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DeMaio sends mixed message on District 1 council race

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Councilman and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio in a debate last week outlined a role in his administration for the San Diego City Council’s District 1 incumbent, Democrat Sherri Lightner.

The only problem is his longstanding endorsement of her Republican challenger, Ray Ellis.

But the seemingly mixed message is nothing more than a miscommunication, according to a consultant for the campaigns of both Ellis and DeMaio.

The issue arose when DeMaio was asked how he’d ensure the city had an adequate and cost-effective water supply under his leadership.

He praised Lightner, “who’s laid out a very thoughtful proposal on how to look at new ways of securing water supplies,” he said.

He also commended Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, a Republican ally who has endorsed his mayoral campaign, for representing San Diego’s interests before the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“Both of these councilmembers in my administration will take the point on policy, working together to advance our water program,” DeMaio said.

There’s a fundamental contradiction between Lightner having a role in DeMaio’s administration and who the mayoral candidate hopes will represent the La Jolla area on the City Council.

Stephen Puetz, campaign consultant for both Ellis and DeMaio, said he spoke to DeMaio about the comment and was told it referred to what’s left of 2012, rather than in DeMaio’s mayoral administration, even though DeMaio specifically used the words “in my administration” during the debate.

“He was talking about this year,” Puetz said. “He’s a strong supporter of (Ellis). He expects (Ellis) will be in his council. He said he meant that this year, Lightner and Zapf had been working on that issue, and he with them. But next year he is supporting Ray Ellis in District 1, looking forward to working with him on a number of issues, particularly the implementation of Proposition B.”

Representatives for Lightner emailed the following statement from the councilwoman.

"I'm pleased that Councilmember DeMaio has recognized my leadership on this important issue," it read. "I look forward to continuing my work to ensure San Diego has an affordable and sustainable water supply."

Approaching the primary, the San Diego Republican Party included Ellis as a central figure on its so-called “reform ticket,” along with Councilmen-elects Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey, DeMaio, and Propositions A and B.

Lightner was elected with support of local labor unions but has since run afoul of the powerful San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and finished in second place to Ellis in the primary, setting up a November runoff.

DeMaio’s mayoral opponent, Rep. Bob Filner, said the primary issue driving high water rates in the city is the extortionist pricing structure of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“They raise the rates to subsidize their own people, their own citizens there, and charge us extortionist rates,” Filner said. “That’s a political and legal fight that we’re engaged in. … I will take on that fight in a much more public fashion, in terms of making sure L.A. doesn’t keep on imposing these extortionist rates on us.”

DeMaio referred to the Ratepayers’ Bill of Rights released earlier in his campaign, calling for a “portfolio-based approach” to suppressing rates. Streamlining project structures for water pipes and sewage trucks, managed competition, pension reform, incentivizing conservation, and diversifying sources by utilizing salination work together to address the issue, he said.

He also said the city should look at indirect potable reuse, or treated wastewater. Throughout the campaign, DeMaio has nodded at recycled water without fully committing to the idea, which is opposed by some as unsanitary.

Previously, DeMaio said he’d pursue the idea if the science is shown to be sound.

Filner said indirect potable reuse has been shown to be safe.

“We ought to do that and we ought not to be scared away from the toilet-to-tap kind of demagoguery,” he said. “Let’s say showers to flowers.”

This article was originally published before representatives for Lightner responded to an opportunity for comment.

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