Tradition Meets Changing Politics In November Election

LA MESA – In the traditions of La Mesa politics, a local resident – usually with years of living in town – starts volunteering for the sorts of civic groups and committees that can lead to a chance to eventually run for the City Council.

Art Madrid did it that way. So did Ernie Ewin and Mark Arapostathis.

But when the rumors about candidates for November’s elections finally turned to actual paper filings, it was clear that a group of relative newcomers to this Jewel of the Hills were not choosing to follow the “earn-your-way-up” method. Instead these new candidates would announce their arrival on the political scene through campaigning for the council or mayor.

Local realtor Laura Lothian, just in town a few years and here-to-fore known for short stints with the Historical Society, the Parking Commission and frequent complaints about graffiti, has decided to take on Madrid for mayor.

And Ewin and Arapostathis – both with long roots and years of public service – will take on four candidates who are largely unknown, untested, but clearly enthusiastic about jumping into the council race with little track record and almost no name recognition.

In just about any other political season, this mix of established and entrenched versus unknown newcomers would lead to yawns and an uneventful races. But perhaps because of the unsettled national political scene and all the cable TV talk of an anti-incumbent mood, no one is taking these La Mesa races for granted.

“I will treat this race like I have all others,’’ Ewin said recently. “If there are issues that need to be debated, this is the time and we will do that.’’

Ewin plans to launch a campaign website and says he has some funds for campaign ads. But it is clear he, Madrid, and Arapostathis, incumbents who generally support one another, will rely on deep roots and strong personal networks throughout a community they have served for decades. And they will hope any anti-incumbent feelings on the national level won’t trump what they believe is a record of successful stewardship of this city through difficult times.


Just two days before the filing deadline for the city elections, Council member Ruth Sterling and local realtor Laura Lothian met to discuss the situation. Lothian described the meeting as a two-hour interview in which Sterling, who had been considering a run for mayor, gauged Lothian’s style, background and political potential.

“After two hours, Ruth smiled and said ‘I think you could do it,’” Lothian recalled.

Two days later, Lothian filed for the mayor’s race; Sterling did not.

Lothian has lived in La Mesa for four years. She has been active with the local Chamber of Commerce, the Merchant’s Association and was appointed to the city’s Parking Commission. She acknowledges she hasn’t taken the longer, more traditional route to community leadership posts, but she questions whether that route is the only way.

“If we only consider people on committees and commissions, then we’ll only get people who are already in government,’’ she said. “I think we need people with fresh ideas from other perspectives.’’

She believes she can run and win. She has launched a campaign website (, in which she says she’ll maintain a “To Do’’ list of priorities if she wins. She said she is planning fundraisers at a friend’s home on Mt. Helix and, perhaps, on the veranda of a new investment condo she recently purchased in downtown San Diego. (Read Lothian’s complete candidate statement here: Candidate Statement of Qual. LAURA LOTHIAN.pdf.)

Lothian says she considers Madrid a friend and, win or lose, will consider him a friend and an important La Mesa leader after the election as well.

Madrid, for his part, winces a bit when asked about Lothian’s candidacy. He said he helped get her appointed to the Parking Commission and then watched as she rankled the other commissioners and brought up issues unrelated to parking. He noted she is now posting criticisms of the city on her website.

Madrid said he knows Lothian has been receiving advice from his last opponent, book store owner Craig Maxwell, and he questions whether Lothian is interested in the post or is also attracting attention to her real estate business.

“I think there are intentions about her candidacy that go beyond the best interest of the community,’’ Madrid said.

Maxwell, a long-time Madrid critic, acknowledges sharing advice with Lothian, but he says he has no formal role in her campaign.

Madrid said he would like to debate Lothian soon and frequently. He is sending her a letter proposing regular debates, he said. But Lothian isn’t jumping at the offer.

“I have a lot of people telling me I have to get out there and meet the people one-on-one,’’ she said. “I haven’t determined a strategy yet, but I am not ready to talk about debates.’’

