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LA MESA -- Democracy can be exhausting.
With two open seats in the La Mesa City Council race, the five candidates have been racing through an energetic campaign, raising money, knocking on doors, looking for anyway possible to get before an audience and spending their money sending missives to the masses.
Council candidate Bill Baber recently arrived at a breakfast meeting with a complete compendium of all the candidates' campaign mailings that have hit La Mesa mail boxes this political season and an impressive array it was.
Printed promises and pledges -- and a few pointed shots thrown in against opponents -- remain a trusted method of reaching out to voters these days. But it is the feet on the street and the endless repetition of describing positions and listening to complaints that tests the candidates most.
Baber, among the five candidates the most experienced and savvy about the election cycle, said he was struck by local concerns about trolley security and public safety. A few residents mention development issues, mostly prompted by the Park Station project, but for the most part it is the very local issues that are on their minds when asked, Baber said.
So Baber stuck to his strategic script, emphasizing the key functions of government -- public safety and public parks and street maintenance and improvement. He has pointed to his stewardship of the city's Environmental Commission which is now seeking grants to add trees and more green space to the city. And over the course of the campaign, Baber has honed his explanation for seeking a seat that, in a pure political sense, represents fewer people and manages a smaller budget then the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District he now serves as an elected board member.
"La Mesa is short on vision right now,'' Baber said. "It lacks leadership. This is a watershed moment for La Mesa and I think this election is key.''
And, as a supporter of Term Limits throughout government, Baber notes that he is approaching his 12th year on the school board. "It is unlikely I would run again because of my support for limits,'' he said.
With two new council members assured and the potential for a new mayor, Baber said the council would be in a position to fully execute a strategic planning process that would allow the city to begin dealing effectively with the long-term fiscal challenges it faces.
More Help For Dean
When you run into Patrick Dean, one of the other five council candidates, you see the familiar look of fatigue all the candidates display at this time. But Dean's demeanor is more optimistic this year. In his third run for a council seat and still taking a more grassroots approach to his campaigning, Dean says he was able to garner the help of a number supporters this year. That allowed him to do more effective campaigning, which included door to door campaigning, signs and literature to leave with voters. He sees 4,000 votes being enough to claim victory this year.
"I see this as a winnable election,'' he says.
Dean carved out a niche as the candidate willing to chide the existing council for too myopic a focus on the downtown Village and not enough leadership for the rest of the city. He and Pete Gregorovic were the only candidates willing to publicly say that in developing the open acres of land along Spring Street, the city might do well to exchange some height and density for other benefits in creating an attractive and effective development. That may be good policy and effective development, but it could be seen as costly politics.
"I could have said it better than 'we can't be a Village','' Dean said. "But I do believe we have to look at the whole picture. We have to realize people are moving here and things will change. Unless we confront it with good planning and smart decisions, we're not going to end up with what is best for the city.''
Open, green spaces in the city's core are key to Dean and he has consistently discussed the macro-economic forces of growth pressures and revenue challenges, but those are complex issues and voters' eyes glaze quickly on such topics, regardless of how determinative they may be.
Of Finance And Politics
Gregorovic, too, stopped down at Cosmos late last week to grab a cup of coffee. The businessman and attorney is used to contentious venues in his work, but it was also clear the campaigning had taught him new things.
"We went door to door all over the place,'' he said. "We had a lot of conversations with people who said I was the only one they'd met, so, who knows?''
Gregorovic, like candidate Guy McWhirter, has spent years working with civic groups, but not much in the political realm. Gregorovic worked with youth and sports groups and said he drew heavily on his name recognition among those people to boost his campaign.
In making this first run for office, however, he said he learned he might have benefitted from garnering support from donors before throwing his hat into the ring. While he was able to get some financial support from friends and colleagues, his campaign didn't have the funds other candidates had to buy signs and do mailings.
Of course, in this race, that greater funding was a double-edged sword.
McWhirter, making his own first run for council, did get the support of large donors, but some of that money, it was revealed, was used to finance anonymous literature attacking candidate Mary England.
England's high profile as the leader of the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and her eight years as a Lemon Grove City Council member gave her a perceived advantage that McWhirter felt he needed to diminish. His admission that he funded a portion of the attacks on the only woman candidate caused a backlash, but how that plays out on election day is left to the voters and political scientists.
England was clearly angered by the negative politics, but she soldiered on and has continued to play to her experience working to support the business community in a city where the need for commerce and increased sales tax generation has never been greater.
The two top vote getters in this election will win seats -- and tell us something about the Jewel of the Hills.