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Re-elected Emerald pledges help for newcomers

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

Marti Emerald

SAN DIEGO –City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, as a result of her decisive victory with over 72 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, is in an enviable position.   She doesn’t have to worry about a runoff–she won outright. She doesn’t have to wait until December to assume office–she’s already there.  It’s as if  her second term has already started — with an extra five months tacked on at the beginning of it.

Emerald has a big, soft heart that extends itself to newcomers .She has plans to mentor for citizenship some of the many immigrants who live within her new 9th City Council District, which as a result of reapportionment she will represent in December.  She also plans on extending a big welcome to Councilman-elect Scott Sherman, who will succeed her in the 7th City Council District come December, despite the fact that she and Sherman are on opposite sides of the political fence.  Emerald is a Democrat, supporting Congressman Bob Filner for mayor, and Sherman is a Republican, tied in closely with the mayoral candidacy of City Councilman Carl DeMaio.

Though they have different political loyalties, and may have some diametrically opposed viewpoints on major issues facing the city, when it comes to the daily business of city government–helping constituents improve their neighborhoods –“I am here to serve the public, not to beat up on anyone,” she said.  Serving the constituents of her old 7th District means making certain that Sherman is fully up to speed on the issues and projects within the district, so he can hit the deck running early in December when he officially takes office.

“We will give him tours of the different communities in the district if he needs them.  We will show him what we have been working on, such as the maintenance of the flood channels, and the park (at Lake Murray) that is getting built, if it is not completed by then.  We will show him where he can find developer impact fee money in the community” to help finance projects wanted by the neighborhoods.

To do this, the councilwoman proposes scheduling a few meetings with Sherman and some tours before he takes office.  Sherman obtained 51 percent of the vote in a race against Mat Kostrinsky,  a former aide to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).  Like Emerald, Kostrinsky is a member of the Jewish community.

Even as she briefs Sherman, Emerald said she will similarly need to be briefed by Council members now representing neighborhoods that will become part of the new 9th District in December.  The 9th was created by city voters  after Mayor Jerry Sanders, in an earlier election, was elevated from being a voting member of the City Council to being the head of the city’s separate executive department, akin to a president or to a governor.

During Emerald’s campaign in which she was opposed by Latino activist Mateo Camarillo, the councilwoman learned about numerous issues within the new 9th District.  She now appears raring to get started on them.  The first one she mentioned in our interview was helping legal immigrants to achieve citizenship and to become voters.

Voting in the June 5 election was quite low, she said.  “There were about 10,000 votes cast in our race and I think we can do better.  I am going to push for higher voter registration and if people are finding snags getting to citizenship, we are going to work with {United States} Sen. Barbara Boxer’s office and probably Juan Vargas {the Democratic candidate who led the voting in the 51st Congressional District, which overlaps her new council district} to see how we might be able to make it easier on people with all the right documents and right intentions to be able to become citizens and vote.

“This is really important for all the immigrants in the 9th District,” Emerald added in the interview.  “I was snagged by some Somali women who said that they want to be citizens and vote.  Think of the depth of that — they really want a voice and I want to help them do that.”

Accordingly, Emerald said, she has volunteered to begin tutoring next month and in the fall “to help people get through their naturalization tests and get sworn in as American citizens. … I will be a tutor a night or two a week in an affordable building where a lot of African folks are living.  They have a community room and it will probably be in that room because it is much easier for them to walk out of their apartments” than to have to go somewhere else.

She added that “I am recruiting volunteers and we will work from the books and teach to the test so that we don’t confuse people.  I am so impressed that these people, after everything they have been through {as refugees} are so optimistic.”  Anyone interested in volunteering can call Emerald’s office at (619) 236-6677.

Another project aimed at new Americans will be “finally declaring a Little Saigon District to help the Vietnamese community get some traction and grow that district into a healthy, bustling one.  Some signage would come with that.  We’ll work with CalTrans and get some investment into the MidCity area.”  Identifying  the area as Little Saigon, she said, “is important for investment, and an opportunity for new jobs.”

The councilwoman said another area she will dedicate herself to is public safety, describing it as a “huge” issue.  “There are children being shot to death in City Heights and Mountain View and Mount Hope and that is just unacceptable,” she said.  “We are working with the police department now, {asking such questions as} how do crack down on the gangs, which we have to do — it is gang warfare — and at the same time create options for kids who might otherwise be part of the gang culture? ”

She disclosed that she anticipates working “closely with the Price Charities,” headed by Jewish community member Robert Price, in September when his charitable organization launches “an initiative to help kids be successful in school and stay healthy, and I’m working on a similar initiative for the southern part of the district where we can bring in some of the City Heights resources to create a safety net of non-profit youth programs.”  Such programs are necessary for kids, she added, “so they are not standing on street corners or out late at night and they’ve got supervision and they’ve got direction and support and mentors.”

Calling such initiatives examples of “tikkun olam,” {repair of the world}, Emerald said she also is working closely with retiring state Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) “on a bill that will dedicate the last of the Mid-City Canyons {Swan Canyon} as open space.”  Working with neighborhood groups , “we re going to create a canyon loop community around it {the open space area} that complements this environmental heritage we have, and help attract businesses like outdoor cafes and shops– places that will tie into this very green theme. This is a longer-term goal, but if we start now, we will see in five, ten years a whole-different feel in the Mid-City area.”

As one might imagine, Emerald is watching the  race for mayor quite closely.  Without hedging, she predicts flatly that Congressman Filner will defeat Councilman DeMaio in the November runoff.

“I’m absolutely confident of it because it is {in November} a whole different group of voters,” she explained.  “Those Democrats who don’t show up in June show up in November, especially with {President Barack} Obama’s second term on the line.  I think they will show.  So this {the June election} was Carl {DeMaio}’s chance.  He didn’t make it and he’s not going to make it.  That’s my prediction.”

San Diego City voters adopted  Proposition A, which bans project labor agreements (PLA’s) on municipal construction projects, and Proposition B, which calls for a five-year pay freeze for city workers and gives new hires 401 (k) plans instead of pensions. Both measures have been opposed by labor unions, and court battles are anticipated.

Emerald said she hopes the city can get early determinations from the courts whether these measures are legal.  Without definitive word, one way or the other, she said, city budgeting and planning will be chaotic.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]


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