Lothian said she would attend a planned Chamber of Commerce candidate event, which Madrid will attend, but she wasn’t committing to a schedule of formal debates.

Madrid says he is taking the challenge seriously and looks forward to the opportunity to chronicle his record. He believes he has shepherded the city well through difficult economic times and managed to rebuild the civic center of the city while maintaining services. (His complete candidate statement can be seen here: Candidate Statement of Qual. ART MADRID.pdf.)


The two incumbents in the City Council race also find themselves facing opponents with little record in public office. Ernie Ewin and Mark Arapostathis – both with long resumes of service with government and in the community – might have assumed easy victory in years past. But with all the talk TV analysis about an anti-incumbent mood, both incumbents are moving quickly to secure the support of the many residents and community groups they have assisted in the past. Lawn signs are being displayed early. Some residents clearly kept the incumbents’ signs from their last run. (Read their complete candidate statements here: Candidate Statement of Qual. Ernie Ewin.pdf; Candidate Statement of Qual. Arapostathis.pdf.)

Still, four local residents are wading into the campaign scene in hopes of knocking off Ewin or Arapostathis in a year of unsettled politics. They include:

 Patrick D. Dean, 47, a former chef and current waiter. The father of two moved to La Mesa a few years ago. He regularly attends council meetings and has been involved in environmental issues. (Full candidate statement here: Candidate Statement of Qual. Patrick Dean.pdf.)

 Byron Reed, a security services manager, and long-time resident. (No candidate statement filed.)

 Kevin D. Rynearson, a UCSD graduate student seeking his doctorate in organic chemistry. (Full candidate statement here: Candidate Statement of Qual. Kevin Rynearson.pdf.)

 Ian I. Shiff, 34, a security software executive who says he will donate 50 percent of his council stipend to La Mesa charities. (Full candidate statement here:Candidate Statement of Qual. Ian Shiff.pdf.)

It has yet to be seen if any anti-incumbent mood on the national scene will translate to a local level where the connection between politician and constituent is strongest and grounded in tangible basics like police, fire and sewer services.

Still, on a recent morning, Lothian sat chatting with a reporter at the new Swami’s on La Mesa Boulevard when a long-time resident walked over, gave Lothian a “thumbs up’’ sign and encouraged her run. “It’s time for a change,’’ she said.

Lothian and the council challengers hope there are many more like her out there.

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Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 18, 2010 at 10:26am
More power to ya, Ian. Ours is a town in desperate need of both fresh blood and term limits.
Comment by Ian I Shiff on August 16, 2010 at 9:55am
Chris, Thank you for the mention and I would like to respond to the "untested" title you have put on those candidates who are taking on the incumbents in this year's cirty council race.
I am NOT a politician - and do not wish to be seen as one. I have always been able to listen and learn effectively - this is the way it should be. If the established way of doing things is acceptable in La Mesa, I would vote for the "established and policitically experienced" candidates. I have been listening to friends, neighbors and business owners talk about what the city needs and wants in the city council and how the "status quo" is not acceptable anymore. We should start off with a fresh perspective - and fresh ideas. I am doing this for the city, not for myself. I want to raise my two children here, establish a stellar reputation for the city and increase the quality of life that La Mesa residents deserve. I am untested - I am unknown and I am ready for this challenge.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 15, 2010 at 9:36am
Amen, Mike!
I hope there are more La Mesans looking at this the way you do; i.e., the right way.
Comment by Squadron on August 14, 2010 at 9:53pm
Don - Raising funds from Mt. Helix and owning a condo - suggests Lothian is a smart business woman. Through benign neglect of his "honor bar" downtown La Mesa a once quaint, vibrant village heads for neighborhood blight. Lothian's real estate savvy is just what the people want -- instead we get a sales tax increase furthering our demise while the three tum-tums hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 14, 2010 at 3:02pm
Let's break this down.

