Rumble in Rivertown, Round 2: Candidates for Mayor of Antioch square off at Tuesday night’s forum

The candidates for Mayor of Antioch debated and discussed the issues in the City Council Chambers, during the forum sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, Tuesday night, September 6, 2016.

The candidates for Mayor of Antioch debated and discussed the issues in the City Council Chambers, during the forum sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, Tuesday night, September 6, 2016.

By Allen Payton

The rumble in Rivertown continued with round two, following the council candidates’ forum, Tuesday night, with the four candidates for mayor squaring off before an audience of about 100 residents. Like the earlier forum that night, it was also sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, chaired by former Antioch Mayor Don Freitas and moderated by Ann Flynn of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley.

Opening Statements – The Battle Begins

Each candidate was given 90 seconds for an opening statement, and chosen to speak in random order. Businessman Gil Murillo went first, wasting no time in taking on his rivals.

“My opponents have been in positions of authority in our city for the last four years,” he said. “I’ve lived here for eight years.”

“Stop being the arm chair quarterback and step up,” Murillo stated.

He then spoke of how he’s “the only candidate here who commutes an hour and a half to work.”

Antioch Chamber CEO and local chiropractor Dr. Sean Wright was next, sharing his experience in leading the business organization.

“When I got involved with the Chamber we were one week away from bankruptcy,” he stated. “I said ‘we’re going to turn this around.’”

One year later the chamber was solvent, Wright explained.

He then shared why he’s running and what he believes Antioch needs.

“Leadership, jobs, crime to be solved,” he said. “If you’re happy with the status quo, then vote for one of my opponents.”

Incumbent Mayor Wade Harper spoke next, getting a bit philosophical.

“The road to success is not always a straight road,” he said.

Then Harper spoke of the need of more police officers, and how he’d asked the public to vote for Measure C, to help pay for them.

“We have a net gain of 12,” he stated. “Under my leadership we are a full service city.”

“We now have a Downtown Specific Plan,” Harper added.

However, the net gain figure is incorrect. The Antioch Police Department currently has 93 sworn officers, according to Chief Allan Cantando. Using the figure of 89 sworn officers at the time Harper and the rest of the city council signed the ballot argument in favor of Measure C, and promised an additional 22 officers, the net gain has been four officers. Harper is trying to use the figure the city council chose to adopt, of 82 sworn officers, which is how many there were in October, 2013 at the end of the Measure C campaign, just prior to its passing.

Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock offered her opening statement, last.

“In my heart of hearts I believe I am the catalyst that can move the city forward,” she said. “I have the will, desire and tenacity to work with our sister cities. I don’t give up.”

“My work schedule as a Realtor allows me the flexibility,” Ogorchock added.

Vision for the Future

In sharing his vision for Antioch’s future, Harper spoke of his time as a police lieutenant with the City of Tracy, which he referred to as “the second safest city in Northern California.”

“We developed a Strategic Plan which is guiding our city,” he said about Antioch.

“We need to be a city friendly to jobs,” Harper continued. “We just sold the Four Points property on Wilbur. We just formed ACT, the Antioch Council of Teens. We’re looking at a ferry terminal in downtown.”

Later he clarified after the forum that “the 108 acre property was sold. The City did not own it.”

Murillo pointed out some of the challenges Antioch is facing and spoke about education.

“Do you see blight?” he asked. Referring to the City’s Strategic Plan, he said. “Community plan. I don’t remember seeing a copy of it.”

“We have a disparity of incomes,” Murillo continued. “We have one of the lowest school rankings. We need to establish a good education program. We won’t be able to establish a good economy without good schools and with crime.”

Ogorchock said “I look forward to the good jobs,” then had a Rick Perry moment.

“I’m sorry. My mind just went blank,” she said. “I apologize.”

“We have to develop the homes by Kaiser,” Ogorchock stated, after she resumed her comments.

Wright said “students aren’t proud to call themselves from Antioch” and that when they compete at events in other cities they say they’re from other cities, such as Richmond.

He said he wants “Twenty-first century jobs. Light manufacturing jobs. So they can be home in nine minutes and coach their children’s Little League team, like I was able to do.”

“I’m tired of people saying ‘can’t we have a downtown like Pittsburg?’” Wright complained.

“Antioch can be a place we’re proud of,” he concluded. “That’s the vision I see.”

Harper used one of his rebuttals to respond to Murillo’s and Wright’s comments.

