LA MESA – A dozen or so La Mesans showed up at Wednesday night’s candidates forum sporting tiaras, a symbolic protest to a comment Mayor Art Madrid made in an earlier campaign exchange. But as political theater goes, the tiara affair didn’t stir much heat in the events that followed.

For two hours, Madrid and challenger Laura Lothian as well as four of the five candidates for two council seats continued a now-repetitious dialogue that is making the choices La Mesa voters face increasingly clear.

The incumbents – including Council member Ernie Ewin and Mark Arapostathis -- continually describe a well-run city, citing statistics that include a low crime rate, balanced budgets, new facilities and stable services in a time of great fiscal challenge.

The challengers, with one exception, try to identify issues they hope might resonate while hoping, it seems, that anti-incumbent sentiment will supply a victory that traditional political analysis would suggest is well out of reach.

For example, by now, Lothian has clearly established a platform that might be described as the Garbage/Graffiti/Crime Nexus. The La Mesa realtor describes a town with garbage collecting in the streets, graffiti filling up its walls and criminals jumping off trolleys and running amok on dangerous streets. She is adopting the Fuerte/Severin I-8 on ramp to prove her point.

However, Madrid and his fellow incumbents can site recent crime studies that put La Mesa’s crime levels at 42-year-lows and even those who are tired of Madrid and support Lothian have a hard time seeing the garbage, graffiti and danger nexus as their motivation. And Madrid recounts as an aside that he personally schooled Lothian on the adoption program and took her on her first visit to the Cal-Trans offices in Old Town.

Similarly, council challenger Ian Shiff tried last night to talk with great indignity about the sales tax increase the council had supported and suggested they were using too many consultants. But he got the El Cajon sales tax wrong and his consultant example was easily explained away as crucial to city efforts to help attract small business and new revenue to the city. And, the sales tax increase had the overwhelming support of voters who had been promised it would allow the city to maintain key fire and police services, which it has.

Council challenger Patrick Dean has taken a different approach, outlining a platform that acknowledges the city’s current stability but pointing out the need to prepare for a future challenged by environmental threats. Still, suggesting as he did last night that perhaps the trolley could be free to encourage less driving, probably makes even those who find him smart and charming wonder if he’s ready to assume office.

Still, the audience for this forum was clearly filled with a clear majority of Lothian supporters. You could tell by the tiaras.

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Comment by D. Probert on October 2, 2010 at 6:40pm
Chris - Were you at the event or is your info. second hand? You are obviously trying to discount what was a strong appearance by Laura supporters. I was there and personally counted 39 women, 3 men and 1 dog wearing tiaras, three times the number you state. That La Mesa is at its lowest crime rate in 42 years is ridiculous! I don't think for a second, and neither does anybody else (including council and mayor), that in 1968 car jackings, beatings, assaults and armed robberies were happening in La Mesa with the frequency they're happening now. This just out: La Mesa has the highest crime rate in the county for 2010. Try to hide your bias better.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on October 1, 2010 at 9:09am
Excellent point, David. Driving home after the "debate," (these are anything but real debates) I realized that the only thing a La Mesa candidate would have to do to stand out is run on the original principles that built this nation. What if one of our candidates told you about all the things they weren't going to do; promised to get government out of the way, and adhere to Thoreau's maxim that, "That government is best which governs least." Scarcely conceivable, I sadly concede.
That's how far we've descended.
Comment by Ian I Shiff on October 1, 2010 at 8:24am
David - I have addressed that. I have hammered them on over-spending for consultants and other items that anyone fiscally responsible would not buy during a recession. Remember, I have publically asked if any of my opponents would be willing to give back 50% of their city council or mayoral payment back to the community. I am - and NOONE answered - I am the only one committed to NOT spending foolishly. Please spread the word - I feel your pain and want to stop the bleeding.
Ian
Comment by David Stanley on October 1, 2010 at 5:42am
I am struck by the constant and continual chest beating, inane doomsday predictions and suggestions with examples of dire and disheartening incidents in our village (many of which are questionable or nonexistent I might add). Underlying everything said in all the campaigns is: "I want to spend your money!!!", No mention, no rhetoric, no table banging about cutting spending anywhere, notice that? Why does La Mesa have a higher tax rate? Hmmm? "Oh, just ignore that little thing. Its just a couple of pennies". Why do we need more money? Will one of the candidates have the courage to stand up and admit that they love spending other people's money and are not willing to stop or cut back? I think not. Always more money totally overlaid with scare mongering and silly suggestions to cover THAT up. I live on my pension each month but do our politicians? When I run out of money I stop spending. I don't RAISE TAXES so I can spend more money! Can anyone of them drastically cut their office budgets to help the citzens of the village? Can or will the counsel direct dept. audits to drastically cut spending? I think not. When you're dealing with arrogance and someone else's money running through your fingers you say many things to obsfucate the issue but MONEY is the bottom line. None have or will address this issue!!!
Comment by Kristin Kjaero on September 30, 2010 at 1:31pm
Ian, you may find these of interest. This includes a section on Buxton: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/444_la_mesa_budget . Also this on Prop L: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/prop_l#comment-365

Chris, thanks for the summary. I'm working on getting the videotape up today if you are interested in linking to them later.

