Mayoral election in Chula Vista, California (2022)

The 2022 Chula Vista mayor’s race attracted widespread interest across San Diego County, as two compelling candidates faced off to lead California’s second largest city. The race was notable for its competitive nature despite its nonpartisan status, as Republican John McCann and Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar vied to replace outgoing Democratic Mayor Mary Salas.

In the end, McCann prevailed with 52% of the vote to become Chula Vista’s first Republican mayor since Steve Padilla lost re-election in 2010. However, Campa-Najjar mounted an energetic challenge focused on progressive priorities, earning 48% support in the Democratic-leaning city.

The race provided key insights into issues resonating with Chula Vista voters today, campaign strategies in local elections, and the city’s direction in coming years. As McCann takes office, he faces high expectations from residents eager for action on public safety, homelessness, affordable housing, infrastructure, and economic growth.

Background on Chula Vista and the Mayor’s Role

Chula Vista is located just 7 miles from downtown San Diego, situated along the city’s sprawling south bay. With a population around 270,000, it is California’s second largest city after San Diego and among the 50 largest cities nationwide.

The city’s growth accelerated in the postwar period as suburban communities expanded outside San Diego’s urban core. In recent decades, Chula Vista established itself as a major bedroom community for downtown while also fostering its own economic base and civic identity. It offers residents a mix of suburban neighborhoods, business districts, shopping centers, parks, and coastline along south San Diego Bay.

Chula Vista operates under a council-manager form of government, which divides powers between an elected city council and an appointed professional city manager who oversees day-to-day administration. The mayor serves as the ceremonial head of government and presiding officer of the city council. While lacking unilateral powers, the mayor plays an influential role in setting priorities, building consensus on policy initiatives, communicating with residents, and implementing the council’s vision.

The mayor and council members serve four-year terms, with a two-term limit. Council members run in geographical districts while the mayor is elected at-large citywide. Elections are technically nonpartisan, although party affiliation frequently plays a role.

2022 Chula Vista Mayor Election

With Mayor Salas termed out after eight years in office, the 2022 race offered voters their first open mayoral election since 2006. The contest evolved into a close, high-interest battle between two first-time candidates with distinct brands.

Primary Election

The June 7 nonpartisan primary initially featured six candidates. McCann and Campa-Najjar finished as the top two vote-getters, advancing to the November general election under Chula Vista’s election rules.

McCann, a city councilman first elected in 2016, ran on his governing experience and public safety credentials. A former prosecutor, he had support from law enforcement unions. He advanced to the runoff with 31% of the primary vote.

Campa-Najjar was second with 23% support. A former Obama administration official endorsed by local Democratic groups, he focused his progressive-minded campaign on affordable housing, climate action, and social justice reform.

The remaining candidates split the vote, with none gaining more than 20% support. McCann and Campa-Najjar clearly emerged as the preferred choices within the electorate’s two dominant ideological camps.

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General Election

The runoff presented a clear contrast between McCann’s moderate conservatism and law-and-order platform against Campa-Najjar’s reformist liberalism. With experience as an elected city leader, McCann highlighted his readiness to assume the mayoralty. Campa-Najjar emphasized the historic nature of his candidacy as a progressive millennial of Latino and Middle Eastern descent seeking to lead a diverse 21st century city.

A key subplot was how party affiliation would impact voting patterns in the nonpartisan race between a nominal Republican and Democrat. While McCann downplayed partisanship to attract independents and cross-over Democrats, Campa-Najjar’s youth-oriented progressive coalition depended on energizing Democrats to counter McCann’s law enforcement support.

In the end, McCann overcame the city’s Democratic registration advantage to prevail with 52% of the vote. He won by similarly outperforming partisan baseline expectations in his 2016 council victory, demonstrating crossover appeal that was sufficient for victory in lower-turnout local elections. Despite Campa-Najjar’s spirited effort, the more moderate McCann proved a good fit for the city’s practical-minded electorate.

Key Issues and Candidate Positions

The candidates outlined varying visions for Chula Vista’s priorities if elected mayor:

  • Public safety – McCann’s career as a prosecutor shaped his emphasis on public safety, backing increased police funding and opposing cuts. Campa-Najjar sought a balanced approach, supporting police while calling for investments in underlying drivers of crime like mental health services.
  • Homelessness – Both called for expanded shelter space and transitional housing while splitting on enforcement strategies. McCann supported encampment sweeps while Campa-Najjar preferred a housing-first model.
  • Economic development – McCann touted his track record attracting new businesses and developments. Campa-Najjar called for an innovation hub, affordable housing targets, and sustainability investments.
  • Infrastructure – They agreed on the need for road repairs and sewer upgrades. McCann preferred pay-as-you-go financing while Campa-Najjar was open to bonding if it accelerated projects.

