ANALYSIS: Experience Trumped Anti-Incumbent Sentiments

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.’’

Mark Arapostathis


Ernest Ewin

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Tags: Government

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Comment by Ernest Ewin on November 3, 2010 at 1:04pm
Thanks Ian...don't wait 2 years as there are lots of service opportunities in La Mesa as well as a great chance to meet other La Mesa doers. Service in La Mesa is non-partisian...as are the public services provided by our City.
So, given the intense self orientation you just went through, rank the top 5 current issues in the order of impact on our City's 3-5 and 10 year viability and ability to perform its basic responsibilities ( which are?). Bgig things will require a "City" to address. Where does that leadership come from?
Periodic hosted dialogues ( live chats)may be a good way to discuss in depth the issues raised on the blogs.
E/ Ernie
Comment by Ian I Shiff on November 3, 2010 at 9:38am
Congatulations to Bud, Ernie, Mark & Art for winning re-election. I look forward to working with you to make my new home a better place for all.

I want to thank Ernie Ewin especially for being a true class act during the process. Mr. Ewin represents unwavering professionalism on the council and is a great person as well.

There are many others I want to personally thank for advice or motivation I received during my run as well - Ruth Sterling, Chris Lavin, Karen "Laura" Pearlman, Laura Lothian, Craig Maxwell, Dexter Levy, Jim Weiboltd, Mary Kennedy, Ken Stone, Peter Cuthbert, Patrick Dean, Kevin Rynearson, Chris Salcedo, Kristin Kjaero (sp), Chris Kelishes, Scott P., my wonderul wife Beth & Family, co-workers and friends.

thank you and I'll see you in two years when I run again.

Ian Shiff
Candidate, La Mesa City Council - 2012
Comment by Karen Pearlman on November 3, 2010 at 8:31am
GREAT analysis! Good read, thank you for the insight into a city i really care about, too!

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