After Sanchez fails to qualify for City Council race, two last-minute candidates could divide his backers.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
It was sketchy paperwork that landed José Castañeda in court on felony charges last June, and another paperwork error – this time by Salinas City Councilman Sergio Sanchez – that led Castañeda to put his name on the November ballot.
Sanchez was first elected to represent District 1, part of East Salinas, in 2002. When he filed for re-election last month, he was three voter signatures short on his nomination papers. He’s since entered the race for mayor, but after his failure to qualify for the council ballot, supporters scrambled to find someone to run in his place.
“If he qualified for that seat, then there was no need for me to run,” Castañeda says.
Castañeda, a landscaper, views Sanchez as a long-time supporter of the Alisal Union School District. Castañeda’s served on the school board for a decade and has seen the chronically low-performing district through some of its darkest times, including a state takeover in 2010.
He’s campaigning on an education platform and proposes eliminating district lines, forming one school district (instead of the existing four) for the city.
Based partly on County Supervisor Fernando Armenta’s support for state intervention in Alisal Union, Castañeda led a failed recall attempt against Armenta last year. Castañeda faced felony perjury charges after neglecting to provide Armenta with recall documents, and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge acknowledging he’d filed a false affidavit.
Castañeda’s up against Josh Kuzmicz, a correctional officer at Salinas Valley State Prison, and Margie Wiebusch, coordinator for Hartnell College’s foster – care education program.
Kuzmicz advocates for spending cuts and opposes Measure E, a permanent tax hike on the ballot. “We need more accountability for the money that is available versus just trying to get more money,” he says.
Wiebusch says the city can’t bear any more cuts, and her primary cause is providing more resources for youth, including rec centers and transitional housing.
She decided to run when labor reps approached her after Sanchez failed to qualify. “It was not something I even planned or dreamed of,” she says. “It happened over a matter of two days.”
Wiebusch serves on the executive board of Central Labor Council, where she represents a Hartnell union. Their endorsement, she says, won’t sway her vote: “Will labor own my decisions? No. I will never make a decision without consulting the people affected.”
Wiebusch and Castañeda acknowledge they could divide Sanchez backers and the pro-labor vote, but Castañeda is banking on his reputation. “My supporters are still out there from the last 10-plus years no matter what,” he says.
But some of his efforts could actually undermine his support. Labor Council President Cesar Lara says delegates worried about his recall effort – the Labor Council is endorsing Armenta in his re-election bid – and his leadership at Alisal Union. “We had enough red flags we were concerned about him running for that seat,” Lara says. “We feel that we need somebody strong on the city council.”
In the past, Castañeda had derided Armenta as a “political harlot” for accepting campaign cash. Now campaigning himself, Castañeda’s been collecting $1 and $5 contributions, for a total approaching $1,000 to date. “That’s fine,” he says. “That’s 100 voters, instead of special interests.”
Kuzmicz has contributed $600 of his own money to the campaign. “My target is to get more than what I have,” he says.
At press time, Wiebusch was $150 toward her $15,000 goal.