La Mesa special elections for council seat commences on Nov. 2

(From top to bottom, left to right): Kathleen Brand, Miriam Raftery (ECM), Patricia Dillard, Mejgan Afshan, Laura Lothian

Screenshot from Candidate Forum by East County Magazine

(From top to bottom, left to right): Kathleen Brand, Miriam Raftery (ECM), Patricia Dillard, Mejgan Afshan, Laura Lothian

by Eugènie Budnik, Staff Writer

Now through Nov. 2 La Mesa residents will vote in a special election for a replacement for one vacant city council seat.

The seat was previously held by Dr. Akilah Weber, who left the position in April 2021 after being elected as the representative of Assembly District 79. 

Six candidates have qualified to be on the Nov. 2 ballot. Mejgan Afshan, Kathleen Brand, Patricia Dillard, Laura Lothian, Michelle Louden and Jim Stieringer are all vying for La Mesa’s open city council seat.

Mejgan Afshan is endorsed by the San Diego County Democratic Party. Afshan describes herself as “civil rights advocate, community organizer, and non-profit founder” on her campaign website. Afshan got her start in civil rights as the co-founder of “Borderlands for Equity,” a pro-bono nonprofit organization that advocates for and provides legal assistance to marginalized communities. Afshan is also the founder of the East County Justice Coalition, an organization which addresses inequality and racial justice. Afshan was unable for an interview due to scheduling conflicts.

Kathleen Brand is a 21-year resident of La Mesa, and currently works for the City of San Diego as a planner and landscape architect. Brand has also served on the City of La Mesa Community Service Commission since 2018. Brand’s platform utilizes her experience in urban and city planning to address the issues of affordable housing and development in La Mesa. 

“This is supposed to be a nonpartisan election,” Brant said when asked about her lack of political experience in a Zoom interview. “It is not supposed to be about the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s about who is best for La Mesa. I think I have the most knowledge on how cities run than any of the other candidates, regardless of if they are backed by a major party or not.” 

Patricia Dillard is a business owner, who currently works for Western Capital Mortgage securing home loans for residents of La Mesa and elsewhere in San Diego County. Weber has endorsed Dillard as her successor. Dillard has also completed service to help advance women and minority businesses. Dillard was appointed to be the Vice Chair for the City of La Mesa Community Police Oversight Board in January of this year. Dillard was unavailable for comment.

Laura Lothian is a real estate agent located in downtown La Mesa. Lothian has run for La Mesa City Council and Mayor multiple times, but has not seen success. Lothian has been endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party in the past. Lothian runs on a pro-business platform, and serves on the Board of Directors for the La Mesa Village Association. Lothian’s main policies included stopping the mileage tax and stopping unfair regulations and mandates for small businesses. Lothian was unavailable for comment. 

Michelle Louden and Jim Stieringer do not have official campaign websites active. According to LinkedIn, Louden is a San Diego State alumni and now works as a behavior analyst. Stieringer is the former City of La Mesa treasurer, and also a member of the Grossmont Hospital Board of Directors and the governing board of the Grossmont Union High School District. 

Four of the six eligible candidates participated in a virtual candidate forum hosted by “East County Magazine” on Oct. 14. The event was held over Zoom, and was live-streamed on the news publication’s facebook. Mejgan Afshan, Patricia Dillard, Kathleen Brand and Laura Lothian were the four candidates in attendance. The forum lasted just under two hours, and allowed the four candidates to advocate for their policies and to answer voter questions. The hot button issues of the forum proved to be homelessness and affordable housing, as well as criminal justice.

“We have to reach out to non-profit organizations that already specialize in homelessness,” Dillard said, in response to a question about homelessness in La Mesa. “There are many different facets of homelessness, and the fact that we have the largest per capita trolley station stops exacerbates the situation. People can quickly get off of the trolley in La Mesa and go to other cities nearby. We need to work with people within and outside of La Mesa in order to help this issue.” 

In May 2020, the City of La Mesa experienced huge protests in response to the police brutality against African-American man George Floyd in Minnesota, as well as the racial profiling of African-American La Mesa resident Amaurie Johnson. Candidates were asked their thoughts on the city’s progress towards racial justice.

“As a legal observer of what happened in La Mesa on May 30 last year, it is critical we turn a page on the ugly incidents of the past several years and I suggest as part of my equitable policy platform that we continue to fund the independent monitor for our police oversight board,” Afshan said.

Lothian offered her view on criminal justice as well.

“We don’t want police that are afraid to police,” Lothian said. “I’ve talked to police officers who feel isolated and demoralized. I am afraid our city is going to turn into one of those cities where spikes in crime are prevalent.” 

La Mesa residents should have received their ballots in the mail, and ballots need to be postmarked on or before Nov. 2 in order to be counted in this special election. Voters can visit the City of La Mesa website for more information.