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Sharing Cake And Seeking Votes
LA MESA -- Politics in La Mesa is a gentle contact sport -- mostly handshakes and smiles between the candidates and the residents who show up for political events.
And on Thursday evening at the La Mesa Village Plaza condo project, this was a voting crowd. Some of these residents have been voting for some of these candidates for decades.
All five council candidates and both mayoral candidates showed up and gave five minute presentations tailored closely for an older audience that has been prominently on the record with concerns about downtown safety, Oktoberfest complaints and worries about trolley crime.
But this wasn't a night for formal presentations and public speaking. As soon as the residents could politely end the formal program, they did. What followed was the real hand-to-hand politicking that is indicative of these largely non-partisan local elections.
Cake was passed around and candidates jumped into the crowd looking for votes.
There was a lot of familiarity around the room, particularly in a year when virtually all of the candidates are life-long residents or can nearly claim to be.
One 95-year-old resident looked up from his chocolate cake and said: "I've known Art Madrid for 44 years. He's done a good job.'' But then he wondered aloud if there comes a time in some voters' minds when you need to step aside and let others take a chance.
Mark Arapostathis, the council member, school teacher and theater director, was hoping to persuade them that that time has come. But this was a very polite crowd and there was little indication, overt or subtle, as to who was the preferred brand here.
Council candidates Patrick Dean, Bill Baber, Mary England, Guy McWhirter and Pete Gregorovic took their turns making pitches that, with time and repetition, are starting to get tighter and more focused as they identify themes that clearly resonate. Public safety, traffic concerns and fiscal sobriety are a staple of all the talks.
How these candidates distinguish themselves from each other over time and get that message to a meaningful audience will determine which two will win the open seats this year. That's why the candidates are walking the precincts day and night these days. Local politics in La Mesa is a ground war.