By Alberto Garcia
A local city councilman who also holds an administrative position at San Diego State University helped secure a titular position for a political ally who was looking for consolation after losing his third election in a row.
Jose Preciado, who was elected to the Chula Vista City Council in November 2022, helped secure a paid position for Ammar Campa-Najjar, a three-time candidate who lost his campaign for Mayor of Chula Vista last year.
Preciado currently serves as Director of General Studies at SDSU and also teaches classes in professional experience and community service.
Campa-Najjar ran unsuccessfully for the 50th Congressional District in East County in both 2018 and 2020 before changing his voter registration to a relative’s condo in Eastlake to run for Mayor.
Preciado endorsed Campa-Najjar when they were both candidates for office in last year’s election. While Preciado won a narrow victory to claim a seat on the City Council, Campa-Najjar lost his race in what became the most expensive political campaign in Chula Vista history.
In text messages sent between Campa-Najjar and Preciado just three days after the November election, Campa-Najjar asked Preciado for help to become a “professor.”
“I’d like to do a professor of practice ala Nathan Fletcher,” Campa-Najjar wrote to Preciado on November 11, 2022, three days after losing his campaign for Mayor.
Campa-Najjar then attached a link to a San Diego Union-Tribune article from January 13, 2013, that covered the announcement that Nathan Fletcher, who now serves on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, had become a “professor of practice” after he lost his 2012 race for Mayor of San Diego.
Texts messages between Preciado and Campa-Najjar
Fletcher became the first person to serve as a Professor of Practice at UCSD, an adjunct professorship offered based on professional experience, not academic credentials. Fletcher, who claims to have received a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from California Baptist University in Riverside, CA, refused to provide his college transcript during the mayor’s campaign and UCSD later admitted they never requested or reviewed his transcript in connection with the teaching position. Of the 58 professors in UCSD’s political science department, Fletcher was the only one without a doctorate.
Fletcher had previously served ten years in the US Marine Corps, including a combat tour in Iraq and was elected to the California State Assembly in 2008 and 2010, but lost his bid for Mayor in the 2012 Primary Election, as well as in the 2013 Special Election to replace Filner after the Mayor had resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.
In contrast to Fletcher, Campa-Najjar has run for office three times but has never served in public office. Campa-Najjar graduated from SDSU in 2013 with a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Psychology but has no advanced degree.
“You certainly have the experience,” Preciado responded to Campa-Najjar after his request for a professorship.” Let’s see what we can work on,” Preciado added.
“Would love to at [Southwestern College] or SDSU,” Campa-Najjar responded. “Thanks Jose that would be a great consolation,” Campa-Najjar wrote to Preciado.
Campa-Najjar’s reference to Fletcher raises similarities between the two politicians. Fletcher had taken a full-time role as senior director of corporate development at Qualcomm after receiving political contributions from billionaire QUALCOMM Co-Founder Irwin Jacobs and other Jacobs family members for both his 2012 and 2013 failed mayoral campaigns.
Jacobs and other campaign supporters then donated funding to UCSD to cover the $22,500 annual stipend Fletcher received for his professorship.
Campa-Najjar also received large political contributions from Irwin Jacobs and other members of his wealthy family during his mayoral campaign. Jacobs’ granddaughter, Sara Jacobs, who is the Congresswoman for the 51st District, has been dating Campa-Najjar’s since 2019.
During the 2022 Chula Vista Mayor’s race, Campa-Najjar’s opponent, Councilman John McCann, accused Campa-Najjar of living with Jacobs at her downtown San Diego condo while running for Chula Vista Mayor. McCann released surveillance videos of Campa-Najjar driving in and out of Jacobs’ condo complex for over 30 consecutive days during the final months of the election, as well as pictures of packages addressed to Campa-Najjar delivered to Jacobs’ doorstep.
Campa-Najjar maintained that he lived in a Chula Vista condo with his maternal aunt, her husband, and her daughter. In addition to Campa-Najjar and those three relatives, four other people are also registered to vote at that same address, including his mother, grandmother, brother, and another aunt.
McCann went on to win the November election by nearly 3,000 votes.
In mid-January 2023, SDSU posted an announcement of a new Civic Engagement Initiative headed by Campa-Najjar as “Executive Director in Residence” and aimed at connecting SDSU students with internships in government and non-profit organizations. The page included a large picture of Campa-Najjar standing in front of the US Capitol Building which he had used during his congressional campaigns.
