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LA MESA – In a stunning end to an historic mayoral run, Art Madrid was turned out of office by voters on Tuesday in favor of Mark Arapostathis, a City Council member.
Arapostathis, a school teacher, theater director and, for most of the last eight years a Madrid ally, pursued a low-key campaign that relied on his own long roots in the community to soundly defeat a man who had seemed almost unbeatable during more than three decades in public office.
With 100 percent of the vote counted, Arapostathis had 6,017 votes to Madrid's 4,200, a nearly 18 point difference.
"I feel fortunate to have the opportunity and I will continue to serve on the council as I have for the last eight years,'' Arapostathis said at midnight as he moved around the city picking up his campaign signs. "I care about this city.''
Arapostathis took a moment to honor his opponent. "I thank him for his years of service to this city.''
Arapostathis had worked closely with Madrid during much of his first two terms on the council, but in recent years had become allied with council members who thought it was time for Madrid to give up the reins he had held so tightly for so long.
Over the past two years, Arapostathis often joined forces with council members Kristine Alessio and Ernie Ewin– and occasionally with Ruth Sterling – to remind the mayor that he was simply first among equals on the five-member council. The increasingly tight anti-Madrid forces stripped the mayor of his choice committee assignments and voted repeatedly to deny his requests to travel to state and national conventions.
Madrid’s most recent runs at re-election had brought strident opponents, but each time he was able to exploit their relatively thin political resumes and could count on a core of La Mesa voters who had come to know Madrid personally over his long tenure as commission member, City Council member and then 24 years as mayor.
But Arapostathis was a different kind of opponent. While he could not match Madrid’s political resume, he could counter it with his own long history of selfless public service on behalf of the city’s youth. As director of the Peter Pan Jr. Theater, the C-Hook Theater, and as a long-time elementary school teacher, “Dr. A,’’ as he became known, had his own personal connections to a wide and admiring public. That clearly fueled his efforts in ways that previous Madrid opponents could not match. Friends (right) gathered to congratulate Arapostathis Tuesday night.
Arapostathis had announced early in his campaign that he would not be criticizing Madrid or bringing up any of the mayor’s foibles, instead concentrating on his own strengths. He conducted a long series of private, neighborhood meetings with 25 to 30 residents at a time and counted on dedicated volunteers to demonstrate his support throughout the community. In the last ten days of the campaign, Arapostathis’ supporters could be seen at street corners waving signs and heard on Internet comment boards promoting his candidacy. Arapostathis also had the financial support of donors and the unanimous support of the rest of the council.
Arapostathis also made a point of emphasizing his unwillingness to participate in negative campaigning; including refusing to debate the combative mayor for fear it would force him to attack Madrid in defending himself. “I’m a teacher,’’ Arapostathis said a number of times. “What kind of example would that be for my students?’’
This Arapostathis “rope-a-dope” approach to letting Madrid go negative without matching him turned out to be a successful strategy in a city that prefers the “small town” image.
Arapostathis said during the campaign that he would work to make it clear that the mayor is “just the first among equals” on the council and will work with this new council to establish a more collaborative process for city business.
With Bill Baber and Guy McWhirter apparently now joining incumbents Ruth Sterling and Kristine Alessio, Arapostathis will find a more welcoming panel than Madrid faced over the last two years. Baber and McWhirter are very familiar to Arapostathis and Alessio and Sterling both backed his candidacy against Madrid.
And, given Arapostathis’ penchant for shorter, less loquacious council meetings, it might also signal a move to shorter, more efficient meetings. Time will tell.