The Partisan: Handicapping the Race in Salinas A process of elimination

| OPINION

By Royal Calkins

Given these difficult times of political and viral plagues upon the land, I’ve been expecting the upcoming Salinas mayoral race to be a stirring event that could measure the community’s temperature.

The issues currently shaping the national debate — such as the Black Lives Matter movement, child-filled cages on the border, the presidential slide into tyranny and buffoonery, the pandemic and its outsize impact on people of color — are felt as strongly in Salinas as anywhere between the shining seas. But the consensus list of potential candidates at the moment doesn’t support expectations that the election will be a referendum on the city’s direction, either short or long term.

The leading contender at the moment looks to be former City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig. While she is well qualified for the job, she also represents the status quo, business as usual as practiced by Joe Gunter, the longtime police officer and mayor whose unexpected death earlier this month created the opening. Consider Craig to be the chamber of commerce candidate, the law enforcement candidate, the Rotary Club candidate.

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Kimbley Craig | Provided photo

Craig knows how the city works and she knows the city well, especially her former North Salinas district. Though she’s socially moderate, you won’t see the growing activism of East Salinas and the city’s youth in general clearly reflected in her campaign. If not for Gunter’s unexpected death, he likely would have supported her to succeed him. Though she has not formally announced, she told Voices early this week that she is running and she posted on Facebook that she was pulling all her business suits out of the guest room closet. Since leaving the council three years ago, she has been running the Monterey County Business Council.

Significantly, and then some, Craig has received support from contractor Don Chapin’s Salinas Valley Leadership Group, a gathering of pro-growth and pro-business types that employs a campaign manager of its own and that is currently under investigation by the state over allegations of campaign money laundering. Craig isn’t implicated in any of that although her replacement on the council, interim Mayor Christie Cromeenes, is the subject of another investigation regarding money rolling through various campaigns without proper documentation. She has denied wrongdoing.

Back to the mayor’s race.

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Matt Huerta | Provided photo

Many politically active residents had been expecting housing consultant and community activist Matt Huerta to get into the contest, a move that likely would have shortened the list of candidates on the November ballot. He is viewed as a rising star on the progressive side of Salinas politics but he says he is simply too busy with affordable housing issues.

Huerta told Voices this week that he seriously considered a run but realized he simply
couldn’t find enough time to lead the city while making a living and raising a family. Because the city is led by a city manager, Ray Corpuz, at least until his retirement in September, the mayor’s position is part-time with a small stipend. Recent mayors, however, have treated it as a full-time job, partly because being mayor of Monterey County’s biggest city can be a political springboard. Ask state Sen. Anna Caballero.

A Huerta candidacy likely would have put much of the campaign focus on matters of special concern in most of the city, including affordable housing and police reform. Lack of adequate farmworker housing has contributed greatly to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the Salinas Valley, an issue of heavy concern to those who likely would have supported Huerta. He also has been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and is sympathetic to the young people who have staged a series of impressive political rallies regarding police tactics. Salinas has seen more than its share of police shootings, mostly aimed at Latinos, though the city has been enjoying a quiet time on that front for some time now.

“I wanted to run but it wasn’t in the cards,” Huerta said Wednesday.

Others expected to run include former councilmember Ernesto Gonzalez, LULAC official and Realtor Chris Barrera, businessman and previous mayoral candidate Amit Pandya, and homelessness advocate Wes White. Gonzales announced his candidacy on Facebook.

Veteran activist and gang counselor Brian Contreras said the search goes on for other more progressive candidates.

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Chris Barrera | Provided photo

There is talk of a Tony Barrera candidacy, but Contreras said he doesn’t expect the councilman to turn it into reality.

Councilmember Scott Davis, an unsuccessful candidate for sheriff two years ago, was rumored to be a possible candidate but he signed Craig’s nomination papers Wednesday.

Also under discussion, mainly in South Salinas, is a repeat performance by Dennis Donohue, who preceded Gunter in office. Donohue was a popular mayor whose political career seemingly ended when he failed to knock off Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker for a seat that takes in a large slice of Salinas.

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Dennis Donahue | Provided photo

A current candidate for that same seat is Salinas Council Member Steve McShane, who faces a November runoff against Parker aide Wendy Root Askew. His performance in the primary election makes him a distinct long shot in the runoff, perhaps so much so that Gunter’s passing may have him rethinking his options.

