Thursday, March 25, 1999
In what promises to be a hotly contested and potentially divisive political campaign, the June 8 Seaside City Council special election could become as politically significant for Seaside''s future as last November''s upset victory by Mayor Jerry Smith over former mayor Don Jordan.
In the aftermath of former Councilmember Helen Rucker''s resignation of her seat, and the inability of the remaining council members and Smith to agree on an appointment to replace Rucker, the winner in the upcoming council election will step into an undefined political arena, and may, in effect, determine what kind of voting coalition, if any, will exist in Seaside''s City Council chambers.
Among the candidates campaigning for the open council seat are former Seaside mayor and council candidate Lance McClair, former council candidate Lisa Mitchell, who ran unsuccessfully last November, first-time candidate Luther Hert, who serves as a county deputy sheriff, and Steve Bloomer, a longtime Seaside resident who first ran for City Council in 1992.
"Aside from the mayor''s seat, this seat will prove to be the most important seat in Seaside for a long time," says McClair, who placed third in last November''s council election behind incumbents Tom Mancini and Darryl Choates. "There is a lot at stake, and there are still factions in this city that will put as much people and money in the street to tip the balance to make sure their people win."
According to McClair, the competing proposals to build either a Marriott or Hilton luxury resort/conference center at Fort Ord has highlighted what McClair characterizes as a political "war zone" in the City Council which could spill over into the council election.
"I think the new mayor needs the opportunity to succeed, but my feeling is there are some factions out there in the prior administration that want to make him fail," says McClair. "They have committed to certain development interests and made promises to people they want fulfilled."
Council candidate Bloomer, who served for four years on the city''s Planning Commission, sees a more open and unified Smith administration than McClair, and feels that with Smith''s election, Seaside now has a unique opportunity to move forward with greater unanimity. It is the desire to help promote a more unified Seaside that prompted Bloomer to enter the race.
"The present administration is more conducive to public input as well as seeming to work better together," says Bloomer. "I would like to be a part of that working team and bring the city forward. I believe in consensus building and including everyone''s comments, both the council''s and the public''s. I bring integrity as well as my experience and my lack of experience, with no strings or past history."
Among Bloomer''s priorities if elected are the hiring of a new city manager, a thorough budget review, and bringing the police and fire departments up to full staffing.
As far as development issues are concerned, Bloomer believes Fort Ord development will be the key to meeting Seaside''s housing needs, as well as providing the revenue base to revitalize downtown Seaside.
"You have to go where development is possible, and the urban area of Seaside proper is limited," says Bloomer. "Hotels and the golf courses at Fort Ord would bring us the revenue to improve the downtown core. We can develop a unique area down there. I would like to see it very pedestrian friendly. The city needs not only a film theater but cultural center as well."
In his first run for political office, Hert, a 26-year resident who holds degrees in public administration, and serves as a patrol division commander in the sheriff''s department, says he will be campaigning on a broad but interrelated set of issues.
"For the good of the community, you can''t say there is just one overriding issue," comments Hert, who is most concerned about public safety. "To have a safe community you need economic development, affordable housing, and a fully staffed police department.
"This is a building thing, to provide a safe, comfortable community," adds Hert, who also supports more resources for Seaside''s youth. "I would like to look at the internal structures of the two [public safety] departments and have a Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) audit to look at training and morale to determine what is best for the city."
To the degree that the Seaside council election presents a great opportunity to build a new political coalition in the city, it also creates a tremendous political challenge to the mayor and sitting council in terms of whether they should officially endorse or campaign for any of the candidates.
At this early stage in the campaign, both the candidates and the incumbents agree that the present administration should remain neutral. However, whether those vows of neutrality will stick is anybody''s guess. As the campaign and the stakes heat up closer to June, no one would be surprised if some or all of the incumbents came out with campaign assistance or even formal endorsements.
"As elected officials we need to stay out, but I would support anyone who''s elected by the citizens," says Councilmember Darryl Choates. "It''s important not to endorse from the council seat, because an endorsement would say [you''re] trying to make a voting bloc."
"I can''t speak for them, but if they got involved in the campaigns of candidates that might appear to be self-serving," agrees Hert, "although I don''t know if that would be my concern if an incumbent was out-and-out supporting a candidate here."
"That would be walking the narrow line of politics and commitment to push the mayor''s program," says McClair as to whether Smith himself should endorse. "I wouldn''t say he doesn''t have a right to get involved, but I think it would have a tendency to further split the community. If [Smith and the council] get into a partisan situation, victory can be ashes in their mouth. They should walk a neutral ground and let the election play out and give people the role."
Just who has the edge at this stage in the campaign is anybody''s guess. For candidate Mitchell, who did not return a request for an interview, and who placed fourth in the council race last November, the winning edge may depend on whether the support she garnered from councilmembers Nancy Amos and Choates as a possible appointment for Rucker''s seat carries over to Seaside voters.
Hert says his victory will come from rallying sufficient community grassroots support.
"People have responded and are calling me wanting to get involved, to donate time and money," says Hert. "I feel confident that I''ll run a highly competitive campaign, and more than likely I''ll win it."
Bloomer indicated that he too has received broad-based support from the community, and hopes to capitalize on support from city employees who have expressed interest in his candidacy.
"I had numerous folks come forward, and based on the number of people coming to me and saying, ''run,'' I will be seeking support from city employees, the police and firemens'' associations and the business sector."
Although the full political impact of the council election is difficult to predict, what is becoming clear is a consensus among the candidates that Seaside, within legal parameters, needs to reevaluate previous agreements, proposals and development goals to determine whether they are in the best interests of the city.
"In a sense I support starting over, but I won''t put myself in a prejudicial position regarding those developments," says McClair. "Given the lack of ability to oversee major development we need an economic development director and a seasoned city manager and planning director on board--all crucial elements needed to manage major developments
"I think [the city''s] commitments should be limited to whatever liability is existing at time, and what is in the best interests of Seaside and the community," adds McClair. "I don''t think we''re necessarily committed to anything." cw