LOCAL SPIN: Burnett for Mayor
But Carmel is lucky to have Rich Pepe in the mix.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Being the mayor of modern-day Carmel is about much more than being the mayor of Carmel. Whoever holds the office is tasked not just with leading the council of that little slice of heaven by the sea; they’re also increasingly being tasked with representing Carmel’s interests throughout the Peninsula and the region.
The best example is the aftermath of the Regional Desalination Project, the failed $400 million play to keep water flowing on the Peninsula past 2016, when Cal Am faces a court-ordered cutback on pumping from the Carmel River.
The mayors of the six Peninsula cities, realizing the project was going under, banded together to create the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, a joint powers authority working with Cal Am to find a sensible solution.
This increasing focus on regionalism and interagency cooperation is one of the many reasons the Weekly is endorsing Carmel-by-the-Sea Councilman Jason Burnett for mayor. Burnett’s the right person for the office right now. He’s not only well-versed in policy, but also in process. He’s devoted to transparency, in the water agreement and in government as a whole, and transparency is something Carmel’s sorely lacked for too long. As a first-term councilman, he led the charge to dismiss City Manager Rich Guillen, who immersed the city in a sexual harassment scandal that resulted in a $600,000 payout to the harassed employee. In this, Burnett was opposed by the mayor and the majority of the council – until he prevailed, because he was right.
The Burnett endorsement comes with a slight twist: Carmel is lucky to have this caliber of competition. Residents shouldn’t discount Rich Pepe – a savvy businessman, one of Carmel’s greatest cheerleaders and a promising future candidate. The successful restaurateur is rougher around the edges than Burnett (something we suspect he cultivates as part of his New-Jersey-boy-done-good mystique); but more importantly, he’s not as well-versed in policy.
During an interview with the Weekly’s editorial board, Pepe showed himself to be erudite and willing to learn. We’re guessing that if he doesn’t win this election, he will run again and be more prepared. He’s clearly in love with the city that hosts four of his highly successful ventures: Little Napoli, Vino Napoli Wine Bar, Vesuvio and Carmel Bakery.
Pepe has lived on the Peninsula since the 1970s. While his restaurants are long established, he’s been a Pebble Beach resident for much of that time. He and his wife recently rented an apartment in Carmel so he could run.
“I’m really concerned about Carmel’s future,” says Pepe, who tells the Weekly a group of long-time businessmen encouraged him to run. “I have a greater understanding of Carmel and its vibe and culture. What we face today, the complex issues, will require people here for the long haul.”
He wants to make downtown more attractive to both locals and tourists, and suggests one way to do it is by launching an open-air market. (Burnett’s all for that, too.)
Burnett says all tax increases, including hotel and sales taxes, should be on the table if Carmel is serious about paying off its CalPERS liability. Pepe’s also open to a sales tax hike, but says no to a hotel tax increase.
When it comes to water, Pepe is plain-spoken: If anyone thinks there will be a solution in place when the cease-and-desist order kicks in, he says, they’re fooling themselves. Burnett says the new MPRWA should work to develop consensus and support the other local water agencies, rather than building a project itself.
Pepe is learning as he goes, and his campaign is an example. A test video for a reality TV show featuring him and his family made it to YouTube, and went locally viral; Pepe says the video was never supposed to be released to the general public and blames a disgruntled former employee. That employee also has launched a web forum decrying Pepe’s lack of a voting record and his possible use of office as a bully pulpit. But Pepe knows that running a restaurant – one of the tougher businesses to sustain – isn’t the same as helping run a city.
The mayor’s office isn’t the end-goal of Burnett’s political ambitions, although he doesn’t spell out what those ambitions entail. In a few more years, it’s not hard to imagine a Supervisor Burnett, an Assemblyman Burnett or even Congressman Burnett.
But to those who say he’d use the mayor’s office as a stepping stone to higher office, Burnett says this: “Every job I’ve ever gotten, I’ve gotten because I did a really good job at the previous job.”
We trust, should he win this election, this will still be the case.
The Weekly editorial board consists of Editor Mary Duan, Managing Editor Mark C. Anderson, Assistant Editor Kera Abraham, Publisher Erik Cushman and CEO Bradley Zeve.