By CHRIS LAVIN
Editor

LA MESA – The race for mayor of La Mesa is heating up – literally and metaphorically – and is revealing some bitter fault lines within local politics.

On Saturday morning supporters of challenger Laura Lothian were crowding into her La Mesa Boulevard office, stocking up on lawn signs and getting what might be described as spiritual guidance from one of Mayor Art Madrid’s most consistent critics.

City Councilwoman Ruth Sterling gave the volunteers impromptu pep talks, recounting for them anecdotes from her many years of sparring with Madrid.

“He’s a mean and vindictive man,’’ she said. “For eighteen years he has belittled me. He’s made my self-esteem like this low,’’ she said gesturing with two fingers while holding back tears.

Lothian, moving back and forth between supporters in need of signs and Sterling’s discussions, criticized Madrid for attacking her during the race’s first public forum last week, but pledged not to follow suit.
“I am not going to attack,” Lothian said. “People don’t like that here.’’

Sterling had no such hesitance. She criticized Councilman Mark Arapostathis for following Madrid too closely. She told one supporter that she has raised four children and, like Madrid, had lost one child to an early death.

“I would never use that as an excuse to get drunk in public,’’ Sterling said. She was referring to Madrid’s explanation for an episode in which a gathering of his late son’s friends led to excessive drinking and a now renowned incident in which police found Madrid publicly intoxicated.

For his part, Madrid, who has been mayor for 20 years, said Sterling’s current criticism flies in the face of two decades of facts.

Madrid said he helped Sterling when she first thought about running for the council 20 years ago. When she was elected, he said, at Sterling’s request, he scripted virtually all her public statements and, also at her request, critiqued her performance after each council meeting.

“If it wasn’t for me,’’ Madrid said Saturday, “she wouldn’t be on council. If it wasn’t for me scripting her statements and making her sound like an intelligent person, she wouldn’t be there today.’’
But Madrid said over time Sterling began to resent his critiques and began depicting herself as a victim whenever anyone disagreed with her on an issue.

“It isn’t just Art Madrid,” he said, “it is anyone who disagrees with her.’’

Madrid charges that Sterling has become increasingly unprofessional.

Others see in Sterling’s public attacks another episode in what has been long simmering disagreements between Sterling and Madrid that seem more personal than based in issues.

Incumbents Ernie Ewin and Arapostathis were spending Saturday morning meeting constituents at a community health fair. Hearing of Sterling’s efforts with the Lothian supporters, both expressed chagrin over the increasingly personal tone of the campaign.

“I’ve never publicly criticized Ruth,’’ Arapostathis said, “but she is constantly criticizing me. I won’t go there.’’

Ewin said he believes the community would prefer sticking to discussions of issues “and that’s what we will continue to do,’’ he said. These exchanges between Madrid and Sterling, seem to occur with every election cycle, he said.

But at least on the ballot, this election isn’t between Madrid and Sterling. Sterling did consider running, but stepped aside when she decided Lothian was a credible candidate.

Both Ewin and Arapostathis said they were surprised when Madrid started publicly attacking Lothian at the recent La Mesa Chamber of Commerce candidates forum. “We are not part of his kitchen cabinet,’’ Ewin said.

Madrid tends to connect Lothian’s criticisms to Sterling and his past political opponent, Craig Maxwell, whom he defeated by a large margin four years ago. He will often say "they'' when answering Lothian's criticisms.

Madrid on Saturday said he doesn’t regret criticizing Lothian, but will endeavor to keep future debates focused on specific issues.

“But I’m like an umpire,” Madrid said. “I call ‘em as I see ‘em and if she criticizes the city, if she implies that we are incompetent or corrupt, I have to force her to show her cards.’’

There is a City Council meeting on Tuesday and on Saturday Sterling was pledging to bring her criticisms of Madrid to that forum as well.

“I will be there the entire time,’’ Lothian told her.

It should be an interesting meeting.