Something that should be telling is the end-of-this-month filing of campaign financial reports in the supervisorial race. McShane’s chances of upsetting Root Askew seemingly depend on whether he can spend heavily on advertising as November approaches, but the big money contributors of the Salinas Valley may be holding back because of his lopsided loss — 45-35 percent — in the May prelims. Time will tell.

The filing period for mayor started this week and runs through Aug. 7.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

One thought on “The Partisan: Handicapping the Race in Salinas A process of elimination

  1. Full disclosure, in the past I’ve contributed to some of the people mentioned in this article (Craig, Davis, McShane). I also live in unincorporated Salinas, not the city proper.

    In addition, it is important to remember that Salinas is not structured as a strong-arm mayor position; the mayor is just another councilmember that is voted upon by all residents in all districts of the city. The Mayor must also run every two years. The past administration just seemed like a strong-arm mayor situation, as Mayor Gunter horse traded and arm-twisted is way through the “process” of city government.

    It seems to me quite preposterous that any existing or previous city council member will be honest with voters in a mayoral campaign for the City of Salinas, let alone be effective; I also don’t believe they can be successful in altering the ill-fated trajectory of the city’s current financial situation.

    The city has become a financial disaster, and as many other cities throughout the state have become, teetering on the brink of insolvency. Through wasted time and effort over past decades, bad choices, a desire to bury their heads in the sand and some really bad luck, the City of Salinas in its current form is not sustainable and really should be looking at filing bankruptcy so that righting the ship happens ASAP and also while the State/Fed apparatus is doling out piles of money.

    Kimbley Craig’s term in office was not a star-studded affair in my opinion; no meaningful candidates ever stepped up to run against her; she participated in a meeting with Councilmember Tony Barrera and city Manager Ray Corpuz that ended up costing the city $400,000 when having to settle with disgruntled/harrassed Library Director Elizabeth Martinez in 2014. Ms. Craig’s economic claimed to fame were Dick’s Sporting Goods which might close in the coming months and the unhealthy fast food option of Sonic Drive Thru on North Davis (in a shopping area which now has a bankrupt/empty K-Mart and a closed down In-Shape gym due to Covid-19). The idea that shopping malls, after everything that has happened to retail in the last six months, not to mention Salinas losing out on shopping malls to Gilroy, Del Monte, Marina and others over the past 20 years, is insane. It was Mayor Gunter’s priority, to build more shopping space to generate more sales taxes; Ms. Craig and the rest of the city council bought in to that Mirage, which never materialized and then Covid-19 completely killed that idea in a flash.

    For those that choose not to run, due to time constraints or the fact that this job does not pay, really do not require any time focusing upon. Mayor Gunter had a $90,000 pension and could afford to be a full-time mayor in a city that does not pay their representatives.

    Again, I do not believe former city council members are what is needed at this time for Mayor. Fresh ideas and reform minded individuals, willing to make some hard choices and 100% commitment to working with all stakeholders in the city; primarily residents, businesses and city employees.

    So, in my opinion, Ernesto Gonzales, Tony Bererra, Steve McShane and now Gloria De La Rosa should not warrant any votes from residents of Salinas, because I don’t believe they can do what is necessary to attain financial sustainability, which is essentially its ability to survive; we’ve seen them in action and they didn’t come through, plain and simple.

    Wes White declared he was out of the race in 2018 after the filing deadline expired, so that does not seem like a person seriously committed to rebuilding the city.

    Amit Pandiya is a businessman and I respect him stepping up again to run; I’d like to see him be bold in his campaign and reach out to all three stool legs of the city, residents, businesses and city employees to identify how this city can rise from the ashes.

    My favorite though is the specter of former mayor Dennis Donohue; if there is one person that is not deserving of any consideration for mayor of Salinas, it is him. The financial meltdown the city faces snowballed under his watch and do I even need to mention his aspirations to become the mini-me Elon Musk of the Salinas Valley with the great “Green Vehicles” project that was a sure winner, until it wasn’t.

    Use the text string “dennis donohue salinas mayor 500,000 grant” on Google to see the archived KSBW report on the crash and burn ops mission that caused the city to burn another $500,000 in to the ether.

    Oh heck, here it is:

    https://www.ksbw.com/article/electric-car-maker-folds-salinas-loses-500-000/1016632

    Thank you Royal for including DD, I got a real chuckle out of this potential sordid path to the mayor’s seat in the City of Salinas.

    Only 16 days left until the deadline…

    All of the above is simply one person’s humble opinion that has bore witness to this shizzlestorm in Salinas for the past fourteen years.

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