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First of five articles.
A mayor who has served, in varying roles, for more than three decades. One council member with more than 20 years in place and the remaining members who are such fixtures in town, it can seem, at times, like a monolithic dynasty.
One of the candidates seeking a seat in next month's election refers to the panel as "La Mesa's Mt. Rushmore.''
But for the first time in years, this election will bring new life and, perhaps, significant new life to La Mesa's City Council. Incumbent Dave Allan is not seeking re-election, leaving one seat open, and the other seat is considered by some to be ripe for new blood because its incumbent, Ruth Sterling, has been showing signs of decline in her long service with the city.
Sterling, who is approaching her 80th birthday, is seeking re-election. Her signs can be seen throughout town, but she is not making herself available for the interviews her opponents agreed to do with LaMesaToday.com. She has appeared at candidate forums where she lists nearly perfect attendance at City Council meetings and the founding of the Flag Day parade as bragging points. Observers of the council in recent years have seen Sterling struggle to follow debates and discussions and her votes have swung quickly from one side to the other on key issues facing the city.
City staffers say that when Sterling represents the city at intergovernmental boards and committees, she is frequently given special tutoring sessions to help her follow the issues she is likely to face.
Sterling would not agree to be interviewed for this story. Despite two e-mail requests and a direct request during a City Council meeting, she would not agree to participate. Sterling told LaMesaToday.com she was busy but would answer, via e-mail, questions submitted in writing.
However, this series was produced based on live, spontaneous interviews with candidates, in part, to judge their ability to respond to issues in an unscripted exchange.
At City Council meetings Sterling often reads prepared statements and her fellow council members say they believe Sterling gets assistance preparing her remarks.
Mayor Art Madrid has said publicly he regularly wrote statements for Sterling in the past.
LaMesaToday.com editors would not agree to prior, written questions for only one of the five candidates.
Sterling's opponents have not been publicly challenging her continued candidacy. As a long, public servant they respect her years of effort and, instead, focus on their own strengths. One challenger, Laura Lothian, has made an issue of Sterling's service, but its length, not the substance of her performance or her age.
"I'm a big fan of term limits,'' Lothian says simply.
With a long history in La Mesa, Sterling clearly has many friends and she's been re-elected, like most La Mesa incumbents, election after election.
Yet, Allan's open seat has brought forth perhaps the strongest field of candidates in recent La Mesa history. The field includes candidates not only with long La Mesa roots, but with years of volunteer experience in the city and a number are highly educated and accomplished in their own fields.
There is a geologist and a lawyer. A trained chef and a realtor whose work in La Mesa's housing stock has allowed her to use that perch to challenge the city's code enforcement policies.
Meeting and talking with Sterling's challengers reveals some consistency among them all. All have a deep understanding of the local community. All have demonstrated in varying ways a commitment to public service. And all four are independent-thinking people who are clearly going to change the dynamic on the council, regardless of whether one or two of them win this year.
Over the next four days, LaMesaToday.com, will publish dossiers on each of the candidates. The stories -- labeled "The Race For La Mesa" -- will be published in the order the candidates will appear on the November ballot. Each story will include links to the candidates own websites and will include the official statements each penned for this year's ballot.
We encourage you to read the stories, examine their materials and share them with friends and neighbors. There was a one theme that appears in all four of the challengers' discussions of this election race. La Mesa, they all agreed, is a small city surrounded by larger neighbors in a region that continues to experience significant development pressures. Having a strong City Council with the talent to pursue the right policies will be key to maintaining what virtually all agree is a unique, small-town quality of life amid an increasingly urban landscape.
The series to come:
TUESDAY: Kristine Alessio
WEDNESDAY: Shannon O'Dunn
THURSDAY: Patrick Dean
FRIDAY: Laura Lothian
Incumbent Ruth Sterling has declined to be interviewed for this series. Below is her official ballot statement:
You can CLICK HERE to see Ruth Sterling's official website.