CARLSBAD — Political insiders say a secret backroom deal is in the works to help elect Councilman Keith Blackburn as the next mayor of Carlsbad.
Linda Slater, president of the Democratic Club of Carlsbad-Oceanside, or DEMCCO, said she was made aware of at least two local Democrat party members who approached three sitting council members — Blackburn, Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel and Councilwoman Teresa Acosta — with a deal to support Blackburn’s candidacy in exchange for voting to appoint former local candidate Lela Panagides to the council.
Blackburn is running against Mike Curtin for the mayor’s seat.
Several other sources, consisting of both Democrats and Republicans, also confirmed the deal with The Coast News, but each insisted on anonymity due to potential retaliation. None of the sources said when the agreement may have transpired.
Panagides, who lost to Blackburn for the council’s District 2 seat in 2020, denied any deal was in place in a Facebook post that has since been removed.
“I want to state unequivocally that this is false,” Panagides wrote in the post. “Keith Blackburn and I have never had a verbal or written exchange regarding anything to do with filling a seat on the Carlsbad City Council. Also, appointments are elected by a majority of the vote of all council members. If Keith Blackburn is elected mayor, then the council will decide to have an election or an appointment to fill his district seat. I hope this clears up any confusion about this matter.”
Bhat-Patel and Acosta did not respond to questions about reports of the deal.
Blackburn told The Coast News there is “absolutely no deal,” calling the reports “misinformation,” adding he can’t control who spreads rumors and misinformation. He said he is focusing on his race in the final week.
The longtime council member, who said he hasn’t spoken with Panagides in over a year, said he supports an appointment to his seat should he win the mayor’s race, but only for a qualified individual.
If a vacancy is declared by the City Council with more than one year but less than 25 months remaining in the term from the date of the declaration of vacancy, the city council may either appoint a person to fill the vacancy or call a special election to fill the vacancy. In addition, the council must appoint or call a special election within 14 days of the declared vacancy.
If the council decides to appoint a new member and is unable to make an appointment within 45 days, a special election shall be called.
Voters, meanwhile, would have to follow the recall process to override an appointment, if the council chose to appoint a new member.
Blackburn is running from a “safe seat,” meaning he retains his position on the council even if he loses his mayoral bid. If he wins, the City Council can appoint a replacement or hold a special election to fill the vacant District 2 seat.
But Blackburn’s opponent has personally observed the political machinations of local Democratic power brokers and politicos in Carlsbad.
During a recent mayoral forum, Curtin said a small faction of members in the Democratic Club of Carlsbad-Oceanside worked to torpedo his endorsement from the San Diego County Democrat Party based on his friendship with Mayor Matt Hall, a Republican.
Curtin, who changed his registration from “No Party Preference” to “Democrat” on the advice of consultants, later questioned his party-line shift after learning of attempts to sabotage his party endorsement.
“The hypocrisy of the elected Carlsbad Democrats is astounding,” Curtin said in a statement. “Prior to my endorsement interview, a Democratic Party official expressed advance knowledge of their intention to collude with my Republican opponent and suggested that they would not endorse me in my quest to become the Democratic Party endorsed candidate for mayor of Carlsbad.
“When the time came, both of them declined to endorse me. Following that, and leading up to my party endorsement interview, these officials and their allies engaged in a smear campaign to manipulate Democratic Central Committee members into believing that the best path forward for the Democratic Party is to have no endorsed candidate for Mayor of Carlsbad.
“This begs the question as to what their true motivations were and what personal ambitions are fueling their collusion with my Republican opponent in order to maintain the status quo and not have an independent, free thinker as mayor?”
Curtin said not receiving the county Dems’ endorsement has allowed him to continue his grassroots campaign to target Democrats, Republicans and independents alike.
Janet Lacy of Oceanside, who spoke in support of Curtin during his endorsement hearing, said she was angry at the lies and misrepresentation shared by three individuals who spoke against Curtin. She described those against Curtin as “conspiracy theorists” who never wanted to hear Curtin’s ideas and feared their inability to control him if elected mayor.
“These people were just hostile,” Lacy said of the endorsement hearing. “I admire Mike, and no one can control him.”
Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez, a Democrat, has voiced her support for Curtin and spoke in his favor during the endorsement hearing, along with former Carlsbad City Councilwoman Julie Nygaard. Curtin also has endorsements from the conservative Latino American Political Association, Planned Parenthood and Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.
Blackburn holds endorsements from the San Diego County Republican Party and the Carlsbad Police and Fire associations.
Personal and political attacks let fly in Carlsbad’s D1, D3 races
DeeDee Trejo-Rowlett, one of six candidates running for the District 1 seat on the Carlsbad City Council, faced a torrid backlash of online criticism from resident Kris Wright, who questioned Trejo-Rowlett’s ability to read city staff reports based on her lack of a college degree.
Specifically, Wright said she is backing Sam Ward, a lawyer and candidate endorsed by the county Democratic Party, because of his ability to read city staff reports as “he is used to reading (legal) briefs.”
Trejo-Rowlett, who has typically remained out of the online political fray, questioned Wright regarding the relevance of her academic background to her candidacy, noting Wright and others helped elect former Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, who also did not have a college degree and subsequently resigned in 2021 due to the threat of a recall election.
Trejo-Rowlett said she worked for 25 years at Bank of America, spending 20 years in executive roles, and also runs her family business, Lola’s 7Up Deli.
In addition, D1 candidate Tony Bona made waves on Oct. 31 after launching a political attack on social media against District 3 incumbent Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel.
Bona tweeted, “I wonder if the people in your district know what the Mayor of Carlsbad (Matt Hall) thinks of you? Your wasteful spending will find you working at your family Subway shop and not the council.”
Bhat-Patel and others criticized Bona’s tweet, calling it racist and misogynistic, which Bona denied. Since taking office in 2018, Bhat-Patel said she’d received bigoted messages and threats of violence from other individuals (not Bona), including death and sexual assault. She hoped the mayor would denounce Bona’s sentiments.
“Priya Bhat-Patel went to social media and materially omitted the full sentence,” Bona said. “She only showed half of the sentence which took everything out of context. We have seen this divisiveness before, and it doesn’t belong in Carlsbad politics. The purpose of my tweet was to let people in District 3 know that the Mayor (Hall) is endorsing her challenger Ray Pearson. It is my opinion that she is not competent to be on council because of her excessive spending habits and she should find another place to work since she may be out of a job. Her material omissions of facts should be very telling to the voters in District 3.