Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Mary Woods Scherr, PhD, Director; Edward Kujawa Jr., PhD; Teresa Jean Odendahl, PhD


district elections, constituents, Leadership studies, public administration, recall election, redistricting, San Diego (California), voting


In 1988, voters in San Diego approved a switch from an at-large to a district-only election system. In 1989, Linda Bernhardt, a 30-year-old political neophyte, ran an anti-developer, grassroots campaign in San Diego's Fifth Council District. She unseated well-financed, two-term, pro-development incumbent Ed Struiksma. Within 17 months, Bernhardt was recalled from office. It was the first successful recall election in the City of San Diego in the twentieth century. This study documented significant events that bore on Bernhardt's recall to gain an understanding and appreciation of how events necessitated the recall. The researcher analyzed contributing factors, using an historical case-study approach. She interviewed more than 60 individuals and reviewed records from governmental and private sources. Linda Bernhardt was recalled from office because voters felt she had betrayed them by (1) breaking her pledge not to accept developer campaign contributions, and (2) through redistricting, abandoning a community known for activism. The recall also broke up the progressive Council alliance and restored the previous status quo. Bernhardt was ambitious and outspoken; she became the focus for those dissatisfied with the changes that had resulted from a powerful new majority voting bloc. At the time, the Council lacked mayoral leadership, shared vision, amity cohesiveness. When Bernhardt was removed from office, the Council majority lost its power and ability to move its agenda forward. A new, more conservative Council majority then revoked the previous redistricting map and approved one that restored many of the previous district boundaries. It also returned the Council to a traditional voting pattern. The researcher also found that district elections: (1) enormously increase the ability of communities to initiate a successful recall; (2) provide greater scrutiny on politicians; (3) render politicians who cut their base of constituent support without immediately replacing it with a new one extremely vulnerable to recall; and (4) cause Council members to be perceived as unresponsive to constituents unless they devote substantial time and attention to constituent concerns.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access