“I would expect people running for council to read a copy of the Strategic Plan,” he said. “People are proud to be in Antioch. We need to be cheerleaders.”

Murillo used his first rebuttal to respond to the Mayor’s rebuttal and Ogorchock’s comments.

“To clarify, you said the entire city gave you input,” on the Strategic Plan.

“I am proud of our city,” he continued. “FUA-1 [Sand Creek area, approved and planned for new housing] is very close to me. I’m going against that development. We don’t have the services.”

Back-Up Plan for Measure C Police Funding

Murillo said we need to “build a crime reduction plan. The county is receiving money not the city.”

He then spoke about education, again.

“By improving our schools we increase tax revenue from our property values going up” Murillo stated. “They can go up $100,000 in four years.”

Then he went down a different tangent, mentioning police officers can “work overtime at the malls.”

Ogorchock proposed high-rise development, as the solution for more city revenue.

“Over off Buchanan we can go up to six stories,” she said. “We can get the property tax revenue there.”

“We can ask the people to extend Measure C,” Ogorchock added.

Wright questioned the city’s handling of Measure C funds.

“The fear was that Measure C shell games would be played,” he said. “After the first year, $2.5 million was spent and we got five officers for it.”

Then Wright mentioned “the citywide administration fund” receiving “$200,000 in year one” from the police budget, and “$700,000 is geared in year two.”

Harper responded to Wright’s comments.

“The police department can’t have their own Human Resources,” he said. “We are hiring police officers.”

“Measure C has to work,” Harper continued. “We put our careers on it.”

Wright used his first rebuttal to respond.

He once again mentioned the $200,000 in citywide administration funds “to oversee five cops” and that there’s “too much citywide administration to fund 12 cops,” using Harper’s figure from his earlier comment.

Then he spoke of how the city reduced the base budget for the police department by $1 million before applying the funds from Measure C, saying if that happened, then “that $1 million means the first funds from Measure C gets you back to that $29.5 million.”

Top Priorities

Next the candidates were asked to list in priority order the following four issues: hiring police and code enforcement officers, economic development, better communication and start the search for a new city manager. That last part of the question elicited a strong, supportive response from the audience. But, Harper didn’t appreciate it.

“I thought we weren’t going to berate anybody,” he said, referring to the ground rules laid out at the beginning of the forum by Flynn, of no personal attacks between the candidates.

Wright spoke of his efforts in the area of economic development.

“We started the EC Squared to promote economic development in East County,” he shared. “Now we are seeing the sale of property on Wilbur due to the marketing.”

However, Wright stated, “hiring police is number one.”

Then he spoke about communication and that residents “come and they speak and they’re unheard.”

Ogorchock said “hiring police officers, code enforcement and CSO’s (Community Service Officers)” was her top priority.

“We are at hiring of 41 officers. Not 10. But 41,” she stated, referring to the total number of new sworn officers the city has hired since the passage of Measure C. However, during that same time, the city has lost 37 sworn officers to retirement, some who quit and some who were terminated.

Harper shared his displeasure of the fourth item on the list, saying “I take issue at the hiring of the city manager.”

“First of all, communication,” Harper said. “That’s why we put together the Strategic Plan. We listened to the community. Communication is always number one.”

“Hiring police officers should be ongoing,” he continued. “Second is economic development.”

“I’m surprised EC Squared is taking credit for the sale of these properties,” Harper stated.

When asked about that after the forum, Wright said he and the Chamber had been working on “marketing the area through the Waterfront Initiative, even before EC Squared was formed.” He was referring to the county’s Northern Waterfront Economic Development Initiative which stretches from Hercules to Oakley, which has the goal of attracting and creating 18,000 jobs to the area in the advanced transportation fuels, bio-tech/bio-medical, diverse manufacturing, food processing, and clean tech industries by 2035.

Murillo spoke about “coms,” a term he uses at his job.

“Communication,” he said. “We have no one here on this council taking accountability.”

Then he made the first promise of the campaign of any of the candidates.

“In my first six months, I will bring in 100 IT (information technology) jobs,” Murillo claimed and that it was his “goal over four years to bring in 2,000 jobs” to Antioch.

“We’re not here about HR (human resources) but about Mayor,” he added, referring to an earlier comment by Harper.

Hosting Community Forums

Asked if they were open to hosting community forums, as was done by previous councils, when Freitas and Jim Davis served as Mayor, three of the candidates said they were.

