Love where you live!
By Chris Lavin
La Mesa Today Editor
LA MESA -- In a usual month, the City Council meeting is where you might come to measure the activity running through the fault lines of local politics. The dust ups between council members this past year or so have been frequent and often did measure on the political Richter scale.
But Tuesday night's meeting was a reminder of how elections impact everything. Here, the mayor and council, some involved in pretty heavy hand-to-hand combat on the political road these days, gathered almost to take a break, it seemed, and execute some routine business.
They bought a new police command truck, talked a bit about nuisance handbills landing on local lawns and made a few announcements about upcoming public events and committee activities. No angst, no fights, just the people's small town business.
In many ways, that scene contrasts sharply with the election campaign that has less than a week to go before decision night. Long-time political watchers in the Jewel of the Hills can't remember a campaign that has seemed to get so personal. Mailings -- anonymous and otherwise -- have filtered into boxes all over town. Great complaints and assertions are fashioned out of the thinnest of facts presented without benefit of balance, fairness or context. There are charges of whisper campaigns attempting to play to stereotypes and fears.
On the new electronic, Internet-based battlegrounds, the tone and untethered debate can swerve wildly from solid, community discussion to personal, almost bullying tactics, particularly where anonymity can shield the speakers.
It is tempting to blame the Internet for this coarsening of local political life. Everyone now has a bully pulpit and there are fewer and fewer unexpressed thoughts. Somehow cyberspace seems to require edgier and edgier tactics to feel seen and heard.
You could also blame the way campaign finance laws and the tactics they have spawned at the national and state level have trickled down into local politics. City Council candidate Guy McWhirter, by virtually every measure a solid, hard-working and dedicated community servant making his first run at public office, seems to have been coaxed by "advisers" down a slippery road of anonymous hit mailings without realizing the way it would play in a town that prides itself on being a "small town.''
To many, it seems there is more "outside" money funding a local political scene that was -- and probably still is -- determined more by candidates walking the neighborhoods, meeting voters in person and making an impression. All this Internet chatting and mailbox filling could be a triumph of the current popular form over substance -- or so it is hoped by traditionalists.
When you look at the seven candidates for mayor and City Council this year, there is one consistent theme across the board. All have served extensively for years in public and quasi-public roles in the community. All have extensive records of public service and performance that can be documented, measured and evaluated by the electorate. Do Art Madrid's years working the machinery of government outweigh the impressive years of government and community service City Councilman Mark Arapostathis brings to his candidacy? Voters will make a choice between two dedicated men.
Similarly, Bill Baber, Mary England, Patrick Dean, Pete Gregorovic and McWhirter bring a rich mix of public service and public records of performance and statements that leave little to imagine about these very public people.
Virtually all candidates -- particularly those who have lived and served for long periods -- may carry the blemishes of public and private lives. Tough development decisions that angered some. Divorces, bankruptcies, family challenges, the financial and professional setbacks that seem to touch all at some time.
What La Mesa can brag about this year, however, is a full slate of candidates with clear records of public engagement that do not require wondering how they will perform. They have been doing it in their different ways for decades.
Now it comes to a simple voter judgment of whose turn it is now to help lead a small city focused on preserving its quality of life.
There is a touch of fatigue that sets in at the end of all energetic campaign seasons. And it always seems that the anger generated amid the competition will color all going forward. But as residents and candidates left the routine City Council meeting Tuesday night, several were recounting details of an earlier, particularly caustic battle between Madrid and his then-rival Dave Allan, who challenged the mayor.
For those who watched, that election, won by Madrid, was followed by years in which Allan was seen as Madrid's closest ally.
As if to remind all that healing can happen, Councilman Ernie Ewin -- who is stepping out of elected office voluntarily this year -- circulated through the crowd inviting all the politicians and journalists to his off-the-record election-day lunch, an event meant to remind all that this is about more than personal ambitions.