Columnist reviews the candidates for Antioch city office
In November, Antioch voters will get the opportunity to seat a new mayor, two council members and a new, part-time city clerk. Both Harper and Agopian have safe council seats. They were elected to council in 2010. Davis and Rocha are not safe.
Candidates for the Mayor’s seat are Gary Agopian, (Council member and former AUSD board trustee), Wade Harper (Council member and former appointed AUSD board trustee), Don Freitas (Antioch’s mayor from 2000 to 2008, former CC Water District Board member and retired director of the CCC Flood Control and Water Conservation District who conducted the failed Clean Water ballot election earlier this year) and Michael Leon, a neighborhood activist.
City Council candidates include Mary Rocha (council incumbent), Jim Davis (current Antioch Mayor), Walter Ruehlig (AUSD board trustee), Monica Wilson (member of the city’s Economic Development Commission) and Noel Pinto (Berkeley city traffic enforcement and Board Member of his homeowners association).
Candidates for the city clerk’s seat are Arne Simonsen (former council member) and Argentina Davila-Luevano, whose ballot designation is social worker, although her job is CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Institute.
Many of these names may be familiar to you but frankly that shouldn’t give them a leg up in the race for office. Study their record and note who are their campaign supporters.
Candidates for Mayor:
Don Freitas – In 1998, three fellow CCWD board members charged Freitas with having misrepresented the board’s position by campaigning against the Garavanta dump site proposal. In 2001 was fined by the Antioch City Clerk for filing his campaign finance statement two months past the deadline. Pro labor, Don (and Mary Rocha) on a 3-2 vote voted to impose a “stop work” on the McBail Sand Creek Ranch housing and commercial project because one of McBail’s subcontractors (Thomas Plumbing) hired an apprentice who had not graduated from a state-approved training program. The “McBail mandate” was ultimately was torpedoed by Judge Spellberg.
Don later endorsed Reggie Moore, saying he needed a 3rd vote on council who supported project labor agreements. (Winco sold its property across from Wal-Mart due to Freita’s position on labor issues.) His 2002 State of the City address touted “bulldozing” rundown houses along Highway 4 in favor of 3- to 5-story buildings and supported rezoning the 11+ acre medium density residential parcel at Lone Tree Way and Blue Rock to “office use” and high density residential (a 240 unit apartment complex.) In 2007 Don wanted an additional $12 million spent on the Prewett Park community center by extending the projected payoff date of the Mello Roos bonds. Don is known to be “thin skinned” and a micromanager with a hot temper. He currently holds a sizeable campaign fundraising lead over the other candidates. He has the endorsement of APOA, having voted for the 3% at age 50 retirement package, as well as a six-year contract in 2007 (the subject of recent council negotiations with APOA) and Republic Services, a subsidiary of Allied Waste, having voted to extend their contract with the city to 2025. (Davis voted against it.)
Gary Agopian: He’s willing to consider a property tax for additional police funding, as do the other candidates. As a member of the school board, I assume he’s supported AUSD’s bond measures which causes me concern. However, I give him kudos because, as a new AUSD board member in 2004 when the district was dealing with financial problems, he supported a strong fiscal recovery plan. Plus he opposed the half-cent sales tax measure on the 2010 ballot that would have hurt Antioch business. Gary, who ran for County Supervisor in 2004, has a admirable business background and a long history of service to the community e.g. a member of the Deer Valley Plaza Crime Task Force, a member of the city’s Economic Development Commission and a member of the Mello-Roos tax Board. He feels it’s vital to annex the area on Antioch’s northeast because it has deep water access rail access and would attract 21st century jobs.
Wade Harper: Although I like his plan to lower crime and he’s personable, his job as a full time police lieutenant often keeps him away from meetings, including the Chamber’s debate for Mayoral candidates, making him a poor candidate for the Mayor’s position which requires a considerable dedication of time to fulfill all the duties of the office. Additionally, I’m concerned about his connections with the Seenos and Garaventa. He reclused himself on a recent vote regarding possible litigation against Discovery Builders, owned by Albert Seeno, in regard to the Markley Creek Culvert Crossing Project, part of the long awaited Buchanan Bypass claiming that since Seeno donated to his campaign he had a conflict of interest.
Michael Leon: Don’t know much about him but like his background and his refusal to seek or take endorsements. I wish he had decided to run for council rather than trying to just jump into the mayor’s seat. I’m like to see him on the next election ballot.
Now for a look at council candidates:
Jim Davis: Toppled Mayor Don Freitas by 489 votes in 2008 and became mayor, a seat he unexpectedly decided not to run for again, instead opting to apply for the council position being vacated by Brian Kalinowski. Jim was a former council member, a Neighborhood Watch organizer, a Police Commission and a member of the Mello-Roos board, supporting the homeowners right to vote on tax increases. If you want to know where Jim stands on any issue, just ask him, he’ll tell you.
Mary Rocha – Her mission statement this time around is “bring back Cooperation, Compassion, and Commitment. I’ll give her commitment, she spent 8 years on council and 4 years as Mayor, cooperation (she follows along) and compassion for child care. Finances aren’t Mary’s strong suit. She voted for the San Diego ferry boat as well as city’s ill advised decision to borrow $6.3M in loans from the state’s Dept. of Boating and Waterways to develop and construct a 285 birth marina with an accompanying privately owned restaurant and public fishing pier, then deciding to defer replaying the loan during construction and during the first few years of operation. purchase. A pro labor advocate, she supported the McBail stop work order. In 1988 she advocated for the construction of the GWF plant saying it would bring more jobs to Antioch. (Only 13 employees were hired and one was Mary’s husband). Mary was on council in 1997 when council, upset that residents rejected a $3.2 million landscape and lighting district plan, had city crews hang signs on city parks that read “Enter at your own risk”. When mayor in 2000 she received a letter from Attorney General Bill Lockyer chiding the city for not complying with the mandate to update its general plan every 10 years.
Walter Ruehlig – has never seen a school bond measure he didn’t like but despite our disputes over former Superintendent Deborah Sims, whose dismissal I urged, student discipline measures and the district’s real estate portfolio, hats off to Walter (who often wears one) for his willingness to communicate at all times.
Monica Wilson – Admittedly I don’t know much about her other than she’s a college dean assistant and member of the Antioch Economic Development Commission but her list of Democratic party supporters are longer than her list of accomplishments. Frankly, I’d prefer someone less partisan.
Noel Pinto – Great resume as an administrator and someone committed to getting Antioch back on track. His goals are to “ ensure a balanced annual City budget, make Police funding priority 1, fill police vacancies, no more layoffs, promote business development and local job creation, market Antioch and what it offers to the outside world, commit to the revitalization of downtown Antioch, create funding initiatives to maintain an acceptable qualify of life for the residents.” What counts as much as his impressive background, is that he’s a great communicator and would be a transparent and responsive councilman.
City Clerk’s position:
Arne Simonsen – has a long history as a dedicated council member (2000 to 2008) and lost his last race for office by a hair. Arne has stated his intent to run an open office, making more materials available for residents to scrutinize and putting more information on the city website to keep citizens informed and updated. He was an open and responsive councilman which assures me he not only will run the city clerk’s office in the same manner but will make it even more assessable to the public.
Argentina Davila-Luevano – ran unsuccessfully for council in 2002 and sees the position as a stepping stone for a future run for council. Argentina was formerly deputy state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens of California. According to a Huffington Post article, she endorsed, on behalf of the LULAC, Proposition 19, a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana usage, causing the National Executive Director of LULAC to issue an official statement that she did not have the authority to make an endorsement on behalf of LULAC. Not a resume I admire.