EDITOR’S NOTE: The complete video of the forum is available in the article and here. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that candidates Julie Thunder, Susan Turney and Alex Riley disavowed “direct support from the BIA.” However, the candidates have disavowed “any support from the BIA.”
ENCINITAS — At times engaging in vigorous debate and discussing election toxicity, Encinitas mayoral and council candidates participated in the Coast News Clean Campaign Virtual Forum on October 13 in honor of their pledges to maintain Clean Campaign policies.
Those participating included mayoral candidates, incumbent Mayor Catherine Blakespear and challenger Julie Thunder, District 1 candidates Councilman Tony Kranz and challenger Alex Riley, and District 2 candidates Deputy Mayor Kellie Hinze and challenger Susan Turney.
Moderated by reporter Caitlin Steinberg and Kelli Kyle, host of the North County BEAT podcast, the Zoom forum was divided into a general discussion followed by a public Q&A.
During the event, participants were offered several minutes to speak on each issue as well as an opportunity for possible rebuttal, lasting over two hours.
The full forum can be viewed in its entirety on both The Coast News’ Facebook and Youtube pages.
Candidates agreed upon three pre-determined topics, including online harassment and hate speech, the negative impact of misinformation on local elections, and how to work through hard conversations with dissenting residents.
On several occasions, the discussion strayed to issues including campaign finance, endorsements, abuse from supporters, and the current city council’s voting record.
Participants detailed their own experiences on the campaign trail, many expressing surprise at the toxicity of Encinitas’ local elections and all agreeing, local politics can get dirty.
A political newcomer, Thunder was surprised by the vicious nature of the 2020 election season.
“I was warned by a lot of people that there would be a lot of mudslinging… but I was not prepared for what came,” Thunder said. “I realized why good people don’t run for office because it destroys a little part of you… but as I said, I’m here for the long haul so I’m sticking it out.”
Blakespear acknowledged she has dealt with a high level of toxicity and hate speech since taking office four years ago.
“You reevaluate whether there is credible fear of violence against you or your family and then you proceed with what you have to support you,” Blakespear said. “I feel grateful that I have a very supportive family and a lot of community and council members who support me [professionally] and personally and you try to move on from there.”
In several tense moments, Blakespear and Thunder sparred over the responsibility of candidates to denounce the harassing actions of supporters.
Blakespear apologized for the behavior of an individual who harassed Thunder in a now widely circulated email.
“I’m sorry that Julie did receive that email and I’m sorry that he wrote it,” Blakespear said.
While the candidates agreed that violent and inappropriate supporters should be disavowed, an issue covered in depth in a podcast episode of North County Beat, the two disagreed on whether either had done enough to publicly condemn the behavior, Blakespear further requesting Thunder disavow the actions of a specific supporter of her own.
The candidates also discussed how to govern through disagreements, pledging to listen to voters as well as remain transparent in their decision-making process.
Hinze expressed her intent to meet each person as an individual in an effort to understand their perspective, sharing her interactions with residents prior to the controversial JFC Overnight Parking Lot approval.
“You had such high emotions on both sides of this issue. On the same day I had somebody crying… about the fear that we would be welcoming homeless into this city,” Hinze said. “And then an hour later, somebody whose brother had perished by having experienced homelessness for too long and not been given the resources… to get back on their feet.”
Turney championed transparency as the basis for successful hard conversations.
“I think you have to show your work, you have to show that you actually understand… and show the source documentation for your reasoning,” Turney said. “You have to be straight with people. You have to show them that you understand why you made a decision, [but] never walk away from them in anger, [and] never shut down a meeting abruptly.”
In discussing the topic of the negative impacts of conspiracy theories and misinformation, Riley suggested “conspiracy theories grow in a vacuum when there is not enough information and people are left to fill in the blanks themselves.”
“Some conspiracy theories we may see around this town are probably created by a lack of transparency happening in City Council, to be honest with you,” Riley said.
In one of several moments of tense rebuttal during the forum, debate shifted to PAC contributions and endorsements, when Blakespear falsely stated the following: “I think there are a lot of people who have changed their party. They’ve become independent voters because they were disillusioned… especially [with] the Republican Party.
“So, it can seem like opportunism when my opponent changes her party the month before she runs or just the flat reality that the PAC that is supporting the three opponents is funded by Republicans, gun owners and the BIA.”
However, in regards to the political affiliations of Thunder, Turney and Riley, all three individuals declared themselves to be Independents, disavowing any support from the BIA.
Additionally, San Diego County Gun Owners PAC has not officially endorsed Thunder, Riley or Turney. Thunder said the PAC’s founder and executive director has pledged his personal support for her in a Facebook post.
Ethics & Transparency in Government PAC referenced by Blakespear has not endorsed nor directly donated to Thunder, Riley or Turney. According to financial statements, the group has spent thousands of dollars on print and online advertisements against their opponents.
Beyond the fierce debate and tense moments, the candidates were able to reconcile issues perpetuated on the campaign trail.
During the forum, Riley asked Kranz to reverse his statement claiming Riley had only attended one city council meeting to which Kranz apologized and acknowledged that he did not notice Riley’s attendance at additional meetings.
Hinze and Turney committed to stopping the spread of misinformation about each other’s campaigns, Hinze thanking Turney for keeping their debate largely issue orientated.
In addition, Blakespear thanked Thunder for reaching out to her in a text message in support of her family’s safety after 100 residents marched on Blakespear’s home during a protest earlier this spring.
As the forum wrapped, Kranz’s closing remarks gave kudos to all candidates involved in signing the Clean Campaign Pledge and the night’s discussion.
“My admiration for Susan, Julie and Alex is tremendous, as well as Katherine and Kelly, because you put your hat in the ring, you’re in the arena, and you’re working to make our community what you think is better. So, I appreciate that and I look forward to November 4, when we can start healing the community and move forward,” Kranz said.