Council, mayoral races contested by group of challengers.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The wild card in the upcoming contest for Salinas mayor and three City Council seats isn’t on the Nov. 2 ballot at all.
The 1-year-old Salinas Valley Leadership Group, headed by contractor Don Chapin and a board full of prominent business types, has raised more than $70,000 as of the last available disclosure. The group backs Mayor Dennis Donohue in his bid for a third term, along with council challengers Kimbley Craig, who seeks to unseat Steve Villegas; and Steve McShane, who’s up against Janet Barnes. Councilman Tony Barrera is unopposed.
Donohue faces former Salinas school district trustee Margaret Serna-Bonetti and Hartnell College Board member Bill Freeman.
“New energy, new blood, new direction” is what SVLG wants, Chapin says, explaining why the group turned its back on incumbents Villegas, a retired Salinas police detective, and Barnes, a local school teacher.
“Steve Villegas is a good friend, a good man,” Chapin says, “[but] I can’t say we were encouraged by what he has accomplished.”
By contrast, “Craig was full of new ideas,” Chapin says.
As for Barnes, Chapin notes SVLG endorsed in April or May while Barnes was focused on an unsuccessful bid for the state Assembly.
Along with McShane, retired police officer Joe Gunter and land-use consultant Joel Panzer are also challenging Barnes, while construction worker Jesse Santibanez has entered the race against Villegas.
Pebble Beach native Craig, 34, is a marketing consultant who once won a Monica Lewinsky look-alike contest. She stresses her experience as a small-business owner, saying she wants to fill the city’s empty storefronts and clean up crime.
“I had my car stolen from my carport,” Craig says. “If I want things to change, I have to be a part of it.”
Villegas, a lifelong Salinas Valley resident, says he knows much more than Craig about community problems.
“You can’t just transplant yourself and say, ‘I’m tired of the gang problems,” Villegas says.
Villegas, finishing his first term, stresses his pro-business cred: He notes he supported a streamlined building permitting process and the expansion of the city’s economic development department.
One political observer, who asked not to be named, says Villegas likely angered Chapin and his colleagues with his vote against Wal-Mart’s ultimately successful bid to open a Salinas store that would compete with unionized supermarkets. Villegas says the move threatened the middle-class wages, benefits and, perhaps ultimately, jobs of grocery workers.
Villegas points to the city’s successful effort to attract electric carmaker Green Vehicles to the shuttered Firestone plant, while Barnes defends the council’s record in sputtering attempts to revive Salinas’ Oldtown.
But Steve McShane vows even more business-friendliness, decrying the loss earlier this year of Salinas’ Monterey Gourmet Foods to Gilroy.
“I could commit myself to recruiting a diversified employment base,” he says.
McShane is the proprietor of McShane Nursery, a planning commissioner, and a former Hartnell College trustee who was defeated in 2007 after teachers targeted him following a bitter strike.
Panzer predicts McShane could pour as much as $40,000 into the race.
McShane doesn’t say how much he plans to spend, but offers: “It’s not an inexpensive undertaking.”