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Comment by joan sullivan on September 30, 2010 at 5:26am
The Maxwell/Sterling Anthem:
"Drunk, drunk
Puke, puke
Chris Tanner
EVERYBODY'S ALWAYS PICKING ON ME!"
Comment by Jim Wieboldt on September 30, 2010 at 1:43am
This is becoming totally awesome Craig. We get another glimpse of your world! Let's break it down shall we?

1. You ran for Mayor, but you didn't really want to be elected (The Saviour Complex).

2. You have been offered positions of service within the community, but you're afraid of some undescribed hypothetical threat to your business or person (Paranoid Behavior Complex).

3. Someone, (always a male) who is associated with La Mesa City Government, is always wrong and/or corrupt (Theory of Assignment Complex).

4. And now you would have us believe that you have been tasked by some cosmic deity to clean up the barn known in your world as La Mesa, (The Martyrdom Complex).

It seems to me Craig, that you are a very complex person.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on September 29, 2010 at 5:57pm
Yes "Hilltopper, and those who made the appeals have all been either members of the current government, or it's close allies. Thus my reluctance--which probably (given the way things subsequently worked out) is the only thing they appreciate about me!
Anyway we all know what barns fill-up with unless they're regularly shoveled, and our municipal manger has been overflowing with BS for some time (stink, flies buzzing about, etc.). Unfortunately, cities just don't clean-up after themselves. It's an dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Comment by DEXTER LEVY on September 29, 2010 at 11:11am
Ian---Welcome to the Club--Many people have tried to encourage CM to join in and become a part of the Jewel, he started, but to date "no such luck"
Comment by Ian I Shiff on September 29, 2010 at 8:51am
gentlemen - when was the last time either of you sat down in the same room?

With the fervent passion you both have for the city - whether subjectective or objetive, your passion could be be bottled up for the improvement of the city.

I will give Jim a nod for his speech last night at the city council chambers - a empassioned speech delivered clearly and professionally. I listened and learned a great deal.

Craig - you need to be more involved in the downtown revilalization project the city is undertaking and Jim is a member of the steering committee that will make decision that will have a direct impact on your business.

If I was elected as a city councilmember - I would welcome you to be a member of a commission or some post that could use your passion - but take out the personal dislike for certain people. Ask not what La Mesa can do for you - but what you can do for La Mesa.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on September 28, 2010 at 5:45pm
My goodness, Jim. You're a little verklempt.
Comment by Jim Wieboldt on September 28, 2010 at 11:47am
Craig:

You really are amazing! You once again display your writing skills with such clear deception and spin, I would have thought you were Harry Reid's speech writer.

Let's talk about service! Now you want the " good people of La Mesa " to believe that you ran for Mayor in 2006, not because you wanted to serve the citizens, but because you wanted to be their Saviour? Wow Craig, talk about illusions of grandueur.

Thank you for clearing up for me why you hate mankind so much. Man is imperfect and has flaws. Man has sinned and fallen way short of the glory of God. Man is man. On the other hand, you don't view your existence in our community as a man. You are so much more superior to the inferior members with whom you share this community. It all becomes very clear with your previous blog comment about the " Home of Guiding Hands ". Quite frankly Craig, I am embarassed for you and your measley exisitence in this community.

And if you really want to talk about service to mankind, I'll be more than happy to go to the line any day against your record. Every day I go to work, I serve the citizens of San Diego County with Honor, Dilligence and Integrity. I have never made a distinction about race, color, creed, community standing or any other factor. I serve all! I serve the community I live in at our family run business, on the Parking Commission, on several city committees and at my place of worship. And I never threaten or bully anyone EVER. Not personally and not professionally. EVER!

What I am known to do is face those in our community who just can't seem to get their facts straight...like you Craig. Misquotes, half truths, distortions, manipulations and massaging of the un-truths are in your tool box...not mine!