Campa-Najjar was listed in the SDSU Staff directory as “Ammar Najjar”, even though he had legally changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Joseph Campa-Najjar in 2017. The reference to his name and email remained from the time when Campa-Najjar was a student at SDSU before graduating in 2013.
La Prensa San Diego submitted a California Public Records Act request to SDSU on January 22, 2023, for documents related to Campa-Najjar’s employment.
The next day, a representative from SDSU responded that “Ammar Najjar is a volunteer in Faculty Advancement & Student Success, and therefore does not have any responsive documents regarding your request.”
Two days later, La Prensa San Diego submitted a broader request for “all emails, agreements, correspondence, or other documents” related to Campa-Najjar’s work with SDSU.
After that second request, SDSU removed the picture and references to Campa-Najjar from its website and replaced it with a generic page describing the program.
On January 31st, SDSU launched an official application process to fill the new position of Executive Director of Partnerships with a salary range of $4,100 to $5,500 per month and expressly waived the requirement for an advanced degree.
The qualifications outlined previous experience very much in line with Campa-Najjar’s background, including “success in communicating effectively with diverse constituencies”, “demonstrated understanding and lived experience of priority civic issues impacting the San Diego region”, “experience as a community or field organizer”, and “have expertise or demonstrated commitment to developing expertise in crosscultural communication and collaboration.”
The application process was open through February 15th.
Then on February 22, La Monica Everett-Haynes, Associate Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for SDSU, emailed La Prensa San Diego with an update on the process and an announcement that the program had been canceled.
“There have been a number of delays related to the program timeline and, in late February, it was also identified that there is a lack of student financial aid funding and staffing shortages in the Faculty Advancement & Student Success unit,” Everett-Hayes wrote. “As a result, the program will not move forward.”
PROJECT CANCELLED AFTER MEDIA QUESTIONS
This week, SDSU responded to La Prensa San Diego’s second request with 67 pages of documents, including emails, text messages, and other documents related to Campa-Najjar that show how the program was created and then summarily canceled after La Prensa San Diego requested public documents.
Among the documents are text messages between Campa-Najjar and Preciado showing how the concept developed just days after his election loss and how Preciado connected Campa-Najjar with Dr. Joanna Brooks, Vice President for Faculty Advancement & Student Success.
The documents show that by mid-January, Campa-Najjar had been offered a Memorandum of Understanding agreement outlining it as “a Partnership of General Studies, the Office of Academic Community Engagement, the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, and ACN Strategies LLC.”
ACN Strategies LLC is Campa-Najjar’s consulting company which he has maintained since at least 2015. Official financial filings he submitted during his Congressional campaigns show his company had as little as $5,000 to $15,000 of income in years while he was running for office.
The company was created in Washington, D.C., but is not listed with the State of California’s Secretary of State as a foreign company doing business in the state. As such, ACN Strategies LLC should not be conducting business in California.
The MOU outlines specific tasks Campa-Najjar’s consulting company would perform, including contacting community stakeholders and elected officials in the South Bay area of the County, including Chula Vista where Campa-Najjar ran for office, as well as work to be performed by Preciado and two other SDSU staffers.
The agreement outlined that costs for Campa-Najjar’s position of $5,000 would be funded by the “Consultant via Foundation”, implying that Campa-Najjar would help raise private donations to cover his own position, much like Fletcher did at UCSD.
The SDSU documents also show drafts of handouts created to promote the Initiative, including one featuring a picture of Campa-Najjar taken at a fundraising event during his Congressional campaign.
The handouts claim “SDSU and Ammar Campa-Najjar (’13) are launching the Civic Engagement Initiative for rising juniors (students with 60+ units by May 2023) who want to build experience tackling challenges that matter to San Diego.”
SDSU flyer featuring Campa-Najajr
The agreement, dated January 11, 2023, was signed by Preciado, Campa-Najjar, Brooks, and Glen McClish, Chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies.
SDSU Memorandum of Understanding with Campa-Najjar
Coincidentally, that was the same day La Prensa San Diego had made its first contact with someone from SDSU regarding Campa-Najjar’s involvement with the project.
Early that morning, La Prensa San Diego’s Publisher, Art Castañares, emailed Preciado asking if he could confirm Campa-Najjar’s employment at the University.
