Cindy Chavez Doesn’t Make the Final Cut in San Diego

Cindy Chavez appears to be out of the running for San Diego County’s top administrative job, despite a big public push from organized labor, especially public employee unions.

Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas, who has represented southern San Diego County in Congress since 2013, wrote Friday in a local newspaper op-ed, “We were disappointed to see that Ms. Cindy Chavez was removed from even being considered for the county’s top job.”

He urged county supervisors to reconsider their decision to exclude the Santa Clara County supervisor from the list of finalists interviewed May 3 and 10.

San Diego County officials continue to decline to identify any of the candidates in the renewed search for the county’s $400,000-a-year chief administrative job.

San Diego Times Union columnist Michael Smolens reported May 10 that Chavez told local union officials she had been eliminated from consideration for the post.

Chavez had been considered a shoo-in for the CAO job a year ago until a sexual harassment scandal abruptly stopped the selection process, forcing the resignation of her main supporter on the board. San Diego County opened an entirely new search for its CAO in January.

An aggressive public campaign for a Chavez appointment, led by the powerful 200,000-member San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, began in late April. The campaign, which included outdoor rallies, attack mailers, disruption of public meetings and personal attacks on supervisors, appears to have backfired.

“It seems labor’s strategy to get Chavez the job was perhaps too late, too public and too much,” wrote Smolens.

“Ms. Chavez is a highly qualified Latina leader who county supervisors themselves were ready to hire a year ago,” Vargas wrote in an op-ed published May 10 in the Times Union. “Qualified Latina leaders must be considered fairly, never locked out.”

Chavez continues to refrain from any public comment on the San Diego administrator search.

Chavez has been a favorite of organized labor and its political action committees throughout her political career. Organized labor PACs – the AFL-CIO South Bay Labor Council and city police and firefighters unions – had been the big spenders for Chavez in her unsuccessful San Jose mayoral campaign of 2022, using money from individual union members as well as bundled gifts from big individual and corporate donors to generate more than $3.8 million in funds for the Chavez campaign.

The unions in San Diego are digging in their heels. The Voice of San Diego, an independent online news outlet, reported Friday, that “despite what they say, they don’t want someone like Chavez – they want Chavez, the former leader of the South Bay Labor Council in the Bay Area, to be their boss.”

“To them, this is the climax of a nearly 15-year effort to reform county leadership and politics.”

The backlash to the labor pressure gained new momentum last week, as remarks by Brigitte Browning, the labor council executive secretary-treasure, sharply critical of Nora Vargas, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, prompted calls for Browning to resign.

The supervisor board chair had initially supported Chavez for the CAO post, but later backed out, which Voice of San Diego said “infuriated labor leaders led by the main union of county employees, SEIU 221 and the United Domestic Workers.”

Time Union columnist Smolens reported that “labor is blaming Vargas for Chavez being bounced from the competition…[and] appeared to be caught flat-footed when Chavez didn’t make the final cut.”

Smolens wrote Friday that “the big push for Chavez — and against Vargas — and not getting their way could be seen as a public display of weakness by the politically muscular unions.”
“There has been lots of debate — then and now — about whether Chavez has the administrative experience for the job,” Smolens wrote.

The county said the next step in the hiring process is for a panel made up of 10 community members — two selected by each supervisor — to interview candidates and provide feedback to the board, which will then conduct final interviews on May 22.


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

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