“Yes,” Wright responded, then took another jab at the incumbents. “We have a staff and council that is unable to hear and unable to react.”

“We have parking issues downtown and we have a city that is completely ignoring them,” he continued. “We need to be proactive.”

Harper said “Community forums are great. But we use modern technology.”

Then he mentioned email and voicemail.

“We can forward them. When I’m up at 2:00 in the morning I may return an email,” Harper stated.

“I’ve held community forums,” he said.

“Just give us a phone call, an email. Even you, Mr. Wright,” Harper said with a smile, turning to his challenger who was sitting next to him.

Murillo answered with another shot at Harper, saying “One thing that does not happen is the transparency.”

“Is your issue being resolved?” he asked. “Things go into a vacuum. Why does it go through constant cycles to get things done?”

Ogorchock was supportive, saying “I like the idea of community forums.”

“I asked Don Freitas to moderate them,” she continued. “Everybody should be heard.”

She said there needs to be an “open line of communication.”

“They don’t just want to come up and not know they’re not being heard,” Ogorchock added.

City’s Role in Ending Poverty

When asked what the city’s role should be in ending poverty, the candidates softened their tone. Ogorchock responded, “I don’t know that can happen.”

“We have a huge amount of homeless in Antioch,” she continued, then suggested “working with the faith-based community.”

“I don’t know how we can ever end anything,” Ogorchock stated and spoke of “working with the county” and “CDBG (community development block grants).”

“There was nobody here to share how to spend those grant dollars,” she complained, referring to the council meeting when the distribution of CDBG funds was decided.

Murillo said “That’s a $10,000 question, right there.”

“It has to be a community issue, not just a council issue” he stated. “There are 200 homeless kids in Antioch schools.”

“Mayor Harper, through your church, I know you do a lot and through Holy Rosary,” Murillo added.

Wright said “there’s no simple solution.”

“In the book Ending Suburban Poverty, Antioch is chapter one, page one,” he stated. “The Chamber started a program called the Suburban Poverty [Task Force].”

He then complained about the lack of resources for the homeless in Antioch.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to support them,” Wright added.

Harper was complementary of Wright.

“Dr. Wright definitely worked with the Suburban Poverty Task Force,” he said. “I read a book, too,” and then he quoted a Bible verse about helping those in need.

“I don’t think a veteran should ever be homeless,” Harper continued. “There are benefits for veterans.”

“This is not a political issue. It’s a human rights issue,” he added. “I’ve had to take in people who are homeless. We must help the vulnerable in our society.”

Keeping the Next Generation in Town

On the topic of what can the city do to give a reason for our children to stay or come back after college, Ogorchock said “They do come back.”

“Look at Anthony Ferrante doing a movie, Aaron Miles, baseball players, football players,” she continued. “Share your passion. Kids always want to come back home.”

Wright thanked the “Antioch Historical Society Museum and Sports Legends that highlight” the positive things about Antioch’s history.

“People want to leave Antioch,” he complained, then spoke about one of his reasons for running.

“This is about my five kids,” Wright shared, getting a bit choked up. “I want them to come back here. We need jobs for them to come back here. We have to create the environment for them to be here.”

Harper spoke of the newest generation in his family, and becoming a first-time grandfather, recently.
“I was sitting in Kaiser hospital and I accepted a new position of grandpa,” he stated.

Then Harper spoke about Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.

“We’re creating pathways for our students to create jobs,” he continued.

Then, he again mentioned “the sale of property on Wilbur.”

Murillo referred to Harper becoming a grandfather, saying “I hope it’s another 10 to 15 years before that happens to me,” to laughter from the audience.

“I don’t want to see one of my sons saying ‘I’m moving to Dallas because there’s jobs there. I’m tired of taking BART every day,’” he shared.

“I’m just a guy, here trying to make a difference,” Murillo added.

The Yard – Downtown Event Center

When asked about the downtown event center proposed for the former Antioch Lumber Company yard, now referred to as “The Yard,” Harper said it had been a “big topic of discussion.”

“We’ve had several community meetings, joint council-commission meetings,” he explained.

Then he slipped and appeared to give a promotion to one of his challengers, but no one seemed to catch it.

“I supported Mayor Ogorchock’s motion to make that space mixed use,” Harper said.

“I asked for a plan to pay for it,” he stated. “I brought that up but it was rejected.”

