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A special election to be held if voters select late Simon Silva as Chula Vista City Attorney

The special election could be held in April, May, or November of 2023.
Chula Vista City Council

The recent passing of Simon Silva, Veteran Deputy of the Chula Vista City Attorney’s office has raised several questions and concerns about the  November runoff election. 

Simon Silva, a registered Democrat, succumbed to cancer on Sept. 3 at age 56, leaving a vacancy in the race for city attorney. Federal Attorney and registered Republican, Dan Smith, is running against Silva for the open seat. 

According to City Clerk Kerry Bigelow, Silva’s name remains on the ballot because his death came after the  Aug.15 deadline to make changes to the ballot. 

The election deadlines are mandated by state law, by the city's charter, or by other statutes that neither the city nor election officials can modify.  

“Mr. Silva and Mr. Smith will go forward as the candidate in the November ballot, and any votes cast for either candidate will be counted in the election results,” Bigelow said. 

If Smith wins the majority of votes, he would be sworn into office during a Dec.13 City Council meeting. In the event that Silva was to receive the majority of votes, he would be elected. Since he is unable to take the position, the council would then need to take action to declare the vacant seat. 

In the event of a vacancy, City Attorney Glen Googins would remain in office until after a special election when his successor takes the oath of office. 

The Chula Vista City Charter mandates a special election to take place in order to fill the vacant seat. According to Bigelow, a standalone city-wide election to fill the vacancy cost the city up to $2 million dollars. 

According to the city’s charter, a special election is required when there vacant seat with more than 24 months left to term. Any elected official in the city of Chula Vista would have a four-year term. Bigelow noted that write-in candidates are not permitted in the runoff elections because the runoff elections intend to be between the two candidates with the highest votes in June. 

At the meeting, several community members raised concerns over the San Diego County Democratic Party’s endorsement of Democratic candidates, which include Silva, for the November Ballot. One Chula Vista resident also raised concern over Mayor Mary Casillas Salas’ continued support for the candidate by placing his campaign sign in her front yard, despite his passing. 

“It makes me feel like our city council, and our mayor, is playing politics with this election, and this poor deceased man, may he rest in peace…I think it’s a shame, and I want to know why,” Chula Vista resident Mary Cosio said.

Private attorney John Moot, who placed third in the June Primary for City Attorney, said the promotion of candidate Silva is unfair and wrong.

“It strikes me as being disrespectful to a family still in mourning and holds out the possibility of Chula Vista spending a tremendous amount of money,” Moot said

In response, Mayor Salas provided the following statement. 

“I’m really disappointed that people come to this council meeting and disrespect the honor, the history, and the goodness of the man that was running for city attorney. It is quite appalling to me that people are lining up to run when they were clearly rejected by the voters in the primary. It is beyond belief to me. For you to question what my motives are by putting a sign on my yard to respect somebody, it is not about politics. It's about the love of a man that had terrific character,” Salas said.  

A similar incident occured in Oceanside in 2016 when voters reelected Gary Ernst as city treasurer six weeks after his passing. Oceanside City Council voted to appoint someone to fill that vacancy and opted to not hold a special election. According to Bigelow, Chula Vista’s city charter does not allow that option since a special election is required for terms exceeding 24 months. 

In the event of a special election, the newly elected city council will have to make a decision after voters cast their ballots in November. The special election could be held in April, May, or November of 2023.