Effort to recall Jen Campbell fails to get enough signatures

San Diego City Council member Jennifer Campbell appears at a meeting on August 6, 2019 in San Diego, California.
San Diego City Councilmember Jennifer Campbell appears at a meeting on August 6, 2019 in San Diego, California.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The recall campaign against San Diego Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell is over, because organizers fell several thousand signatures short of the number needed to force a special election that could have removed her from office.

Organizers blamed their failure on the difficulty of gathering signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as competition from signature-gathering efforts in other political races and Campbell’s relatively low name recognition among voters.

Various recall campaigns underway elsewhere in the region could struggle with similar hurdles. A recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom has gathered enough signatures, but the verification process for those signatures hasn’t started.

Supporters of the recall against Campbell, who represents the city’s District 2 beach communities, say they will shift their focus to her 2022 re-election campaign.

“We remain as committed as ever to seeing D2 represented by someone who genuinely cares about residents,” the recall campaign said in a statement. “The next round in that battle will be decided in November 2022, and we are already gearing up.”

Campbell’s anti-recall campaign said the failure of the recall effort is a repudiation of divisive politics.

“In rejecting this recall, San Diegans have shown once again that they want leaders focused on bringing people together to get things done, not more divisive politics tearing communities apart,” said Dan Rottenstreich, Campbell’s consultant.

He said the recall effort should never have happened.

“This recall was unwarranted and unnecessary, reckless and ridiculous, desperate and divisive – and San Diegans were too smart to fall for it,” he said.

“Dr. Jen Campbell pledged to put her unique medical experience to work protecting our health and safety when she was elected in 2018. That’s what she did throughout the pandemic and that’s what she’ll continue to do as we work together to recover from COVID and rebuild our economy.”

Campbell, a retired physician, is president of the council.

Recall supporters said they launched their effort because Campbell has been losing the trust of constituents by damaging quality of life, breaking promises and holding closed-door meetings with special interests, particularly vacation rental companies.

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

They said Campbell’s support from labor unions and business groups makes it crucial to start working now to defeat her in 2022.

“Because we’re up against an establishment candidate backed by deep-pocketed special interests, starting our preparations now is essential for success in the next election cycle,” organizers said.

The campaign said it gathered more than 10,000 signatures, but that is well short of the 14,421 signatures required. The 14,421 number is based on 15 percent of the 96,140 voters registered in District 2 on the date of the most recent general election, which was Nov. 3.

The deadline to submit that many signatures was Wednesday.

While the campaign was only about 4,000 signatures short, the gap is a bit wider in practical terms.

Campaigns typically try to gather several thousand extra signatures because many signatures get invalidated for various reasons, primarily because signers are not registered voters or they are registered elsewhere.

The signature effort, which included volunteers and some paid gatherers, began in late February — three weeks after the campaign filed a notice of intention on Feb. 3, and shortly after Campbell filed an official response Feb. 17.

In addition to the recently approved vacation rental legislation Campbell spearheaded, she has been criticized for supporting a successful 2020 ballot measure that lifted the height limit for buildings near the sports arena.

While city voters approved the measure in November at a rate of more than 56 percent, precinct reports show a majority of voters in District 2 opposed it.

The anti-recall campaign said 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.

Campbell ousted Republican incumbent Lorie Zapf in a 2018 runoff by nearly 9,000 votes, receiving just under 58 percent of the votes.

District 2 includes a sliver of western Clairemont in addition to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Point Loma and the Midway District around the sports arena.

Campbell, 75, lives in the Bay Ho section of Clairemont.