Recall campaign gaining momentum against District 2’s Campbell, the new San Diego City Council president

Jennifer Campbell

Opponents call Jennifer Campbell a bad leader; supporters say she is a bold progressive tackling big issues.


San Diego City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell is facing a recall campaign that has gained significant momentum since she was elected council president in a narrow 5-4 vote of her colleagues.

Leaders of the campaign say they’ve been flooded with donations and offers to volunteer from across the city since the Dec. 10 vote. Campbell’s critics say she is controlled by labor unions and business leaders.

The campaign has become credible enough to prompt an anti-recall coalition that has hired some of San Diego’s most experienced public relations and election strategists to help keep Campbell in office.

Recall supporters say Campbell, who was elected in 2018 to represent coastal council District 2, has poor leadership skills, ignores the concerns of her constituents and will be a tool for special interests at City Hall.

District 2 includes Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Midway District, Mission Beach, Clairemont and Linda Vista. Campbell, 75, lives in the Bay Ho section of Clairemont.

Jennifer Campbell is vowing to fight for social equity and root out racism in the pivotal post.

Those supporting the recall include environmental groups, advocates for aggressive vacation rental regulations and leaders of most of the community groups in District 2.

The anti-recall campaign says Campbell, a Democrat, has been a strong advocate for progressive issues and a good leader who is willing to tackle controversial issues and look out for the whole city, not just a vocal minority.

They also say a recall would be a divisive and unwarranted distraction at a time when the city is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, a budget crisis and several other key issues.

Those opposed also say the effort is undemocratic because signature gathering and other bureaucratic requirements would delay a recall election until next fall, roughly six months before Campbell must run for re-election to the council in the June 2022 primary.

Recall supporters say they plan to take the first step in mid-January by filing a notice of intent. They would then have 120 days to collect signatures from 15 percent of voters in Campbell’s district, and then the City Council would schedule a special election within six months.

That election would include two decisions for voters: should Campbell be recalled, and who should replace her if she is recalled. No candidates to replace Campbell have emerged so far.

Cathie Jolley, a Crown Point resident and longtime community leader, said recent vacation rental legislation sponsored by Campbell galvanized the recall effort, which was mostly quiet and less organized before that.

Jolley said the legislation, which would allow such rentals with new restrictions, was written by the travel industry and ignores the concerns of neighborhoods most affected.

“She doesn’t listen to her constituents,” said Jolley, adding that Campbell declined to discuss the legislation with residents before proposing it. “I challenge you to find any community in District 2 that is sympathetic to her.”

Venus Molina, Campbell’s chief of staff, said Campbell is a bold leader because she took on the thorny issue of vacation rentals, which San Diego has struggled unsuccessfully for years to regulate.

“This legislation is a true compromise because everyone is unhappy and no one is getting what they truly want,” Molina said.

Campbell also led a successful effort to lift the city’s 30-foot coastal height limit in the Midway District surrounding the sports arena. Voters in November lifted the height limit by approving Measure E.

Molina said criticisms that Campbell is unresponsive to constituents are true only in the case of the anti-vacation rental group Save San Diego Neighborhoods.

“We haven’t been responsive to them,” Molina said. “They send us hate emails. And they are rude and disrespectful to our staff.”

Supporters of the recall say their concerns go beyond vacation rentals.

“She supported Measure E even though a majority of residents on the peninsula were against it,” said Mandy Havlik, a member of the Peninsula Community Planning Board on Point Loma.

“Campbell claims to be an environmentalist but voted against the rewilding of Mission Bay despite overwhelming support by local groups,” Havlik said. “Finally, we question the ethics of our council member that she is pushing through initiatives that will radically change the city of San Diego for decades to come during a pandemic when a majority of San Diego residents are unable to participate in the political process.”

Cathy Kenton, leader of the Midway Community Planning Group, said Campbell has demonstrated leadership by tackling tough issues.

“She stands up for what she believes in and she listens to the community,” Kenton said.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Bry, who lost the mayoral election to Todd Gloria in November, recently endorsed the recall effort because she says Campbell is controlled by special interests, including unions and business leaders.

The former mayoral candidate says she will remain active in politics, public policy and business.

She said the people leading the recall campaign are respected in the community, while the slick anti-recall campaign taking shape shows that special interests want to keep Campbell in office because they know they can control her.

Political consultant Dan Rottenstreich, who is part of the anti-recall effort, said the campaign will be “broad-based” because the recall is disruptive and dangerous for the city.

He also called Bry’s special-interests allegation a conspiracy theory and said those supporting the recall are a vocal minority trying to oust a gay woman who is a progressive Democrat focused on solving the city’s most pressing problems.

“This is really about a small group of people who are frustrated they can’t get their way,” Rottenstreich said.