Chronicle: Kelly Martinez is not the incumbent sheriff, but has the political advantages of one

Fast! Who is the San Diego County Sheriff?

If you were to think about it for a moment, or even research it, you’re probably not alone.

Anthony Ray, a low-key 30-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, has served as acting sheriff since his appointment in April.

Not much has been heard of him or her since a series of articles following his selection by the county board of supervisors.

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Long before and after his nomination, much more attention has been focused on Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, who is running for the job in Tuesday’s primary. People would be forgiven if they thought she was the sheriff. It was apparently part of the design.

In February 2021, Martinez became San Diego’s first female undersheriff, the department’s second-in-command. In July, she filed official documents indicating her intention to run, two days before Sheriff Bill Gore announced he would not seek re-election in 2022.

As the timing was right, Martinez was quickly endorsed by much of San Diego’s political establishment, including elected officials and civic leaders from the Democratic and Republican parties. Four of the five supervisors — three Democrats and one Republican — support her.

When Gore unexpectedly retired in February before completing his term this year, Martinez became acting sheriff.

Many San Diegan residents had seen what seemed to be happening now before and cried foul. A top law enforcement official retires early, elevating his heir to the top job; the supervisors officially appoint them and they win subsequent elections as incumbents.

That’s how Gore became a sheriff and Summer Stephan became a district attorney.

This time, another council decided that they would not appoint an acting sheriff who ran for the job. Martinez immediately declared that she would not seek the goalkeeper position, which avoided much of the public grumbling heard in the past. After careful scrutiny and public comment, Ray was the clear frontrunner among the contestants.

What the supervisors did seemed admirable, although given past resentment over such appointments, they probably had no choice. Another apparent configuration would have presented them with a public relations problem, if not a politically threatening one. Moreover, members of the new Democratic majority on the board have repeatedly insisted on doing business differently from their Republican predecessors.

At first glance, they didn’t put their thumbs on the scales. What they did was remove it – after it sat there for quite a while. Martinez’s relatively unknown transition to top department official and lead candidate — and the quiet alignment of political support behind her — went without a hitch.

Martinez acquired the titular aura that, at least to some extent, has stuck. It was never going to clear the field, but it did give him pole position.

In an odd nuance, not being the actual incumbent, while gaining the exposure associated with it, can help Martinez.

Under Gore, the department has been publicly chastised for an unacceptably high number of inmate deaths, while repeated studies have shown deputies stopped, searched and used force against people of color at higher rates than whites. . Martinez diplomatically indicated how she would approach these and other issues differently from Gore.

Retired Sheriff’s Cmdr. Dave Myers, who is running for sheriff again after losing to Gore in 2018, has been a vocal critic of the department’s operation. He blamed not only the former sheriff, but also the leadership of the department which includes Martinez.

Martinez, Myers and former city attorney John Hemmerling lead the field of seven sheriff candidates in fundraising, endorsements and name recognition. Also on the ballot are California Highway Patrol Officer Jonathan Peck, retired Sheriff’s Detentions Deputy Juan Carlos Mercado, Redwood City Police Captain John Gunderson and retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Charles Battle.

A jumble of unusual political riptides runs through the competition between the three top contenders.

Martinez traded her voting record from Republican to Democrat in 2020. Myers switched from Republican to Democrat in 2016. Hemmerling was a Republican, then an Independent, and is a Republican again.

Martinez, a 37-year veteran of the department, has endorsements Democrats, including Mayor Todd Gloria, Pro Tempore State Senator Toni Atkins and labor leader Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. She also has the support of Republican County Supervisor Joel Anderson, as well as Democrats Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the board; and Representatives Scott Peters and Juan Vargas.

Myers is endorsed by the Democratic Party and San Diego County Democrats, including Representatives Sara Jacobs and Mike Levin, Assemblyman Akilah Weber, San Diego City Council Speaker Sean Elo-Rivera, and Member of Monica Montgomery Steppe City Council.

Hemmerling has the support of the county and state Republican party, former mayor Kevin Faulconer, former city attorney Jan Goldsmith and retired San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman, with whom he worked as the department’s chief legal counsel.

However, Hemmerling managed to clash with two disparate groups – the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board and San Diego County gun owners.

The Union-Tribune’s editorial board withdrew its support for Hemmerling after it said it learned he made anti-transgender remarks at a candidate forum in Ramona. His comments were checked in by the Times of San Diego.

Meanwhile, Michael Schwartz, executive director of the gun owners group, criticized Hemmerling for enforcing and advocating for gun violence prohibition orders, which can be requested by immediate family members and law enforcement to prohibit individuals from possessing firearms. Schwartz said the former prosecutor is not the Second Amendment advocate he claims to be and is in fact a “firearm.”

Meanwhile, the gun owners group has endorsed Martinez after backing Myers Four years ago. Schwartz rented what he said were Martinez’s efforts to streamline the process of obtaining concealed weapons permits, as well as his extensive experience with the sheriff’s department.

The organization had claimed Gore was overly selective in issuing permits, and gun rights groups have sued him, claiming he was unlawfully preventing people from carrying licensed guns for legitimate reasons. general defence.

Photo of Martinez towers over San Diego County gun owners voter guidewhile the images of other favorite candidates are secondary.

Speaking of pictures, on the sheriff’s department websiteDeputy Sheriff Martinez’s photo shares the poster with that of Sheriff Ray.

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