Thanks for trying to be my Saviour. However, I really don't need a second one!
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on September 28, 2010 at 9:10am
Jim,

Unfortunately, there is nothing hypothetical about the scenario I sketched. It happened. I wonder how you'd feel (and this really is a stretch!) if you were the mayor's critic, and your's the business he threatened?
In any case, it's easy to imagine Art doing so. You were there the day Art reissued his "legal" threat to any and all future disputants with the city; the day he said that, given the chance, he'd threaten Tanner (or anyone else in his shoes) all over again. The U.T. called his remark "unconscionable" which (though quite damning!) was, if anything, an understatement.
But then, maybe you're one of those who believes that Art only utters his "unconscionable" remarks in public, and that when alone with his constituents he is a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, respectful representative of the people? Right.
But "belief" has nothing to do with with Art having been out-polled in the last election. It is a fact. Check for yourself.
And yes, I lost the election. But that hardly makes me a "loser" in the pejorative sense that you wish to convey. Or maybe you also belong to that regrettably expanding sector of society that sees winning and success as being synonymous goodness and wisdom. If so, too bad. Too often the so-called "winners" in our society have nothing more than unscrupulous ambition to thank for their "success." Conversely, doing the right thing often involves signing-up with the weaker side, or making a willing sacrifice. Remember the words of the original conservative, Edmund Burke: "The only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar minds -- success." And, "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little."
Now, let's talk about service. In truth, I didn't want to be mayor. Yet, given the incumbent's unprecedented abuse of the office, and the reluctance of anyone else to step forward, I felt obliged to give it a shot. In the process, I spent a great deal of time and money that I don't really have. Running for office is, as you know, a sacrifice; even more so, I would guess, than serving on, say, the Parking Commission.
And though you take issue with me, please don't confuse your disapproval with that of others. I only occasionally meet critics; supporters and sympathizers are the general rule.

PS--But as far as "manning up" (and bullying!) is concerned, you'll remember that (little) man outside of council chambers after Art's "Barfgate" hearing. He rhetorically asked out loud, "I wonder what the police would do with me if I were found drunk next to my car?" And you, Jim, responded threateningly, "I'll give ya a "ride" home, pal!"
Did that make you feel like a big man, Jim? Did that make you feel like the Art Madrid you so admire?
Comment by Jim Wieboldt on September 27, 2010 at 6:07pm
Hey Craig! Your hypothetical is more than a stretch. I am surprised that with all your Constitutional knowledge, you are not familiar with the legal options that exist for corruption. Allow me to suggest one for you. If in fact you could PROVE that there was corruption in our city government, nothing would preclude you from requesting the San Diego County Grand Jury to start an investigation. The Grand Jury is made up of citizens of honor and integrity who desire to root out corruption. Of course, the operative word here is "PROVE". I am sure that if there was any wrongdoing in the city, whether or not it rose to a criminal violation, you and all of your watchdogs would be barking the alarm faster than Ruth Sterling could fry up a bucket of chicken.
Politics does make strange bed fellows. You now want the readers to believe that if you add the number of votes you received and the number of votes Jim Stieringer received in the last Mayoral election (2006), that it was more votes than Mayor Madrid received. Brilliant! Who cares? You and Stieringer were still losers!
Besides your frequent and unsolicited diatribes about La Mesa and it's alleged corruption, just what is it you do for this community? Where do you serve? What Board or Commission do you participate on? Are you a mentor for the youth of our community? Or, are you the person USMC General David M. Shoup refers to in his quote?

""The galleries are full of critics. They play no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes, because they do nothing.

Down in the arena are the doers. They make mistakes because the try many things.

The person who makes no mistakes lacks boldness and the spirit of adventure. He is the one who never tries anything. He is the brakes on the wheel of progress.

And yet it cannot be truly said he makes no mistakes, because his biggest mistake is the very fact he tries nothing, does nothing -- except criticize those who do things."

Come on Craig...Step up! Be a leader...not some bitter follower whose pointless and obscure charges continually malign those who do something for this community! JUST MAN UP!
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on September 27, 2010 at 4:39pm
Ian,
What would you say about an elected official--ostensibly the people's representative--who threatened the fiscal (i.e., business) welfare of his constituents? Specifically, what would you say about a politician who said to a local businessman, "If you continue your friendship with person X, your business will suffer?" What would you say, in other words, about a local politician who acted as though he were the mayor of say, a corrupt Third World town, and not La Mesa?
Would you treat that as matter of "personal feelings"?

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