1) "Solicits her campaign funds from Mt. Helix friends." Really? Who? How much?

2) "Owns a condo in downtown San Diego." What's the relevance? What if she owned twenty condos downtown? So what?

3) Is she the "best qualified?" Who knows? Maybe there are other La Mesans with better credentials. I don't know. What I do know is that they are not running. Laura is.

4) Does any of this make her qualified? No, but then no one ever said that it did.

5) “All Lothian has is Blind ambition?” You've just proven that you don't even know her.

6) Try again. Ad hominem attacks and total non sequiturs are poor substitutes for arguments.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 14, 2010 at 6:50am
To be taken seriously considered, criticisms of Lothian will have to rise above the level of complete non sequiturs.
Comment by Don Wood on August 13, 2010 at 6:20pm
So a real estate agent who solicits her campaign funds from Mt. Helix friends and who owns a condo
in downtown San Diego is best qualified to lead the little old City of La Mesa. Right, and I've got a bridge you can buy cheap. All Lothian has is blind ambition and very little experience.
Comment by Craig S. Maxwell on August 13, 2010 at 6:19pm
Art can hardly help attributing base, selfish motives to his opponents because that, of course, is what actuates him. But I can assure readers that Laura is running for one reason and one reason only--the betterment of our city. She is fresh, bright, honest and overflowing with energy; please hear her out.
Included below is a crucially important addendum (that I submitted earlier) to Art's so-called record of achievement. Please keep these facts in mind when you go to the ballot box.
Art Madrid says, “Let's debate!” What an excellent idea. Let's begin with some recent history.

In 2006, Art Madrid and city attorney Glen Sabin sent a letter to La Mesa resident Chris Tanner which (in the words of the San Diego Union-Tribune) accused “him of defaming council members during a Jan. 24 meeting, when Tanner hinted that the city might be cozy with developers. The letter asked for a public retraction and an apology, threatened legal action and promised that the council would discuss the matter in closed session.” The letter accused Tanner of making remarks that were “wholly inaccurate and defamatory – and thereby unacceptable,” In addition, Madrid charged that since Tanner had “made the he has to prove it.” With the notable exception of Ruth Sterling, the entire council--to their great shame and discredit--signed the letter.

But in the end, and to the surprise of only a few, Madrid's threat turned out to be completely hollow. First Amendment lawyers and specialists who examined the letter quickly demonstrated that, not only was his accusation bogus—Tanner had said nothing wrong, and was under no obligation to “prove” anything-- but that Madrid and Sabine had actually laid the city open to the threat of a counter-suit by Tanner, should he choose to file.

Luckily for the sake of the city, Tanner let it go. And after they'd been taken to the legal woodshed, complicitous councilmen, Ewin, Jantz, and Allen, and city attorney Sabin beat a hasty retreat, and quickly (and profusely) apologized to Tanner. But not Art Madrid. No! Putting his own trademark vanity and vindictiveness ahead of the law—ahead of our Constitutional right to free speech!—he resolutely declared that, if given the chance, “he would do it over again.”

Thus, it is no exaggeration to point out that: a) not only has every La Mesan since 2006 been living in the shadow of Madrid's unrepentant, unlawful threat; but that, b) this is the kind of “man”—one openly contemptuous of our rights when they contradict his pride-- who holds our city's highest elected office.

It wasn't long after the Tanner incident that Madrid again disgraced himself when police found him drunk near his car, (engine running) passed-out in a puddle of his own street pizza. Nor is Chris Tanner the only person the mayor has threatened. On one occasion, he told a local businessman that if our friendly relations continued, his business would suffer. It did. Almost immediately thereafter the individual in question lost the patronage of several formerly loyal customers.

Art says, “Let's debate!” He says he wants “a chance to discuss the issues and to lay out our record of accomplishments for the residents of La Mesa.’’

I am not running. But, but for the sake of the city, I hope that his opponent—whoever he/she may be--has the guts to ask him about some of the “accomplishments” I've listed above.

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