Salinas mayoral race calls for extraordinary community leadership

Salinas Valley | Adobe Stock photo

| OPINION

By Juan Uranga

So, my good friend, Cesar Lara, offers, in his VOMB op-ed, his advice for electing a new mayor in Salinas: find a person who recognizes all of Salinas’ problems and who can solve them all. Gee, thanks, Cesar. I’m looking forward to meeting that person.

First a history of my relationship with Cesar. He is a good man. He cares deeply about the many constituencies whom he has represented over the years.  And he does his best to help our community become better as it grows.

My wife, Anna Caballero, named Cesar the co-chair of a campaign committee that ultimately saved the Salinas libraries.  Anna was the mayor at the time.  The California state government was raiding local government revenues, including those of the City of Salinas, to balance the state budget. As it was running out of money, the city confronted the prospect of having to permanently close all its libraries.

With help from her political advisers, Anna mounted “Rally Salinas,” a successful effort that raised $800,000 from the private sector to keep a skeletal library crew employed until she and Rally Salinas could pass a sales tax measure which permanently saved the libraries. Cesar was the co-chair of that effort. He did a great job and when conflict arose between Cesar and the United Farmworkers Union, Anna resisted UFW demands that she remove Cesar from the blue-ribbon committee.  She resisted because she knew then, as she does now, that Cesar is a bright, committed community leader.  I share those sentiments.

I, however, need to add a couple of thoughts to Cesar’s formula for selecting a new mayor.

To convert problems into issues that can be solved, a political leader needs to analyze the landscape which she must traverse. That landscape is, in Salinas, populated with communities of interest which are formed to pursue individualized agendas: police brutality opponents focus on reforming police practices; education reformists seek to improve educational outcomes; farmworker advocates seek to improve the quality of life for low-income wage earners; neighborhood homeowners seek to improve community safety and to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood in which they invested most of their financial resources; small businesses (which by the way, in Salinas, are mostly owned by immigrant entrepreneurs) seek a way to improve business conditions.

These communities of interest, too, have a role to play as we search for a new mayor.  They must exhibit a kind of leadership that allows a mayor to harness the abundance of talent that exists in all of those communities of interest. Without their cooperation, a new mayor, as gifted as she might be, will never deliver the kind of community that Cesar envisions in his op-ed.

The communities of interest do a pretty good job of proposing solutions to the problems with which they deal. But what is lacking is a commitment to working with all the other communities of interest to propose solutions that inspire them all and which inspire the rest of the residents of our wonderful city. And so, here is the biggest challenge for anyone who aspires to be mayor: to get all the special interests to collectively convert problems into collective solutions that allow all of us to work together towards a common vision of what the City of Salinas can achieve. The new mayor does not have to solve all the issues all at once. But she must find a way to rally Salinas around common ground. Doing so will gain the trust of community leaders and, ultimately, of community residents.

It is not just an extraordinary mayor that we need. We also need extraordinary community leaders who can come together, gain each other’s confidence and earn the trust of our residents, thereby moving our community to a better place. The new mayor and persons who head communities of interest need to consult each other but not just to talk about individual agendas, but rather, to help create a common agenda and common priorities. It is no longer enough for each sector of our community to have its own priorities.

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Juan Uranga

About Juan Uranga

Juan Uranga has been a farmworker attorney for 40+ years (retired); past president, Salinas Valley Democratic Club; and an inductee, Coronado High School Football Hall of Fame (El Paso, Texas). He also calls himself the First Bato (Dude) of the 12th Senate District of California.