Recall Proceeds in Marina
Bad feelings following a close election spur effort.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
As far as local politics go, Marina has been one of the most openly contentious venues in recent years. Fueled by big, crucial land use decisions stemming from the redevelopment of neighboring Fort Ord, the friction at Marina City Council meetings can be palpable.
With multimillion dollar large-scale housing and commercials projects in the offing, the stakes are high and so are the emotions.
This election year, things got predictably ugly, judged by some to be the nastiest yet. First off, one of the more polarizing figures on the council, Michael Morrison, was the subject of a personal rumor campaign and subsequent bad press. Some crudely designed leaflets were circulated around town depicting Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon in an unflattering light. A community newspaper ran photos describing CSU-Monterey Bay students as unwanted protesters. This paper broke a story about Mettee-McCutchon taking a cruise with friends who also happen to be big developers who do business with the city.
The races pitted pro-growth candidates against those calling for a slower approach to development projects. Candidates with backing from the Republican Party presented a united front, buying advertisements in media outlets such as this newspaper boasting long records of service and achievement.
All through the campaign, insiders were calling the mayor’s race close, and it was very close.
Councilman Bruce Delgado, a member of the Green Party given to holistic politics, took on the no-nonsense former Army colonel and mayor Mettee-McCutchon. A third candidate, a Korean immigrant and insurance broker named Moon Choe, ran on the Democratic ticket. When all the votes were counted, the challenger, Delgado, took 2,876 votes and Mettee-McCutchon won with 2,945 votes. It’s a difference of only 69 votes and it didn’t help Delgado that the heretofore unknown Choe, who reportedly ran to oppose Mettee-McCutchon’s pro-growth attitude, scooped up 805 votes.
Now a group of Marina residents have begun a campaign to reverse the election. Although there’s no official leader, a growing band of people want to recall Mettee-McCutchon.
Ted Elisee ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2000. He’s a regular participant in city council meetings and has served on the city’s now-disbanded redevelopment advisory commission. “There’s an organized group of people who continue to look at the process, who are very serious about recalling the mayor,” he says. “This is a group of people who are very concerned about what’s happening in town and what happened in the elections.”
Elisee says he’s had been a supporter of Mettee-McCutchon up until this past year. But now he says he doesn’t like the way the council under her leadership treats people who oppose them.
Adding up the number of votes for Delgado and Choe, Elisee says the recall group thinks that Mettee-McCutchon just did not get a definitive victory.
“Fifty seven percent voted ‘no’ to her leadership,” Elisee says. “There’s no confidence. There’s no respect whatsoever for anyone with a different opinion. You just don’t treat people like that.”
Under the state law regarding recall elections, the recall process cannot officially begin until 90 days after the swearing in. By early-March, Marina residents can expect to see recall petitions passed around. If the required number of signatures is gathered—25 percent of 8,674 registered voters, or 2,168—Elisee expects a recall vote to be possible by fall.
In addition to the loss of votes to Choe and complaints about Mettee-McCutchon’s leadership style, Elisee says, the group heard many complaints about confusion among college student voters from CSU-Monterey Bay. He says the recall group has been told that students were sent to incorrect polling places and did not receive ballots in time.
“There were a number of things that happened out at the university that were questionable,” he says. “There were a lot of votes that were not counted that should have been counted.”
The complaints about Election Day were put in a letter to Tony Anchundo, county registrar of voters.
“They had some concerns, some issues that allegedly there were individuals or an individual misdirecting voters in three of the precincts,” Anchundo says. “If they have evidence to that effect, I strongly encourage them.”
The recall group asked Anchundo to inspect provisional ballots but he says that’s not allowed.
Choe, who some think cost Delgado the election, says he supports the recall effort but he will not get actively involved in it. Choe thinks the group needs to make a stronger case for recalling the mayor.
“They say 60 percent of Marina are against her and I told them that’s a weak argument,” he says.
One Marina insider, who asked not to be named, disagrees.
“There’s a lot of people really pissed off, and it’s not that hard [to run a recall],” says the source. “It’s a combination of people who really don’t like Ila and an election that was really close.”
For her part, Mettee-McCutchon says the council under her leadership has “bent over backwards” to listen to citizens.
“I think we do pay attention to the public,” she says.
As for the recall effort, the mayor was a bit surprised to hear that it’s proceeding.
“It’s a tactic people use when they don’t like the outcome of an election,” she says. “You can satisfy most of the people most of the time but you can’t satisfy all the people all the time.”
With so much on the city agenda these days, she adds, “I would hate to see the staff or the council become distracted by an action such as this.”
The number of daily visitors to the City of Monterey’s