Ogorchock commented while ignoring the possible prediction of a promotion, but disagreed with Harper.

“I love the concept of The Yard,” she stated. “I think they have a right to share their concept. I don’t feel that they had that opportunity.”

“I’ve asked for it to be on the agenda,” Ogorchock continued. “Hopefully it won’t be another six months.”

One challenge she faces is that the council by a 4-1 vote, with Ogorchock opposed, gave City Manager Steve Duran the exclusive right to negotiate the sale of The Yard, which is owned by the city, as well as eight other city-owned parcels. So, until those negotiations are complete, it’s doubtful the council can discuss it, publicly.

Murillo was also supportive of the citizen group’s effort.

“I am for The Yard,” he stated. “If you ask 20 of my neighbors, maybe two of them go downtown.”

“The tax revenue from the mixed use will not be as much as a center,” Murillo said. “This has been going on for years. Let it go to a vote.”

Wright said that “never have all the parties been brought together.”

“I will listen and negotiate in good faith and with an open mind, with respect,” he stated. “This council and staff has never negotiated in good faith.”

Harper used one of his rebuttals to correct his earlier statement and respond to Wright’s comments.

“When I say I brought the matter up, it was a conversation not in the form of a motion,” he said. “I disagree with Mr. Wright. We do negotiate in good faith.”

Closing Statements

Ogorchock reiterated her campaign theme, saying “Antioch is my home, my community.”

Harper said “I want to be the next mayor. I believe this is a sacred office.”

“We are doing more with less,” he continued. “Antioch is a good place to live, work, play and worship.”

Wright hit hard in his final comments.

“The reasons we are discussing these issues is because we have a council and mayor who have failed,” he exclaimed. “Failed to act and failed to lead.”

“If you’re happy with the status quo, then vote for more of the same,” Wright added. “It’s not about looking backward but looking forward.”

Murillo ended the evening with a bit of humor, while taking some parting shots.

“Next time I’m going to wear boots,” he said. “I hear about commitment to work. But someone has run for another office” referring to Harper who ran for County Supervisor in the June primary.

“You can’t just talk,” Murillo added. “I don’t talk the B.S. I bring it across.”

The next forum for the candidates for Mayor of Antioch will be hosted by the Antioch Herald and also be held in the City Council Chambers on Tuesday, September 20th at 8:15 p.m. The candidates will have opportunities to not only offer rebuttals to the statements of their opponents, but ask each other questions, as well.

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6 Comments to “Rumble in Rivertown, Round 2: Candidates for Mayor of Antioch square off at Tuesday night’s forum”

  1. Concerned Antioch Resident says:

    Since Mayor Harper likes to refer to the Bible, below is a quote from James 2:14-18 that in essence captures what’s wrong with his leadership– he fails to put his faith into action. Nothing is being effectively done to improve the safety of the residents nor provide good-paying jobs. Communication is meaningless if you don’t “walk the talk”. Let the community be part of the solution and quit defaulting responsibilities to the city manager to control.

    The last thing this city needs is more housing to “generate revenue”. See how well it’s worked so far? The city needs to collect the money from Measures C & O and utilize it according to what was presented to the voters– fiscal accountability! Crack down on crime and clean up properties. Only then will the city be more attractive for viable businesses to locate here– creating jobs with livable wages. At that point, it becomes more feasible to build new homes.

    14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

    15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

    16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

    17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

    18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

    • Publisher says:

      Concerned Antioch Resident,
      To be fair to Mayor Harper, what should the city be doing for the homeless and needy in Antioch? And with what money? Are you aware of the CDBG funds that Mayor Pro Tem Ogorchock mentioned, which are federal funds distributed through local governments to help provide for those in need?
      The city doesn’t have the budget to pay to meet any other needs, especially when it needs to hire additional police officers for the benefit of all residents, first.
      Allen Payton, Publisher

  2. Rjb says:

    Wow! Very impressed win this coverage, Mr. Payton

    Harper is all fluff. He has done nothing to increase the quality of life for hard working tax paying citizens of Antioch.

    WRIGHT is first on my vote, then Murillo. These two have the courage and determination to get things done.

  3. Julio says:

    RJB, Murillo? Reread some of his statements. Were you at the debates? He makes no sense at all.

    • Rjb says:

      Well he seems to be a straight shooter and does not hesitate to call others out. I like that. Your are right right, I wasn’t at the debates and some things come across differently when said in person rather then on paper.

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