors said.

In late March, days after ending his state Senate campaign and announcing he was taking medical leave for post-traumatic stress and alcohol abuse, Fletcher was accused in a lawsuit of sexual assault and harassment, and announced he would resign this month.

Grecia Figueroa, a former communications staffer with the Metropolitan Transit System, said Fletcher, then the agency’s board chair, had stalked her on social media, sent suggestive text messages and kissed and groped her several times. She was fired early this year in what she believes was retaliation.

In Fletcher’s absence, the board is split between two Democrats, Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer, and two Republicans, Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond.

Lawson-Remer had said previously that she would prefer to appoint a replacement. On Tuesday she voted for a special election but said she worries about turnout.

“Democracy requires that we go to the polls and we hear from voters,” Lawson-Remer said. “But I’m very concerned about an election in the summer, in an off-cycle year, when we could have 10 to 15 percent of voters. That is not representation, either.”

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Michael Vu, who previously served as registrar of voters, said state and federal law require extensive communication with voters, including groups with typically low turnout and those who speak languages other than English.

Supervisors will consider whether additional voter outreach is needed at their next regular meeting May 23, Vargas said.

Crystal Irving, president of SEIU Local 221, which represents county workers, said the union and its members advocated an appointment, which they said would restore representation sooner.

But most public speakers said voters in the district should choose who replaces Fletcher.

“Our district deserves an elected leader who will represent us and be truly accountable for their actions,” one speaker said. “With the shocking departure of our former supervisor, the least we deserve is an election.”

Others suggested that an appointment would serve political interest groups more than residents.

“If a special election is not held, what concessions will be made to get a consensus for an appointment?” another asked. “Democracy does not come, or should not come, with a price tag.”

Democratic San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe, who announced plans last week to run for the seat, said negotiations over an appointment could leave voters without a say in the process.

She agreed that leaving the seat open for four to seven months during an election would be difficult, but she said it would be more problematic to fill it without calling a vote.

“When we play the political insider games, then the people are often left out of the decision-making process,” she said.

Veterans’ advocate Janessa Goldbeck, the other Democratic candidate seeking the seat, said in a statement that she was “fired up that the voters’ voices will be the ones to set a new direction for county government.”

Republican Amy Reichert, who unsuccessfully challenged Fletcher in the general election last year, previously expressed interest in running or applying for the open position, but said Tuesday that the board’s decision to hold an election sealed the deal for her.

“District 4 has spoken,” Reichert said. “Democrats and Republicans alike have come together and said they want a special election. Our San Diego Board of Supervisors heard them loud and clear, so game on. It’s a special election. And yes, I’m running.”