Without taking a position on the candidates, some factual clarification: (1) the Fuerte-Severin ramp is in unincorporated county, not the city, and (2) ramps belong to Caltrans, not the cities or counties through which they pass.

My perception was that although the Madrid supporters were more discrete, I recognized as many there as I saw tiaras.
Comment by Patrick Dean on September 30, 2010 at 12:45pm
Thanks for the work you put into this site, Chris. I welcome it as an interesting option for local news here in La Mesa. In my defense, I would like to elaborate on my obvious gaffe. In my closing comment, I was referencing an earlier comment of mayor Madrid that he dreams of a system where a ticket is required to enter all trolley stations. And while my strong desire is for San Diego to embrace public transportation, I want to be clear that I am in no way supporting a push for a free public transportation system. There are many dreams I have about the future, many of which are not now nor look ever to be politically viable. I am a political novice and may one day learn to preface such statements by not only saying that it was a (pipe)dream, but that it does not reflect a current legislative agenda. Likewise, I do not have any desire to pursue a 5 cent tax on disposable bags, even though I think that they are an environmental disaster. I hope that those who came to the debate will take away from it that I am a pragmatist who will work to forge compromise solutions to the issues that come before the council. Thanks for the smart and charming part, though, you had me at Council challenger ;-)
Comment by Ian I Shiff on September 30, 2010 at 9:47am
I like how you edited your blog after I read it this morning - adding "which it has" to the paragraph I commented on - this is a blog site, not a newspaper - I understand that. I was just hoping your previous work as a UT Journalist would enable you to see all sides of the issue - not just the side you are endorsing. After the debate, I had numerous people congratulate me for admitting I make mistakes, taking on the council for foolish spending and not doing "politics as usual" - don't YOU want a change?

for a objective look at the debates, I encourage the readers of this blog to check out the follwing.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/sep/30/candidates-talk-poli...

http://lamesa.patch.com/articles/candidates-for-mayor-council-trade...
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on September 30, 2010 at 8:04am
Whether he was effective or not, I think what Shiff was trying to convey was his indignation (not, "indignity") over the tax increase. And mistakes about El Cajon tax rates notwithstanding, I thought his presentation quite persuasive, as well as dignified.

But that brings us to the sort of political BS I referred to in my last entry. Could anything represent it better than Prop. "L," the tax hike that the city sold to the people on the basis of shameless scare tactics (We'll be overrun by gangs! Homes will burn down!! Emergency services cut!!!)? No. Thus Shiff's appeal to our indignation was only appropriate.

Remember that when you enter the voting booth.
Comment by Ian I Shiff on September 30, 2010 at 6:27am
Chris. it's infortunate that you are not telling the whole story. I am amazed at all the pledges I made, all the promises for change and open government - you would perseverate about the small issues. It's your blog Chris - but once again, I'll make sure people know the truth.

let me help out those who were not there - add a little bit of journalism to both to the piece on me. My notes in parenthesis ( )

Similarly, council challenger Ian Shiff tried last night to talk with great indignity (shame, Chris - really?) about the sales tax increase the council had supported and suggested they were using too many consultants. But he got the El Cajon sales tax wrong (for which he immediatly admitted to his mistake at the next available point, which is rare for anyone to do so) and his consultant example was easily explained away (no, it was not - as only ONE person in the audience has actually read about it - and we have not seen any results from the 70k spent - and I had to put in a records request to see how much the city (YOU) paid to send a few councilmembers to Las Vegas for Buxton junkets) as crucial to city efforts to help attract small business and new revenue to the city. (where is that revenue chris?) And, the sales tax increase had the overwhelming support of voters who had promised it would allow the city to maintain key fire and police services. (promises are different than action - has it? since the study - we have had consolidation in the fire dept and are discussing the same with the police department - who are still underpaid) so tell me how Prop L. HAS been beneficial in 2010 with fire and police services? I encourage you to look deeper. I watched as you sat there with your arms crossed - not taking notes. I must have hit a nerve.
Comment by joan sullivan on September 30, 2010 at 4:48am
Patrick Dean's suggestion, "perhaps the trolley could be free to encourage less driving", sounds like some of the lame-brained schemes Ruth Sterling comes up with at city council meetings. Is Sterling promoting Dean as well as Lothian?

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