Something Old, Something New
With one big exception, local voters stay the course.
Thursday, November 5, 1998
With one notable exception, local voters opted for business as usual, choosing to elect incumbents over challengers in almost every contested race in the county. The sole exception to that trend was the city of Seaside, where voters ousted incumbent Mayor Don Jordan in favor of Jerry Smith, an unknown without political experience who nevertheless managed to capture the support of a myriad of Seaside groups--in particular, the city''s employees.
Smith, a spokesman for Soledad Prison and lifelong resident of Seaside, secured the support of more than 24 labor unions, most notably the Seaside Firefighters Association, the Seaside Management Employees Association and the Seaside Police Officers Association. Those three unions had previously taken no-confidence votes in Seaside City Manager Tim Brown. Brown''s performance--and Jordan''s support of the controversial city manager--were big issues in the race, issues that may have made the crucial difference for Smith.
"I felt the citizens of Seaside expressed their discontent with the present administration throughout the entire campaign," said Smith the morning after his victory. "I would say the election was basically about the administration and its management style." Nevertheless, Smith backed away from saying whether his election would result in Brown''s departure. "I think at this point, my meeting with Tim [Brown] will be based on mutual feedback," said Smith, who added that he was "still formulating a battle plan" for his new office.
Ironically, Jordan, a former councilmember, was himself first elected mayor in a 1994 race that also called attention to the need for a new administration and a new direction for the city of Seaside. That race pitted Jordan against outgoing longtime Mayor Lance McClair. And, while Jordan this year faced a total of three challengers, turnout in the race was virtually identical to what it was in 1994--52.3 percent on Tuesday, as opposed to 51.9 percent four years ago.
Jordan will be joined by Tom Mancini and Darryl Choates, two incumbent councilmembers who easily reclaimed their seats despite the best efforts of three different challengers.
In that regard, Seaside was much like the rest of the county, where incumbents looking for another term generally got that opportunity.
Next door to Seaside, in Monterey, veteran Mayor Dan Albert easily claimed a seventh term, despite a hard-fought campaign launched by Barbara Bass Evans, an outspoken preservationist who got just 27 percent of the vote despite the support of the newly formed Monterey Action Coalition (MAC). Incumbent councilmembers Ruth Vreeland and Don Edgren will also retake their seats.
"My supporters and I will be looking for opportunities to work with the mayor on issues of importance to Monterey residents," said Evans in a faxed letter to Coast Weekly.
"Towards the end, we realized we were really up against quite a support system that the incumbents had," says Morgan Christopher, a downtown merchant and MAC member. "Barbara [Bass Evans] was hoping for 40 percent of the vote. It was a little disappointing."
Even in tiny Sand City, where just 82 voters cast their ballot for mayor, 20-year incumbent David Pendergrass easily claimed victory over challenger Suzanne St. John. Incumbent councilmembers Jerry Blackwelder and Craig Hubler also won re-election. Incumbents also ruled the day in the 17th Congressional race, with Sam Farr taking 60 percent of the Monterey County vote against Republican Bill McCampbell in this, McCampbell''s fourth race for Congress. In the 27th Assembly District, incumbent Fred Keeley beat Republican challenger Phil Chavez by more than 10,000 votes, just taking into account the Monterey County portion of the district.
Incumbent 28th Assembly District Peter Frusetta also sailed to victory--his third--over Democratic challenger and former Salinas Mayor Alan Styles. Frusetta won by more than a thousand votes--49 percent of the vote--in Monterey County alone. He also won in the San Benito and Santa Clara county portions of the districts, losing to Styles only in the piece of District 28 that is in Santa Cruz County.
The 28th Assembly District race was an expensive one for both candidates, with Frusetta reportedly spending $850,000 and Styles receiving nearly $350,000. As the mayor of the county''s most populous city, Styles was thought to be a stronger candidate than Lily Cervantes, a former California Coastal Commissioner who lost to Frusetta in 1994 and 1996, but Styles'' name recognition may have been limited to Monterey County. Frusetta''s image as an outsider, a "cowboy in the capital" is also popular with voters, many of whom were apparently willing to overlook the assemblymember''s failure to speak with local media during the campaign and the increasingly rambling missives from Sacramento Frusetta that mails out to constituents.
Styles had tried to make an issue out of comments Frusetta allegedly made at a Salinas school, praising Adolf Hitler as a self-made man. But Republican political consultant Angel Garcia says that strategy backfired. "A lot of people who were considering voting for him [Styles] were turned off," says Garcia.
The theme of predictability carried over into other races. In Marina, longtime Councilmember and former Planning Commissioner Jim Perrine creamed political novice Joseph Martinez in the race for Marina mayor, taking 78 percent of the vote to Martinez''s 21 percent. The four-way race for Marina council resulted in the election of incumbent Howard Gustafson Jr. and newcomer Ila Metteee-McCutchon, the former garrison commander of the old Fort Ord.
Pacific Grove''s two incumbent councilmembers--Steven Honegger and Robert Huitt--were also re-seated, along with newcomer Planning Commissioner Michelle Knight.
Meanwhile, in the open race for District 3 Supervisor, top spender Lou Calcagno claimed victory over former Soledad Mayor Richard Ortiz, although Calcagno''s margin of victory--53.5 percent to 46.4 percent--was not as great as the spending differences between the two candidates might have indicated. Calcagno, a North County dairyman and county planning commissioner, spent $128,000 to Ortiz'' $18,000, according to the most recent financial disclosure forms filed with the county.
In the city of Salinas, Anna Caballero''s election as mayor is also indicative of business as usual, although she will now be one of the state''s few Latina mayors. A councilmember and former city planning commissioner, Caballero won handily--by more than two to one--over political newcomer and former talk show host Rob Roberts, just as she was expected to do. The only city in the county to hold district elections, Salinas also saw an incumbent, Roberto O''Campo, returned to his seat in the city''s District 2. Joining O''Campo will be two newcomers who competed for open seats, teachers Janet Barnes and Jyl Lutes, who will take their seats in Districts 3 and 6, respectively.
As a result, Salinas will now have more women councilmembers and more councilmembers of color than any other city in the county. "Once people have the opportunity to see women or Latinos in political office, once that barrier has been broken, it''s easier for subsequent individuals to come in," says Caballero.
For proponents of three ballot measures in need of extraordinary support, Tuesday''s "business as usual" message was anything but encouraging. Measures M and H, which represented two efforts to float bonds for Salinas school renovations and construction, and Measure N, which sought to raise the county sales tax by half a percent to fund road improvements, including the Prunedale Bypass--all failed to get the two-thirds majority they needed to take effect.
"I''m disappointed we didn''t get it, but we certainly realized we were looking at something that would be difficult to get," says a disappointed Carol Lacy, an avid supporter of Measure N, who sits on the Monterey County Planning Commission. Lacy said she "hasn''t got a clue" what N supporters will do to get the funds they say they need to match state money to build what they say is a much-needed bypass on the northern portion of Highway 101. "The schools over here have the same problem," observes Lacy, "and they badly need some help." cw
Additional reporting by Richard Pitnick, Laurel Chesky, Sue Fishkoff and Catrina Coyle.