CARLSBAD — A rift among the local Democratic ranks appears to have turned Carlsbad City Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel’s allies into adversaries.
According to a recent post on social media by Ryan Trabuco, president of the San Diego Democrats for Equality, Bhat-Patel faces censure from the group for aligning her votes with Republican Mayor Matt Hall to shake up the city’s committee seats during a Jan. 12 Carlsbad City Council meeting.
As a result of the council’s vote, Councilwoman Cori Schumacher was ousted from several prominent board seats, including a 5-0 decision to replace the Democratic councilmember on SANDAG’s board. Bhat-Patel was also named the city’s representative for the Clean Energy Alliance, replacing Schumacher who had served as an original board member for two years.
“We will consider a vote to censure Carlsbad City Councilmember Priya Bhat-Patel, following a concerning series of votes as discussed … by members,” Trabuco wrote. “Over the last couple of weeks, Councilmember Bhat-Patel has apparently voted with the two Republican members of Council (sic) to elevate her more hard-right, conservative colleagues to important regional committees.
“The censure vote is being considered based on the committee assignments and the lackadaisical response to keeping communities safe under the state and local COVID restrictions. It is my understanding that conversations are currently ongoing with leaders within the party and in labor to pull together a compromise. Absent a productive dialog and conclusion, the plan is to move forward.”
The censure vote was brought to Trabuco for the club to discuss during its Feb. 6 meeting, according to a letter sent to the group’s membership. The group’s meeting also includes an opportunity for Bhat-Patel, who is preparing a 2022 run for State Sen. Pat Bates’ seat in District 36, to address the group’s concerns directly.
Bhat-Patel did not respond to questions seeking comment.
During a Jan. 19 council meeting, Schumacher and Councilwoman Teresa Acosta attempted to reorganize the newly-assigned committee seats but lost, 3-2.
“I did not support the reconsideration of committee assignments tonight because we as a council chose them together, representing the City of Carlsbad,” Bhat-Patel wrote in a Twitter thread shortly after the Jan. 19 meeting. “I am a representative of the residents of Carlsbad, not of aspirations to power.
“In the process of laying out assignments, I chose to prioritize transparency and collaboration. We were also given ample time to decide on and provide our preferred committees to the Mayor. The vote for SANDAG, the main committee in question, was unanimous. As an elected official, I am proud to be transparent and uphold integrity when making decisions.”
Trabuco told The Coast News the party and labor unions worked hard to flip the Carlsbad City Council to a Democrat majority over the past four years. Democrats for Equality, an LGBTQ Democratic Club, was “instrumental” in helping to elect Schumacher both in 2016 and 2020, according to Trabuco, and the group takes personally any slight against the Carlsbad official.
The group is very proud of Schumacher’s accomplishments in North County and they are hopeful for a “productive and collaborative conclusion to this kerfuffle,” Trabuco said.
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the county Democratic party, also voiced his displeasure with Bhat-Patel over social media on Jan. 23, calling for Bhat-Patel to “vote to embrace the compromise proposal” by the two other Democrats on the council (Schumacher and Acosta); along with voting against the “Republican (sic) power grab” and elevating the reconsideration of appointments to a four-fifths vote.
Rodriguez-Kennedy said the party developed a multi-million-dollar effort to get Democrats into offices across the county. The effort stemmed from his design of “The SANDAG Strategy,” which was to push the body left so it would align with the party’s mission and goals.
The Democrats currently have a majority on the SANDAG board, plus a 3-2 advantage on the County Board of Supervisors.
Regardless, Rodriguez-Kennedy said after the gains from the 2020 election, the next step for the party is to “ensure accountability” among their elected officials and holding members accountable to the party’s values.
“This is a duty that largely falls to the Chair and the Party’s Central Committee,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “Sometimes it requires courage, persistence, and the willingness to suffer the slings and arrows of people who are very charismatic and influential, but I will not shy from this sacred and sworn duty.”
As for Carlsbad, the recent votes related to COVID-19 enforcement and committee assignments have supercharged local debate amongst residents. A Jan. 5 special meeting regarding enhanced enforcement for small businesses was met with anger and pushback from business owners and employees.
The item was brought forward by Schumacher, but the council reversed course on Jan. 19 when it voted 3-1 (Councilman Keith Blackburn voting no and Hall recusing himself) to adopt a more comprehensive approach to COVID-19, which included enhanced enforcement and incentives.