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Ewin Won't Seek Re-Election In November
LA MESA -- Ernie Ewin, the long-serving City Councilman, who had two different stints in La Mesa leadership, has chosen to step aside.
Ewin Tuesday morning told the Union-Tribune that he would not seek re-election in November, clearing the way for what could be one of the most interesting political seasons in recent La Mesa history.
With the prospect of two open seats on a council of generally long-serving politicians, new candidates are expected to declare early. Already Bill Baber, a political consultant and member of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board, has filed preliminary papers to run for the City Council. If he is successful, that would create an opening on the local school board as well.
But it was Ewin's decision to step aside that was the big news of this day. Ewin has been a strong presence on the La Mesa council and a frequent jouster with Mayor Art Madrid.
Ewin's banking background gave him insight into the city's finances and enabled him to play a strong role as La Mesa's representative on the Metropolitan Transit System Board, where he helped initiate the MTS Audit Committee.
But in recent years, Ewin was most noted for leading an effort to rein in the long-serving Madrid, gathering support among other council members to force Madrid to approve travel and connect his efforts on regional and national organizations with La Mesa issues.
Speaking recently over breakfast, Ewin didn't reveal his decision to step aside, but he spoke generally about a political career that was, in many ways, as leader of a shadow cabinet to Madrid's more aggressive leadership style.
Ewin joined the council back in the 1980s not long after Madrid, but he said Madrid made it clear to him early on that he sought higher office, asking Ewin to support him for vice mayor. Much of Ewin's two stints on council were lived tussling with Madrid over the mayor's tendency to operate in isolation from the rest of the council.
In a City Manager form of government, the mayor and council are meant to give guidance to the manager, but Madrid's long service and style has, at times, given him a "strong mayor'' look and feel. Ewin preferred to adhere to the City Manager system and, in recent years, gathered allies among the four council members to remind Madrid of the limitations of his office.
If Ewin had mayoral ambitions, however, they may have been stifled by this more technocratic approach to governance. Madrid and, in many ways, Councilman Mark Arapostathis who is expected to challenge Madrid in November for the mayor's post, engaged with the public more directly. In recent head-to-head votes, Madrid and Arapostathis regularly garnered higher vote totals than Ewin.
Still, his departure, coupled with the possibility of an Arapostathis run, will make this November's election one for the La Mesa record books. Two open council seats, a vote on medical marijuana and possibly a vote on term limits as well as a classic mayoral race should give local residents much to think about.
Patrick Dean, who has run unsuccessfully for council in the past, has remained engaged in local politics and could be a candidate for one of possibly two open council seats. And Baber, (photo right) who is familiar to many in La Mesa from his school board service, said Monday that as long as there was one open seat on the council, he would run. If he runs and loses, he can remain on the school board, but must give up his school board seat if he wins and joins the City Council.
Baber Tuesday was praising Ewin.
"Ernie does not need to be in elected office to contribute to our community," Baber said. "He can retire and enjoy his family and continue his charity work and be really happy.''
Baber said Monday he was recruited to run by City Councilwoman Kristine Alessio and Ewin, a move that will clearly further anger Madrid.
Baber has been behind the petition effort to establish term limits in La Mesa, an effort that has featured signature gatherers telling local residents the intention is to get rid of Art Madrid.
With Ewin's departure, however, it is clear Madrid will still have strong opponents on the council regardless of November's outcome.
Alessio has emerged as a particularly aggressive critic of Madrid, her family helping fund the term limit effort. On Monday, Alessio posted a comment on La Mesa Today under the false name of "Dino Cowel.'' Cowel was the name used by a critic of Madrid's on local Internet spaces, including other recent postings that accused the mayor of being "corrupt" and a "bully.''
Alessio later acknowledged her daughter had created a false identification and had been posting under the name "Dino Cowel.'' "I posted my comment without noticing I was using my daughter's log-in,'' she said.
Madrid wasn't buying that explanation, pointing out that many of "Cowel's" comments revealed greater knowledge of city issues than typical teenagers might have.
"After re-reading the crap posted by Alessio and then blaming her daughter, it confirms everything I've always heard about her and have concluded that when she came to the council she brought a virus with her that's turned into a disease," Madrid said. "You can quote me on that.''
Alessio was looking ahead to the political races of the fall.
"When the person I believe is going to announce against Madrid does it,'' Alessio said, ''that will be a happy day for the people of La Mesa.''