These divergent priorities offered voters clear policy choices between continuity and change while highlighting the pressed need for action on housing affordability and public spaces.

Analysis of the Race and Results

Reviewing the race in total, McCann’s victory defied initial expectations of an easy win for Campa-Najjar, demonstrating key themes that will shape city politics in coming years.

Factors Leading to McCann’s Victory

McCann’s win stemmed from several advantageous factors:

  • Name recognition from six years on city council reaching voters across Chula Vista.
  • Fundraising edge, raising over $500,000 to Campa-Najjar’s $300,000.
  • Law enforcement support providing key organizational backing and perceived public safety credentials.
  • Moderate profile that appealed to independents and moderate Democrats in a nonpartisan race.
  • Strong regional name ID as the 2018 Republican nominee for a competitive congressional seat.
  • Democratic drop-off in turnout in a midterm election compared to 2020’s presidential race.

These assets enabled McCann to build a broad coalition despite Chula Vista’s Democratic lean, carrying him to a close victory.

Campa-Najjar’s Strong Showing

Despite falling short, Campa-Najjar emerged as a rising force with nearly winning as a first-time candidate against an established opponent:

  • He won over 90% of the vote in some South Bay precincts, demonstrating his strength with young progressive Democrats.
  • His 48% far exceeded 2020 results for Democratic city council candidates.
  • He matched or slightly exceeded Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential vote margins in most Chula Vista precincts.
  • He attracted support from local Democratic elected officials and mobilized volunteers effectively.

This breakout performance established Campa-Najjar as a viable voice for Chula Vista progressives. At just 33 years old, he retains considerable potential despite this initial mayoral loss.

Significance for City Politics

The race revealed several key themes for Chula Vista’s political direction:

  • Public safety and social justice both resonate but cut in different directions electorally.
  • Partisanship remains a strong undercurrent even in local nonpartisan contests.
  • Demographic change creates divides along generational and ideological lines.
  • Economic development, infrastructure investment, and quality of life improvements remain high priorities.
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Both candidates’ strong showings indicate voters want action on issues like crime, housing, and homelessness. This sets the stage for vigorous debate on the proper solutions, presenting challenges and opportunities for the new mayor.

McCann’s Plans and Priorities as Mayor

During the campaign, McCann detailed several policy priorities that will shape his incoming administration’s agenda:

Public Safety

McCann’s career as a prosecutor made public safety a signature issue. He pledged to:

  • Maintain and expand police staffing levels to deter crime.
  • Address street racing and sideshows by enhancing traffic enforcement.
  • Expand community policing programs to build trust between residents and officers.
  • Target gang activity and gun violence through intervention programs focusing on at-risk youth.

Many expect McCann to govern as a pro-law enforcement mayor, implementing strict policies against encampments while investing in traditional policing. However, he will also face pressure to balance priorities across residents demanding both greater public safety investments and police reforms.

Homelessness

Both McCann and Campa-Najjar spotlighted homelessness as a critical issue in Chula Vista, where migrant shelters downtown and large encampments in corridors like Third Avenue have alarmed residents.

McCann adopted relatively stricter encampment policies, supporting:

  • Expanded enforcement to prevent entrenched encampments, particularly in business areas.
  • Limiting encampments on public property through intensive cleaning and clearance policies.
  • Partnerships with homeless service providers to promote shelter options and transitional housing placements as an alternative to tents.

Here again, McCann will need to reconcile his law-and-order orientation with demands from activists to address root causes like mental illness and provide housing options for the displaced.

Economic Development

Economic development was a centerpiece of McCann’s city council tenure, an interest he plans to carry forward as mayor:

  • His top priority will be implementing the Chula Vista Bayfront development project, including hotels, housing, parks, and entertainment venues.
  • He will continue streamlining permitting and planning processes to facilitate new businesses opening in the city.
  • Expanding local job opportunities and housing supply to reduce commuting out of the city for work.
  • Supporting tourism growth in the city around its bayfront, natural areas, and attractions.

After years focused on growth issues on the council, McCann will face high expectations to cut ribbons on new projects and create local jobs. However, he will need to balance businessmen’s interests with community calls for affordable housing protections and environmental stewardship.

The Road Ahead for Chula Vista

As McCann takes office, Chula Vista faces great opportunities as a growing community but also complex challenges requiring deft leadership:

Implementing McCann’s Agenda

While mayor, McCann will need to build alliances to enact his priorities:

  • His public safety focus will require cooperation from the police department and council to fund expanded law enforcement initiatives.
  • Getting new developments approved and accelerated will depend on relationships with constituents and community groups involved in planning processes.
  • Bringing nonprofits, service providers, businesses, and funding sources together to tackle homelessness.

