Democratic volunteer’s email to Del Mar voters riles party officials

A Del Mar City Council meeting on Sept. 9, 2019.
A Del Mar City Council meeting on Sept. 9, 2019.
(Image from City of Del Mar livestream)

A party volunteer sent out her personal recommendations in the race for three open seats on the city council


The San Diego County Democratic Party is facing backlash this week after a volunteer sent its list of endorsed candidates to voters with two names purposefully crossed off.

According to the local party chapter’s website, officials have endorsed current Del Mar Councilman Dave Druker; Bob Gans, an attorney and Del Mar Finance Committee member; and registered nurse and health care director Tracy Martinez in the race for three open seats on the Del Mar City Council.

But emails shared with the San Diego Union-Tribune show Sheila Sharpe, a volunteer for the local chapter, sent an email to an unknown number of voters on Oct. 13, stating her own personal recommendations for the positions, breaking away from the party’s official endorsement list.

“As a personal recommendation, I strongly encourage you to vote for Bob Gans, Glenn Warren, and Phil Blair for the Del Mar City Council,” Sharpe said in the message, sent from a personal email address but identifying herself as a volunteer with the San Diego Democratic Party. “They are dedicated to a cooperative team effort to protect our Del Mar Community Plan.”

Warren, a retired public defender, and business owner Blair are two other candidates in the race for Del Mar City Council. They are not listed on the party’s official endorsement list.

Sharpe’s email included an attachment of the party’s full endorsement list, with Druker and Martinez’s names crossed off. Sharpe did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A volunteer for the San Diego County Democratic Party sent out a list of endorsed candidates with two names crossed off.
The San Diego County Democratic Party volunteer included an attachment in the email to voters, showing the party’s endorsed candidates with two names crossed off.
(Courtesy Photo)

Councilman Druker, who is also an executive vice president of DataSkill, a software engineering firm in Del Mar, said he understands that some voters are unhappy with his candidacy, but he felt hurt that someone would use a volunteer platform to try and derail his candidacy.

“Many in the community continue to believe that I represent the majority in town that want to ensure Del Mar remains a unique beachside community,” Druker said. “The misleading emails and door hangers, at best, have confused some voters and, at worst, have given my opponents more votes.”

Martinez did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Karen Lare, a registered Democrat in Del Mar, was among those who received the message. She supplied the Union-Tribune with a copy of the original email, as well as her subsequent communication with Sharpe, and expressed similar concerns about Sharpe’s attempt to confuse or manipulate voters.

“I was outraged, to be honest,” Lare said in a phone interview. “It’s not easy to get an endorsement from the party, and I couldn’t believe (Sharpe) would go against her own party, cross out the names and send that to voters.”

Lare said she immediately noticed the discrepancy in endorsed candidates and reached out to Sharpe, questioning the ethics of her message. Email records show Sharpe responded the next day.

“I have checked with our team leader, and you do have a valid complaint,” Sharpe said in her response to Lare on Oct. 14. “For the rest of the names on my list, I will not include a statement of my preferences or send the Democrat’s list of endorsed candidates with any names crossed out. Very sorry to have given offense.”

Lare said she was not satisfied with the apology, since other voters may have been manipulated by Sharpe’s initial email or wouldn’t notice that her own personal opinions had been inserted in an official email to residents.

“I asked for an immediate retraction,” Lare said. “It’s voter manipulation and brings up all kinds of ethical questions for me.”

In an email, Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the Democratic party chapter, said Sharpe’s message was an “isolated incident” that has since been “remedied.” He declined to comment further or answer more specific questions.

Jas Grewal, another Democratic party volunteer who lives in Del Mar, sent a message to Del Mar voters on Oct. 18, addressing Sharpe’s “incorrect and misleading email.”

“(Sharpe) clearly violated the chapter’s policy by crossing out two of the candidates names the chapter endorsed for the Del Mar City Council: Dave Druker and Tracy Martinez,” Grewal said in the message. “Please ignore the erroneous email sent by this volunteer and support Dave Druker and Tracy Martinez, the candidates that the Democratic party has selected for endorsement in this Del Mar City Council election, as well as the other Democratic candidates listed on the endorsement card.”

Emails show Grewal’s message led some voters to come to Sharpe’s defense, applauding her decision to eliminate Druker and Martinez from the endorsement list.

“Kudos to the volunteer for crossing out their names,” said Del Mar resident Wayne Otchis in an email to Grewal, which was forwarded to the Union-Tribune. “The rest of the endorsements are fine, but the party has no clue on what’s best for Del Mar.”

Otchis told the Union-Tribune he was concerned about how the recommendations were compiled, and whether the endorsements came from officials familiar with local issues, as opposed to party leaders in Sacramento.

In addition to Martinez, Druker, Gans, Warren and Blair, finance professional Dan Quirk is also seeking one of the three open seats on the Del Mar City Council.

— Lauryn Schroeder is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune