CARLSBAD — The District 2 race for the Carlsbad City Council is in full swing, with two candidates already raking in more than $20,000 in campaign contributions, one briefly facing an ethics complaint, another questioned about their voting history, and a third challenger entering the race.
Councilmember Carolyn Luna was appointed to the District 2 seat early last year after it was left vacant by now-Mayor Keith Blackburn. Luna is ineligible to enter the race this November, as the city’s municipal code prevents council appointees from running for the same seat until one year after their appointment ends.
Shin currently serves as fire captain for the Culver City Fire Department and is the owner of several businesses attached to the boutique Fin Hotel in Oceanside: The Switchboard, a Hawaiian and Korean fusion restaurant; KNVS, a bar and restaurant space that doubles as an art gallery; North County Roastery, a coffee shop; and Haetae, a Korean street food lounge.
Sabellico, 26, has been part of around a dozen local, state and federal political campaigns, namely as deputy field director for Congressman Mike Levin’s 2018 campaign and campaign manager for Catherine Blakespear’s 2022 Senate bid.
Early in 2021, Councilmember Teresa Acosta appointed Sabellico to the city’s Planning Commission and his term ends in December.
Former San Dieguito Union High School District trustee Maureen “Mo” Muir has also filed to run for the District 2 seat as of Feb. 5. Muir previously resided in Encinitas but stated that she currently lives in Carlsbad.
Muir was a conservative stronghold on the high school district board from 2014 to 2022, following six years as a board trustee for the Encinitas Union School District. Both districts include schools in Carlsbad.
Both Sabellico and Shin have filed their semi-annual Form 460s, outlining campaign contributions and expenditures in 2023. Each candidate’s war chest already exceeds $20,000, marking a competitive contest nine months out from the election.
Sabellico has received a total of $26,339 in contributions as of the end of 2023, compared to Shin’s $22,350, per campaign filings. Both candidates’ totals include self-loans of $10,000.
Sabellico has received $1,000 — the contribution limit for City Council candidates — each from Carlsbad Strawberry Company owner James Ukegawa, Scott Johnson of Sage Holdings, and Kathryn Laing of Kyruus Health.
Shin’s top contributions include $1,000 each from Pei-Tei Chang of Carlsbad, Samir Patel of Pipeline Ventures Inc., the Carlsbad Firefighters Legislative Action Group, Ralph Coomber of Coomber Craft Wines, Christine Shin of Carlsbad, Chi-Wu Chang of Carlsbad, Michael Totah of Encinitas, and each of his parents.
Sabellico’s campaign has been the subject of allegations of unethical behavior despite his early fundraising advantage and endorsements from Democratic heavyweights like State Sen. Steve Padilla (D-San Diego), Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, and Congressman Scott Peters.
In a complaint filed with the San Diego County Democratic Party in mid-December, an individual who previously worked with Sabellico alleges that he devised a plot to intimidate Carlsbad City Councilmember Priya Bhat-Patel to prevent her from speaking ill of him.
The party’s Ethics Committee dismissed the complaint with prejudice on Jan. 21, according to a committee email obtained by The Coast News.
The complaint was filed by Eve Antekeier, who worked with Sabellico on Janessa Goldbeck’s 2023 campaign for San Diego County supervisor and had discussed plans to also work on Sabellico’s City Council campaign.
Antekeier also previously worked as an intern for Bhat-Patel from 2018 to 2022 during her City Council and state Senate bids. Shortly after Blakespear — whose campaign was managed by Sabellico — announced her bid to replace a termed-out Pat Bates, Bhat-Patel dropped out of the race.
Antekeier said that when she met with Sabellico in early September to discuss managing his council campaign, he tried to coerce her into helping to intimidate and bully Bhat-Patel to prevent her from saying anything bad about him.
Specifically, she said Sabellico proposed that she accuse Bhat-Patel of an extramarital affair and that they coordinate with political consultant Chris Castillo of Black Castle and Associates, whom Sabellico claimed Bhat-Patel had accused of sexual harassment in the past.
Antekeier said she refused.
“Sabellico pressured a teenager who was pursuing a job on his campaign to lie about, lie to, bully, and help intimidate her former employer,” the complaint stated. “Sabellico was mad at Councilmember Bhat-Patel… Sabellico explained that her speaking ill of him hurts his candidacy since she sits on the Carlsbad City Council.”
Sabellico denied the accusations in the complaint.
“Growing up in a military family, I was raised to value integrity, hard work, and respect for everyone. Those are the values I live by, and that’s why the Ethics Committee dismissed this frivolous complaint with prejudice,” Sabellico said. “The next council member for this seat will represent everyone, no matter what political party they belong to. I look forward to running a positive campaign where I emphasize my experience and my positions on the important issues: protecting our coast, supporting middle-class families, and keeping Carlsbad safe.”
Bhat-Patel did not respond to a request for comment from The Coast News and has never publicly confirmed that she was sexually harassed by Castillo.
However, the council member previously stated back in 2020 that she was harassed and stalked by two men during her campaign and that police were involved in an op-ed and interview with Voice of San Diego.
The Ethics Committee’s dismissal with prejudice means the complaint cannot be brought back for further consideration. The committee email states that because Sabellico is not a member of the Central Committee, the complaint fell outside the jurisdiction of the committee and that it lacked sufficient evidence.
Antekeier, Castillo and San Diego County Democratic Party President Rebecca Taylor also did not respond to requests for comment.
Voting history called into question
Simultaneously, Shin is also facing questions related to his voting history, or lack thereof. Records obtained by The Coast News indicate that Shin has not voted in any of the primary or general elections between 2016 and 2022.
Shin explained that from the time he was 18, his service as a U.S. Marine required him to follow orders regardless of who was in charge, which necessitated maintaining an unbiased perspective and a level of “disengagement with the political process.”
He claimed this ideal continued when he later served as a firefighter. However, becoming more involved in his community has taught him the importance of community engagement, he said.
Shin’s full statement can be read below:
“At age 18, when I started serving our country as a U.S. Marine, I was immersed in a culture that required us to follow orders no matter who was in charge. For myself and others I served with, maintaining an unbiased perspective often meant a certain level of disengagement with the political process. I adopted that same perspective when I began my service as a firefighter.
“That said, my time as a fire captain, as well as my years of service leading local and regional nonprofits, such as The Nowell Family Foundation, and running my own small business, have taught me the importance of community engagement.
“Whether someone is active in their kid’s school district, volunteers with a charity, is a member of their local Chamber of Commerce, or votes in an election, I have seen firsthand how people being active and engaged can help a community thrive. That’s why I am running for office and why I think it is important for others to vote and make their voices heard,” Shin said.
For Sabellico, however, Shin’s voting record raises questions.
“I’ve voted in every election since I was 18 years old, and I’ve defended voting rights across the country. Voting is the most basic civic duty there is, and the first time you vote shouldn’t be when you decide to run for office,” Sabellico said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct Kevin Sabellico’s age and clarify the end date of his Planning Commission term, and clarify that Mo Muir has filed for candidacy as of Feb. 5.