“Hi Jose. I wanted to see if you can confirm that Ammar has a job at SDSU,” Castañares wrote in a 9:27 am email. “The online directory shows he is in the same dept as you. Do you know if that is correct? Do you know what position he has? The directory does not list a title or phone number.”
Preciado did not respond to the request for information.
But text messages in SDSU’s response include an exchange between Campa-Najjar and Preciado discussing La Prensa’s inquiry less than an hour after Castañares’ first email.
“Checking in – Joanna [Brooks] said Art [Castañares] reached out to you?”, Campa-Najjar wrote to Preciado. “Regarding [Civic Engagement Initiative]?”
“Yes. Via email,” Preciado responded and included a screen grab of Castañares’ email.
Text message between Preciado and Campa-Najjar
The day after the MOU was signed, an SDSU support staffer asked Campa-Najjar to confirm his information so she could order his SDSU business cards.
“Good morning, Ammar, I will be ordering your SDSU business cards,” wrote Claire Crise, Administrative Support Coordinator. “Can you please let me know when you have an SDSU email, if you’ll have an office, and work phone number?”
Two weeks later, though, Brooks informed the group that the “Foundation-supported elements of the plan” would be paused.
“Just a head’s up that we are pausing for now paperwork on the Foundation-supported elements of the plan,” Brooks wrote on January 27th. “I was not aware until yesterday of some single source contracting documentation requirements and have been in consultation with leadership to ensure that I am doing everything by the book.”
Brooks’ email came just days before the University launched an official hiring process to fill the position of Executive Director for the Initiative, but more than two weeks after having signed the MOU with Campa-Najjar.
The February 11th email from SDSU Provost Salvador Hector Ochoa to La Prensa San Diego included comments that make more sense after reviewing the internal emails and messages released this week.
Ochoa’s comment included an explanation that the website announcement was “incorrect” and that the new hiring process meets the University’s “best practice” of using an open hiring process implying that the selection of Campa-Najjar had been concluded without following established hiring processes.
“However, no Executive Director has been hired, and no funding has been received nor expended related to the program’s development at any time. The website information was not correct,” Ochoa wrote. “Further, while it is not university policy, it is considered best practice for any position such as this to go to an open search to fill the role. The Faculty Advancement and Student Success unit has launched a search aligned with university best practices, and the department looks forward to reviewing all candidates.”
The application process closed four days later.
The following week, SDSU leadership canceled the Initiative.
When reached for comment this week in response to the released documents, Campa-Najjar gave a short comment.
“Self-explanatory,” and referred La Prensa San Diego to Brooks.
Preciado did not respond to a request for comment on his involvement in securing the position for Campa-Najjar.
Fletcher did not respond to a request for comment on Campa-Najjar’s comparison to him and his similar position at UCSD.
FUTURE IN POLITICS
Just days after the November election, Campa-Najjar was working to secure an appointment to fill a vacancy on the Chula Vista City Council created when Councilman Steve Padilla resigned upon winning a seat in the California State Senate in the same election.
Padilla represented the 3rd City Council District which is south of the 1st Council District where Campa-Najjar is registered to vote. Councilmembers, including appointed members, must live within their respective districts.
The City Council had the option to fill the vacancy with a majority vote of the remaining members, or to call a special election to allow votes to select a representative. The Council voted on December 13 to begin a selection process to fill the vacancy.
Campa-Najjar lobbied for the appointment which would have required him to move and register to vote in the adjacent district, but he eventually decided not to pursue the appointment. The Council appointed local developer Alonso Gonzalez to fill the remainder of Padilla’s term through December 2024, but Gonzalez is barred by the City Charter from running for a full term next year.
Sources within the Democratic Party maintain that Campa-Najjar is interested in running for the 3rd Council District in next year’s election, but, as of last week, was still registered to vote at the same condo in District 1.
Campa-Najjar has also expressed interest in running for Congress in the South Bay district currently held by Congressman Juan Vargas. Vargas has maintained that he has no plans to retire, and political observers doubt Campa-Najjar would challenge the popular Democratic Congressman.
Others who would likely be interested in running to replace Congressman Vargas in his safe Democratic seat could included San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nora Vargas, former State Senator Ben Hueso, State Assemblyman David Alvarez, and other local elected officials.
Congressman Vargas’ district includes the area of the South Bay from the border, Chula Vista, National City, Bonita, Paradise Hills, and East San Diego to El Cajon Blvd.
Original Article Link: https://laprensa.org/sdsuacnprogram
Image Credit: Canva