It's not uncommon for a roster of participants in a debate for elected office to include a representative for one of the candidates. Last October, when a previous engagement prevented Nathan Fletcher from attending a forum for mayoral candidates hosted by the Ocean Beach Town Council, he sent his campaign communications director in his stead to joust with the other hopefuls.
So it was no surprise when a Town Council press release last week listed campaign manager Sara Kamiab to represent San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf in a March 26 forum for candidates vying for the council's District 2 position.
What did come as a surprise was the paucity of Kamiab's participation. Though offered an opening statement of three minutes, Kamiab's comments lasted less than 60 seconds — the entirety of which was devoted to explaining why Zapf had declined to show up in person.
After her terse remarks, Kamiab quickly exited the Point Loma Masonic Lodge, and the forum continued with a lineup of Sarah Boot, Jim Morrison, Mark Schwartz and Kamiab's empty chair, her name still taped to the back rest.
Kamiab struck a tone that took on a hint of defiance when explaining that Zapf several months ago had committed to speak at the Taste of Mira Mesa, an event that raised money for Mira Mesa High school.
“Mira Mesa High school is the third-largest high school in her district, serving over 2,500 students,” Kamiab said. “Because she is dedicated to serving the community she represents as a current city council member, this was her first priority.”
She characterized Zapf's decision as leadership over politics. “When elected to represent District 2, you can count on the fact that helping local schools and supporting her constituents will be her top priority regardless of whether or not she's campaigning,” Kamiab said.
“We attempted to work together to schedule the debate on a later date that would work for all the candidates, but the date had already been set for today,” she said.
Asked after the meeting for clarification, Town Council President Gretchen Kinney Newsom called Kamiab's explanation “a little disingenuous.”
Newsom said she invited all candidates by email nearly six weeks in advance of the March meeting and asked for a response by March 7. She hadn't heard back yet when she encountered Zapf February 22 at a spaghetti dinner hosted by the Peninsula Lions, where Newsom repeated the invitation in person. Zapf said she thought she had a conflict, Newsom said.
Newsom followed up with an email to Zapf's campaign consultant offering to host the debate at the Town Council's following meeting, April 23 (the council meets every fourth Wednesday) but stressed she would still need a response by March 7. The deadline passed by the time Kamiab emailed Newsom, offering “to work out a date,” on March 8.
The forum consisted of seven questions from the audience, in which candidates sounded off on subjects like pension reform, climate change planning, and education. In the final question, posed by board member Dave Cieslak, all three candidates underscored their support for same-sex marriage — one of their few areas of agreement — and noted Zapf's reported remarks characterizing homosexuality as a sin.
Zapf, who currently represents District 6 on the council, is giving up that seat because redrawn district boundaries approved last year now place her Bay Ho residence in District 2.