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Mark Arapostathis Will Run For Mayor
LA MESA -- Mark Arapostathis, a school teacher, theater director and City Council member, will run for mayor -- trying to unseat his one-time political ally who has reigned over local politics for more than two decades.
Arapostathis -- "Dr. A" as he is called by his students, friends and supporters -- announced his plans Wednesday flanked by three fellow council members who were publicly endorsing his candidacy. The announcement was made at a press conference held near La Mesa's iconic Village train museum on Nebo Drive and was attended by a group of friends, family and supporters from among the different constituencies Arapostathis has counted on over the years.
"Service,'' he said is his motivation for running and his belief that he can bring greater unity to the City Council and better access to city government for the people of La Mesa.
Arapostathis, 47, kept his remarks short and never mentioned his opponent. He said he intends to stick to the issues throughout the campaign and not engage in personal attacks. "I'm not bringing up anyone's past,'' he said.
Arapostathis' colleagues, however, made it clear they were hoping he could defeat Mayor Art Madrid.
City Council members Ernie Ewin, Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio appeared at Arapostathis' side in a show of unity against a long-serving mayor these four had come to oppose in recent years.
"I've had 20 years of bullying and now we have a viable candidate,'' Sterling said.
Alessio added: "November 4th will be a great day for La Mesa. Term limits will win and so will Mark.''
Madrid said he expected Arapostathis' announcement and welcomed him into a race. He questioned Arapostathis' call for unity, saying Arapostathis will need to learn to compromise if he hopes to bring unity to the council.
"So far he is the poster-child for the lack of unity,'' Madrid said.
He said he looks forward to debating Arapostathis at anytime, any place. "We can start tomorrow, at the drop of a hat,'' he said. "The voters will see a difference in experience and draw their own distinctions.''
Arapostathis' decision sets the stage for a watershed year in La Mesa politics. In a city of long-serving politicians in which incumbents have seldom lost, there will now be two open council seats with City Councilman Ernie Ewin already having announced his retirement from politics and Arapostathis giving up his own seat to run for the mayor's post. That means La Mesa could potentially field a political team in 2015 with two new council members and a new mayor.
But Mayor Madrid has made it clear he feels he still has work to do for La Mesa and he has beaten back tough opponents before. Then City Councilman Dave Allan once took Madrid on but was defeated convincingly.
Though in his most recent election, Madrid appeared more vulnerable. Coming off an embarrassing incident in which he appeared drunk in public and was escorted home by city staff, in 2010 Madrid was challenged by a political novice, Laura Lothian, who still managed to come within 1,100 votes of Madrid's final total. Two years later when Lothian ran for City Council, she tallied few votes, suggesting her showing against Madrid represented a strong negative vote for the mayor.
At the same time, Arapostathis has consistently garnered strong votes from La Mesa, perhaps reflecting his deep involvement in the community over many years. Running twice as a council member, Arapostathis received the most votes for council in 2006 and 2010, garnering almost as many votes as Madrid won running with fewer opponents.
Arapostathis has roots that run long and wide through the community. As an elementary school teacher for the past 23 years and as long-serving director of the Peter Pan Jr. Theater and C. Hook Theater, he has directly touched the lives of many La Mesa families. In many ways, his "character-based'' work among the thousands of youths who have moved through PPJT and the C. Hook theater over the last three decades has afforded Arapostathis the sort of standing in the community that had once been enjoyed by legendary athletic coaches.
And in the last year, Arapostathis was among a small group of educators who persuaded the La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board to let them create a new "arts-based" magnet school-within-a- school on the La Mesa Middle School campus. The first year enrollment for the La Mesa Arts Academy is expected to exceed 500 and has attracted students from outside the school district to help return that campus to near historic high enrollment.
In fact, it was Arapostathis' many commitments around town that had some wondering whether he had the time to commit to the mayor's role. He can often be seen moving around town in his golf cart, and occasionally on his motorcycle, going from event to event. He also serves on the Boys & Girls Club group raising $9-million for a new facility in West La Mesa.
Arapostathis said he is convinced he can handle the job as it is designed, a part-time leader of a council of five who give guidance to full-time professional management of the city. And though Arapostathis and Madrid have been largely in lock-step on major issues in La Mesa, it is the role and style expected of the La Mesa mayor where the two have parted ways in recent years.
Madrid, retired many years now from his job as a lobbyist, kept an office at City Hall and was there virtually daily in recent years. He used his long-serving status to deepen his involvement with wider government entities including the San Diego Association of Governments, the National League of Cities and other state, regional and national groups.
Madrid has argued that such deep involvements in wide political spheres has been keeping La Mesa, a small city, competitive for grants and its professional management well directed.
Arapostathis increasingly became part of a council majority that continually voted to rein in Madrid, forcing him to limit his travels and share the wider duties across the full council. That majority voted earlier this year to remove Madrid from his SANDAG responsibilities, which were transferred to council newcomer Kristine Alessio.
All and all, it appears on paper that Madrid has never had an opponent that looks as strong as Arapostathis. In a survey conducted last month by La Mesa Today, Arapostathis clearly outpointed Madrid among the nearly 400 people who took the poll. Arapostathis has many roles in this small town (see graphic below).
His performance in the La Mesa Today poll suggests early strength among the Internet savvy in town for sure. How it translates into the real ballot box is yet to be seen.
That's what campaigns are about.