LA MESA – In the end – after weeks of debate and some arguments –voters in the Jewel of the Hills decided to stay the course.
In a year when much of the national politics was dominated by anger and a rejection of incumbents, La Mesa returned to office the mayor who has led it for two decades and two council members who have pursued stability and measured growth.
Still, the leadership that survived a cranky election process comes out the other side still facing the problems of declining city and state revenues, mounting retirement costs and the possibility of having to steer the city through further cost cutting and, perhaps, more difficult service consolidations.
In short, entering the city’s centennial year, Tuesday’s winners may soon feel less victorious and more beleaguered.
But if there is a lesson about this election, it may be, in part, the realization that the electronic age has come to La Mesa elections and, going forward, more of more of the campaigns will play out as much in cyberspace as on the lawns and porches that have traditionally been the locations for discussions of local politics.
For the first time in La Mesa’s 100 years, newcomers to politics, could find their way onto local computer websites that offered daily, micro-coverage of everything from crime along the Interstates and constant probing of the views and backgrounds of the local candidates.
That, in the end, the voters stuck with the familiar and tested is not surprising given the makeup of this year’s challengers. Laura Lothian, a local realtor who wavered between a run for council and the mayor’s post, seemed coached into the mayoral run by Mayor Art Madrid’s detractors and never demonstrated the kind of expertise it would take to give local residents a push to send Madrid to political retirement.
Early on Madrid hammered away at Lothian’s inexperience, pointing out that she didn’t seem familiar with the town boundaries or the separation of responsibilities between agencies of government, asking him at one point “what the Caltrans offices in Old Town did.’’
Lothian, with some guidance from political consultants, picked a target and kept hammering away in her own way, pointing out trash and graffiti problems, implying crime was out of hand, and leaving it to her allies to pick away at Madrid’s personal foibles in postings on local websites.
Given the anti-incumbent mood of the country and Madrid’s drinking incident two years ago, Madrid, incumbents Mark Arapostathis and Ernie Ewin were nervous about what, in any other year, they might have expected to be cakewalks to victory.
As the results came in, however, it was clear the incumbent council members would win. Madrid, perhaps as a result of his public embarrassment, had a narrower lead over Lothian, but continued to lead through the evening.
Lothian and her supporters gathered in a downtown La Mesa coffee shop and shared Champagne as the results started coming in.
Across town, at Madrid's hilltop home, he and his kitchen cabinet and other key supporters gathered sharing chili and salads while contemplating life after a challenging race.
"When we get the results the election is over,'' Madrid said. "We just move on and start working on the challenges ahead. It's over.''
But Madrid said it would be difficult to forget what he considered to be unfair attacks and accusations by what he considered to be a small number of political enemies.
“I can count the number of real detractors I have on my two hands,’’ Madrid said. “And they are people who wanted special treatment but got told no for one thing or another. The greater number of La Mesa people are thoughtful and can tell when someone has their best interest at heart.’’
Madrid said he didn’t expect his detractors to ever stop reminding people of the night he ran into friends of his late son and ended up drinking to excess before being escorted home by local police.
“They’ll never let that go,’’ he said. Still, Madrid wasn’t willing to say that this was his last race. Having served 10 years on City Council and 20 as mayor, Madrid will be approaching 80 at the end of this term. He says he’s proud of where he and a now-supportive council majority have taken the city so he’s not announcing the end of his political career yet. The city is entering its centennial year and Madrid, who has been in a leadership position for almost half the city’s history, clearly wants to keep going.
“I take it one election at a time,’’ Madrid said. “I enjoy challenges. That’s what keeps you young.’’