Thursday, September 25, 2008
Marina’s Gary Wilmot is running for mayor. He’s also running a free newspaper– in which the content sometimes blurs the line between community newsletter and campaign propaganda.
Wilmot and his wife, Jackie Gonzales, publish The Marina Gazette, a bi-monthly rag. Sitting outside Coffee Mia, the pair sport matching black IBM laptops. Gonzales says she and contributors write articles and shoot pictures. Wilmot pulls up PDFs of the pages he lays out using Quark software. The pair double as circulation workers. But they apparently could use a copy editor.
Financial columnist Renee Bailey stops in for coffee and jokes about the multiple spellings of her name. “It’s different every week,” she says. (Her name was Rene Baily in the Gazette’s first issue and has also appeared as Renne.) Gonzales playfully chides Wilmot for the errors.
The couple admits that they are rookies when it comes to publishing a paper (their first issue hit the streets June 15). Gonzales and Wilmot say their intent is benign: to highlight positive Marina happenings.
But while the Gazette regularly features Wilmot, Marina’s appointed mayor, at community events and volunteer photo-ops, virtually absent from its pages are his opponent, Bruce Delgado– and all other City Council challengers on the November ballot. The paper also paints a rosy picture of Wilmot and the City Council’s decision to shell out $106 million in city redevelopment funds to The Dunes on Monterey Bay. The decision, which some Marina residents saw as a giveaway to the developer at taxpayers’ expense, has become a controversial campaign issue.
“I think the mayor is using the paper as a front piece to benefit all of his ideas,” Delgado says. Delgado also takes issue with Wilmot’s business partner Bart Bruno, president of Monterey Peninsula Engineering, a Marina-based contractor. “[The Gazette is] coming across as a community paper,” he says, “but… it’s being controlled by the mayor and his wife and someone who’s got major developments in this town.”
Bruno, Wilmot and Gonzales each own a third of the Gazette. Willie Harrell, former owner of the Gazette and publisher of the Seaside Post News-Sentinel, says he sold the paper to Paul Bruno, son of Bart Bruno, last year. Wilmot and Gonzales say Bart Bruno is a long-time friend, and they were happy to start up the dormant rag. “Marina needs a newspaper,” Wilmot says.
The three owners are Marina Rotary members and are all registered Republicans. Delgado is a Green Party member.
Paul Bruno, who serves on the board of directors of the California Republican Party, says neither he nor his father have any editorial control over the paper. (Wilmot and Gonzales say they also cover all the paper’s expenses, which costs more than $1,000.)
Gonzales was a natural fit for managing editor because she is heavily involved with the community, Paul Bruno says.
In addition to volunteering as past president of Marina Rotary and a Marina Youth Arts board member, Gonzales works for the city of Marina as a recreation leader. She coordinates special events for the city– some of the same ones featured in the Gazette– such as the Labor Day parade.
Gonzales says she is mindful of not doing newspaper business while on the city clock: “I have to be more careful than anyone else in the city.”
Much of the paper’s content could hardly be considered politically influential (see “Chinchillas as Pets” or read Ms. Nanner’s column about dog manners). The latest issue leads with the Marina Equestrian Association’s open house, approved plans for a veterans’ cemetery on Fort Ord, and a downtown vision by resident Steve Zmak.
But under political events on page two, there’s a press release for incumbent Councilwoman Nancy Amadeo’s weekly meetings and an announcement for Wilmot’s spaghetti dinner fundraiser. There’s also an ad for the same Wilmot fundraiser, which says it was paid for by his reelection committee. This means Wilmot’s campaign contributors are essentially paying the mayor for advertising.
None of the other candidates appear in the Sept. 15 edition, with the exception of an ad for City Council hopeful Peter Le. Wilmot says the candidates haven’t submitted anything to the paper.
“If the other candidates are out there doing positive things in the community, and if they take pictures and they write an article about it, we’ll publish it too,” he says.
The Gazette has invited each Marina candidate to answer a set of questions. Their words will be published in the paper. But, as Delgado points out, Wilmot will be able to read Delgado’s responses before crafting his answer. “It’s just awkward to be sending information to a paper that is controlled by a mayor,” he says.
The mayor has had media on his mind lately. In a Sept. 8 guest commentary in the Monterey County Herald, he questioned whether the daily paper could be trusted, especially the Opinion page, “which has a clear bias against design of the Dunes project in Marina.” He also reportedly told shoppers at the Marina Farmers Market that the Weekly “is not a real paper.” (Wilmot denies saying this, although he told a similar joke to the Weekly.)
So now, with the Gazette, Wilmot he has a vehicle to present “the truth”– or at least his version of it.