Power Shift

Andrew Sandoval, left, and Christie Cromeenes, right, first ran against each other in 2018, and will face off again this year to represent North Salinas’ District 5.

The city of Salinas has seen a shift in its decision-making in the past couple of years, with sometimes two distinct blocs. In 2020, voters elected three young Latinos: Anthony Rocha, Carla Viviana González and Orlando Osornio, who were all new to council.

All three – along with Councilmember Tony Barrera, who faces no challenger in his re-election campaign in District 2 – are now supporting a challenger to the incumbent mayor, Kimbley Craig. They have endorsed Amit Pandya, a businessman who has run in the past. “I promise to put my heart and soul into being the mayor, and only the mayor for the city of Salinas,” Pandya says.

That comment is meant as a dig to Craig, who ran in June for the position of District 2 county supervisor. Craig says running for supervisor was an opportunity to represent Salinas on a larger scale: “It doesn’t change my passion and my drive, and my advocacy for residents in Salinas.”

Craig was elected as mayor in 2020 after representing North Salinas on City Council for eight years. She won in a five-way race to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former mayor Joe Gunter.

Craig is endorsed by her other colleagues on City Council, Christie Cromeenes and Steve McShane, who are also up for re-election this Nov. 8. In District 5, Cromeenes faces off for a second election against Andrew Sandoval, a community activist and board member of Santa Rita Union School District. In 2018, when they both ran for the first time, Cromeenes won by 86 votes, or a 2-percent margin.

Cromeenes says she’s running for a second term because she wants to make sure projects she has pushed for come to fruition, including traffic calming measures, park renovations and the first community center located in her district. “I want to ensure that I’m in the office to ensure those things get accomplished,” she says.

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Sandoval says he will put residents’ needs over businesses’ needs. “We need to make sure we refocus on spending money that affects our everyday residents,” he says.

In District 3, incumbent Steve McShane – who has held the seat for the past 12 years and is president of the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce – is seeking a fourth term. He is seeing the fruits of a years-long effort to revitalize downtown Salinas, as new businesses move in and old buildings are renovated. “I have shown a good ability for problem-solving and a positive attitude across any sort of differences in conflict,” he says.

In 2020, McShane also ran for county supervisor, and lost to Wendy Root Askew who now represents District 4.

His opponent is businesswoman and educator Cary Swensen, who owns Sylvan Learning, a tutoring center. Swenson says District 3 needs a new perspective: “I want Salinas to be unified,” she says, “for all the districts to come together and work for the whole city.”

Pandya and Swensen both say Salinas has over-invested in the downtown neighborhood and has neglected other commercial districts.

Pandya, Sandoval and Swensen all criticize the council for not doing enough to improve streets and sidewalks, despite voters passing Measure G in 2014, a 1-cent tax for city infrastructure.

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