Success will require using the mayor’s bully pulpit and convening authority to drive consensus rather than relying on unilateral powers.

Working with City Council

As one of five votes on the city council, the mayor relies on building majority support:

  • McCann will need to collaborate with the four council members, including new members from the election.
  • While the council leans Democratic, they find common ground on pragmatic local issues.
  • McCann’s past council experience should ease the transition to the added leadership responsibilities of the mayoralty.

Echoing his election coalition, McCann’s path forward relies on working across partisan and ideological lines at the local level to forge incremental progress.

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Addressing Ongoing Issues

Regardless of campaign pledges, urgent challenges will demand the new administration’s focus:

  • Expanding housing supply and affordability protections remain critical to serve residents and workforce.
  • Upgrading aging infrastructure across water systems, roads, and sewer lines requires major investments.
  • Environmental issues like pollution, climate impacts, and natural area preservation are growing concerns.
  • Recovering economically from the pandemic and avoiding a wider downturn.
  • Maintaining city services like public transit, parks, libraries, and community centers with limited budgets.

These dilemmas will compel difficult tradeoffs and creative problem solving, testing McCann’s leadership from day one.

Lessons from the Race

Beyond determining Chula Vista’s next mayor, the high-profile race also offers key takeaways for local politics going forward:

Messaging and Campaign Strategies

McCann and Campa-Najjar’s campaigns demonstrated effective messaging and voter engagement strategies for local elections:

  • McCann highlighted his experience and roots in the community while vowing steady, pragmatic leadership reflective of voters’ moderate sensibilities.
  • Campa-Najjar energized youth and positioned himself as the face of change while assuring voters he would deliver practical improvements.
  • Both used social media effectively to reach voters directly with video messages and genuine-sounding appeals.

These approaches provide templates for communicating with voters in an increasingly fragmented media environment when direct outreach gains importance over traditional advertising.

Nonpartisan Nature of Race

Despite being nominally nonpartisan, partisanship clearly impact the race:

  • McCann’s moderate profile with crossover appeal contrasted with Campa-Najjar’s unabashed progressivism.
  • Base turnout dynamics favored McCann, while Campa-Najjar tried expanding the electorate.
  • Openly partisan elected officials took sides, and partisan groups campaigned for their nominees.

Nonetheless, local issues took precedence over national ideological divides, pointing to the enduring nonpartisan character of municipal elections.

Looking Ahead to Future Elections

The 2022 race established dynamics likely to carry over to future Chula Vista elections:

  • Close electoral competition between establishment and progressive candidates.
  • Continued high interest and engagement among younger voters.
  • Persisting influence of party ties beneath nonpartisan veneers.
  • Priorities like safety, growth, infrastructure, and inclusion dominating public debate.

With Campa-Najjar well-positioned for future races, the 2022 mayor’s election kicks off what promises to be an extended period of robust civic participation and competitive elections in Chula Vista.

Conclusion

The 2022 Chula Vista mayor’s race presented voters with a pivotal choice, resulting in the election of John McCann to chart the city’s course over the next four years. McCann’s moderate profile and public safety focus prevailed this time, reflecting the priorities of voters who saw him as the steady hand to guide the city.

However, this hard-fought campaign was not the end but rather the beginning of vigorous civic engagement on priorities like better policing, affordable housing, homelessness solutions, infrastructure investments, economic growth, and quality of life. Both McCann and Ammar Campa-Najjar articulated distinct visions responsive to residents’ concerns which will continue shaping policy debates.

Looking ahead, McCann now faces high expectations from a still-growing and demographically diverse community. His success will depend on building coalitions across political divides and delivering on voters’ pressing needs. Regardless of partisan allegiances, Chula Vista stands united in demanding pragmatic improvements on the issues impacting families in this flourishing city. If McCann governs effectively and inclusively as mayor over the next four years, the 2022 election will mark not an endpoint but a milestone on the path to Chula Vista’s bright future.

FAQ

Who was elected mayor of Chula Vista in 2022?

John McCann, a city councilman and former prosecutor, was elected Chula Vista’s new mayor in November 2022. He defeated Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar in the runoff election.

What was the margin of victory in the race?

McCann defeated Campa-Najjar by about 5 percentage points, 52% to 48% of the vote.

How will McCann’s priorities as mayor impact the city?

McCann’s focus on public safety, homeless encampment policies, economic growth, and infrastructure investments will shape the city’s direction on key issues.

What policy issues defined the race?

Debates over policing, homelessness, housing affordability, infrastructure needs, and economic development were central issues on which the candidates outlined different approaches.

How did the race reflect partisan dynamics?

Though officially nonpartisan, McCann and Campa-Najjar molded their messages to appeal to moderate Republicans and progressive Democrats respectively. The close outcome showed the city’s partisan divisions.

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