First District candidates reflect on run


In the aftermath of the June 2008 primary election, the winning and losing candidates from District 1 talked about the ups and downs of the election experience.

A jubilant-but-tired Sherri Lightner, the top vote-getter in District 1, who will now face runner-up challenger Phil Thalheimer in November, gave credit for her success to “strong, bipartisan grass-roots support.”

“It’s a testament to the power of the people,” she said. “We hope to prove it again in November.”

Will Lightner do anything differently in the November run-off than she did for the June primary?

“I’m not going to have any more money than I had before,” she noted. “We’re going to be walking precincts, talking to people, going to as many meetings as we can possibly line up.”

Lightner estimated $90,000 has been spent on her campaign since it started.

“It has been an unbelievable and somewhat humbling learning experience,” she said of the run, “to see how much people have come out to help me as volunteers. It was my first debate, my first for a lot of things.”

Detailing her platform for City Council, Lightner said: “I know what things are wrong. I will be very interested in hearing what the neighborhoods have to say. We need to go forward with a plan for the future. We need to have a future in San Diego.”

Lightner’s opponent in November, Thalheimer, who ran unsuccessfully four years ago against termed-out incumbent Scott Peters, said the primary turned out as projected, with him finishing second but within striking distance of top seed Lightner, a La Jolla Shores resident.

Thalheimer said he got into more of a groove campaigning the second time around. “I love walking, I love going door-to-door, meeting people and talking to them,” he said. He added that you never quite know what to expect when you rap on a stranger’s door and it opens. For him, not knowing if you’d be thrilled - or chilled - was a big part of the attraction of running for office.

Thalheimer also talked about the disincentives of running for public office. “What’s frightening,” he added, “is there is a real tangible distrust of politics and politicians out there.”

Thalheimer gave one example of an individual who greeted him at the door and said of politicians, “You’re all corrupt, you all should be in jail.” How did Thalheimer react? “I just quietly backed away and said, ‘Thank you,’ ” he said.

“You never really know what you’re going to be asked,” Thalheimer added, “I find that tremendously exciting.”

He said his sense is that “people want to know their councilmember, want them standing in front of them answering questions.”

Odd man out this time around in the First District Council race was Marshall Merrifield, a Carmel Valley resident who got approximately 30 percent of the vote; 33 percent went to Thalheimer and 36 percent to Lightner.

Merrifield said he felt, in part, that he was a victim of bad timing, as turnout for the event, typically low for elections this time of year, was especially poor.

“With 28 percent turnout, it was really hard to get a measure for the electorate,” he said. “With such a low-turnout situation, you really have very special groups whose voices are larger, and those groups have more power. Things might have been different in District 1 if turnout were more like the 35 percent of previous primaries.”

Merrifield said poll numbers indicated he enjoyed a broad-base of support across a wide range of voter categories. Despite failing to prevail, Merrifield concluded, “I fought the good fight and it was my privilege to get to know the really wonderful people in District 1. We’re very lucky in District 1 to have such a diverse and well-educated electorate.”

Asked if he had any message to leave with the voters of District 1, Merrifield replied: “Exercise their right to vote.”

Merrifield has run twice now for public office. The first time he ran unsuccessfully for the Del Mar School Board. Will he consider a third try? “I will definitely be involved in civic affairs,” he said. “I’m not sure now how, where and when that will be.”