By CHRIS LAVIN
LA MESA – The City Council met Tuesday evening to handle a routine agenda, but in this political season virtually nothing is without drama.
Everything occurs with a backdrop of the coming election and, in fact, this four hour meeting ended in a bizarre exchange between City Councilwoman Ruth Sterling and Mayor Art Madrid that spurred the rest of the council to force the long meeting to a sudden end.
And this meeting was sandwiched between the second candidates forum of the year earlier in the day and another forum Wednesday that is sounding like a piece of political theater in development.
Challenger Laura Lothian’s team is organizing a gathering of women; all promising to wear tiaras in protest of a remark Madrid said during the first political forum a week ago. E-mail messages sent out from the Lothian’s campaign consultant, Gareth Maden, accused Madrid of being a chauvinist and outlined Lothian’s plans to get TV stations to cover the tiara event.
“It’s just a lighthearted way of highlighting an unfortunate statement,’’ Maden said of the planned tiara event.
Maden’s e-mail read in part: “Art Madrid took every opportunity to insult her, which we expected. What we didn't expect was for him to insult her gender. He told the audience of about 200 people that Laura wanted to be mayor so that she could wear a ‘tiara.’ He also said that if ‘Laura really wants to 'clean house' in La Mesa,’ then she should hire two Molly Maids for $40 an hour.’ "
Madrid, informed of the planned protest, smiled and said he has no regrets in saying Lothian wants the mayor’s post so she can wear it like a “tiara.’’
“If my opponent was a man I would have said the same thing, maybe using another word – crown,’’ Madrid said, “because she makes it eminently clear that she is running as a realtor who wants exposure. All the groups she belongs to are real estate groups. She is not a public person with a history of public service. She’s just pushing her business.’’
In yesterday’s second candidates’ forum Tuesday afternoon, Madrid was markedly less critical of Lothian during his remarks. He recounted his accomplishments over 30 years of public service and continually demonstrated long roots that extend to state and national government associations.
“Through that experience I have been able to identify more than $12 million in grants that this city has been able to take advantage of,’’ Madrid said.
In fact, the only thing that came close to attack politics in Tuesday’s forum came during Lothian’s closing remarks when she suggested that sometimes politicians hold on too long and lose the spark needed to see things with a fresh eye, a clear critique of Madrid’s more than 30 years in city government.
“I can liven things up,’’ Lothian said.
Council candidates were also included in the Tuesday afternoon forum sponsored by the League of
Women’s Voters and held at the La Mesa Senior Center. However, only Incumbent Ernie Ewin and challenger Patrick Dean could attend the forum. Incumbent Mark Arapostathis is a school teacher and could not attend the daytime event. Candidates Ian Shiff and Kevin Rynearson also could not fit it into their schedule. Candidate Byron Reed remains on the ballot but has not attended the forums and has not returned repeated calls from LaMesaToday.com for comment.
After the afternoon forum, the council and mayoral candidates convened again for a regular City Council meeting.
Much of the evening was taken up with the sort of city action that might leave a challenger wondering why they wanted a council or mayor’s seat – hours of preliminary discussions with citizens about commission appointments and staff updates on long-term development and traffic projects.
But after more than four hours of governing, politics reared its head again as each council member was giving their individual reports.
This is when things got a bit bizarre.
With Lothian sitting in the back row, Sterling, who has been campaigning publicly against Madrid in recent days, took the microphone and began recounting an episode at last week’s California League of Cities convention in San Diego.
Sterling said she was sitting in the front row at a convention general meeting when Madrid was called continually to the podium for a recognition ceremony.
Sterling said Madrid continued to be called and failed to show when she heard someone behind her in the crowd say “he’s drunk in a bar.’’
Sterling’s fellow council members and Madrid simply rose, shook their heads at Sterling’s statements and voted to adjourn the meeting, but not before they asked Sterling about her expenses at the same convention.
They were pointing out that Sterling was the only council member who stayed in a downtown San Diego hotel at city expense, while the others traveled to their own homes each night.
After the meeting, Madrid explained his absence from the League of Cities podium as a failure of the organizers to adjust his schedule when a campaign event required his absence from the convention hall at that time. He said he attended all three days of the convention.
“That was the most contrived cheap shot I’ve ever seen,’’ Madrid said.
The candidates will reconvene for another League of Women Voters forum in the same council chambers Wednesday night at 7 p.m.