On the Trail
Candidates vie for Salinas mayoral seat, wait for final green light in June.
Thursday, April 6, 2006
The two candidates for Salinas mayor aren’t all that much different from one another in theory. Dennis Donohue and Maria Giuriato each say they’d like to control the gang problem, get libraries back on track, unite families with their community, give kids after-school opportunities, and tidy the city up a bit. And each wants to run a pleasant campaign.
That’s the pretty stuff, the kind of thing no candidate would forget to say during campaign season. It’s going to have to get much more concrete for voters before they hit the polls on Nov. 7 to elect a new mayor.
Neither candidate is interested in using the office as a stepping stone to state or federal offices.
And although neither Donohue nor Giuriato will be on the June ballot, their political futures are closely tied to the election in two months. Both candidates say while their decisions aren’t concrete, it’s unlikely they’ll continue to run for the seat if Mayor Anna Caballero loses her bid for the Democratic nomination for the 28th District Assembly seat on the June ballot. If Caballero doesn’t beat fellow Dem Ana Ventura Phares, a Watsonville councilwoman, Caballero will likely seek re-election for mayor when her current term expires in November.
Donohue, 51, is a relative newcomer to the Salinas political scene, but he’s been a Salinas resident most of his life. The Palma High graduate earned his master’s in religious education from Gannon University in Erie, Pa., before coming back to California and working for a variety of high-tech firms: Microsoft, Verbatim and Atari. He then joined his wife’s family business, European Vegetable Specialties in Salinas—the largest radicchio grower in the world. He’s now the company’s president.
For the past several years, he’s sat on a variety of boards, commissions and committees, including Second Chance Youth, Palma’s Board of Directors, Salinas Planning Commission, Salinas Senior Center, police advisory committee, Americans for Libraries Council, Life After School, and he’s currently the chairman of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Giuriato, 48, a Salinas councilwoman since 2002, is the community relations director for the County’s Department of Social Services. The Salinas native has been involved in Salinas policymaking and oversight committees and boards for the past 27 years: Commission on the Status of Women, Salinas Parks and Recreation Commission, Gang Task Force, Monterey County Housing Alliance, CSU Monterey Bay’s President’s Council, Hispañas Organized for Political Equity, Salinas’ Affordable Housing Committee, National Association of Latino Elected Officials, and the Board of Supervisors Legislative Committee. The list just touches the surface of the volunteer positions she’s held or been appointed to lead.
Perhaps most notable in the candidates’ similarities is their long-term plans. Neither candidate is interested in using the office as a stepping stone to state or federal offices. Donohue says that while he doesn’t view himself as a one-term mayor, he’s not exactly looking at the position in the long-term, either.
“I don’t want to be mayor 10 years from now,” he says. “I’m willing to be an interim mayor, someone who will take office, fix what’s wrong, and then move on. I used to be one of those people who looked at the city and said, ‘Yeah, someone should do something about that.’ And then one day, I got up off the couch and decided maybe that someone should be me. So here I am.”
Giuriato says she wants to be mayor because it seems like the natural progression in her life of public service.
“I always was the one, starting in grade school, who wanted to be the voice,” she says. “I wanted to be class secretary, president, anything to give me a chance to speak on others’ behalf. I got as involved as I could all my life. When my kids got old enough, I wanted to get more involved with the city specifically. They’re older now, and it’s time for me.”
Each has a distinct platform early-on.
Donohue, who has been deeply devoted to the issue of Salinas library closures, is particularly concerned with literacy and making sure the city has library resources available.
Giuriato is committing herself to connecting residents with the council. “My plan is, every Friday,” she says, “I’ll take off of work and get out there into the community and see what’s on their minds, to be their voice. I want to take City Hall out into the community.”
Giuriato says she’s raised roughly $15,000 to fund her campaign but hopes to raise about $75,000 more before Election Day. She’s also garnered the support of about 300 community volunteers. “We’re just getting started,” she says. “We’re just beginning to meet to work up our plan.”
Donohue says he hasn’t seen the list of campaign volunteers and is unsure how much his campaign has raised, though he says he’s sure it’s “in the thousands.”
Number of candidates for California governor on June ballot. Source: California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.