By John Crowder
On Tuesday night, September 16, 2014, five of the eight candidates running for the Antioch City Council met at the council chambers to take questions from panelists and residents on their plans for the City if elected. Although each candidate had the opportunity to question and rebut opponents, none did so, resulting in a debate largely devoid of contention.
With moderator Paul Burgarino, Voter Education and Engagement Specialist for Contra Costa County Election Division enforcing the ground rules, panelists Allen Payton, publisher of the Antioch Herald, and Dr. Sean Wright, CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce took turns questioning the candidates.
Three candidates were absent from the proceedings. Jeffery Hall-Cottrell, Steven Bado and Lori Ogorchock, the latter two being out of town. Ogorchock sent a surrogate speaker, Bill Chapman, to fill in for her and to read both an opening and closing statement on her behalf. Those candidates attending were Karl Dietzel, Diane Gibson-Gray, Anthony Segovia, Lamar Thorpe, and currently appointed incumbent Tony Tiscareno.
Each candidate began with an opening statement. Chapman, speaking for Lori Ogorchock, noted her 40-year residence in Antioch. He emphasized her leadership skills and history of community service, including her work with Junior Diabetes, the Antioch Unified School District, City Park and fight against blight. Her priorities, he said, would be a revitalized downtown and fully staffed police force.
Lamar Thorpe talked about his experience on the Antioch Economic Development Commission and his current work in education. He related how he had to overcome adversity from the time he was born, in prison, to a mother addicted to crack. He said he joined the Navy after attempting community college, and being forced to leave because of his illiteracy. There, he said, he taught himself to read, and went on to graduate from George Washington University. His focus if elected, he said, would be job creation.
Diane Gibson-Gray said that she was a 50-plus year resident of Antioch. She listed numerous civic and other organizations in Antioch that she has been part of, including her current stint as a board member of the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD), her service as Executive Director of the Arts and Cultural Foundation of Antioch, and time spent on the Antioch Planning Commission. She said she would focus on three areas if elected: Public safety, fiscal responsibility, and economic development.
Tony Tiscareno noted that he had lived in Antioch for 45 years, and that he currently serves on the city council, having been appointed to fill Wade Harper’s seat when he was elected mayor. He said he was concerned that there were not enough recreational opportunities for young people in the city, and that having more for kids to do would help to reduce crime. He said he would take a hands-on approach to bringing volunteers together to work on reducing crime.
Anthony Segovia said that he was born and raised in Antioch, had been involved in broadcast journalism, and currently works in finance. His focus, if elected, would be on crime reduction, downtown redevelopment, and the budget.
Karl Dietzel said that he was a 65-year-old immigrant from Germany. He stated that he lived right in the middle of a the crime-ridden area of Sycamore. Emphasizing his independence, he said that he was not connected to any special interests, would truly represent the average citizen, and would focus on the budget, crime, and economic development.
Early in the forum, Payton asked the candidates what they had accomplished for Antioch. Gibson Gray answered first, saying that she had been involved in replacing the superintendent at AUSD, and, in her role as a board member for the school district, had decreased the amount of deficit spending each year and produced a balanced budget. She also discussed her many community service efforts.
Tiscareno mentioned his work coaching children in sports and his time on the city council.
Segovia said his experience did not compare with the other candidates, but that he did volunteer work and had been involved with youth football.
Dietzel emphasized that he had never held an elected office, but had done work to fight graffiti.
Thorpe stated that he had run Councilwoman Monica Wilson’s campaign, served on the Economic Development Commission, contributed to the “state party,” and was involved with the group ‘Parents Connected’ as a mentor.
Wright asked the candidates about their ideas for generating revenue for the city. In response, Tiscareno spoke about hiring new city manager Steve Duran and said there was a need to bring in more commercial, residential, and light industrial development. He also talked about bringing in a ferry and revitalizing the downtown.
Segovia said he would work with investors to come to the city, and would revitalize the downtown.
Dietzel noted that, according to a recent letter sent out by the city manager, we are in a “severe fiscal crisis.” He said Antioch is on the verge of bankruptcy, and that we need to have an Economic Development Director, set up a collections department, and privatize city investments that were losing money, such as Prewett Ranch, the animal shelter, and the golf course.
Thorpe said that passing Measure O would be a good step, but that the most important action would be to create jobs which would, in turn, generate more sales tax revenue.
Gibson-Gray also emphasized her support for Measure O, and spoke about needing regional development, and perhaps more large retail units.
In response to a question from Burgarino, all candidates expressed their support for Measure O.
A question from the floor asked what the candidates considered the most significant problem facing Antioch, and what they would do to solve it. In response, Thorpe referenced jobs, while the other candidates all focused on crime.
Another question noted that police services are currently 73% of the city budget, and asked how they planned to handle negotiations with the police department when their contract came up for review. Gibson-Gray and Segovia both said there was a need for concessions on the part of the department. (According to the city finance department, the cost of a police officer is now about $200,000 per year.) Tiscareno said it was best left to the negotiating team, while Thorpe emphasized the need to retain good quality officers, stating there could be no compromise on that. Dietzel spoke about getting Measure O in place, and said we need to buy locally.
Other areas covered during the session included homelessness, illegal dumping, dealing with feral cats, relating to a diverse community, and more.
The complete forum can be seen on Comcast Local Cable Channel 24 and on the Antioch Chamber of Commerce website at www.AntiochChamber.com. The schedule will be posted on the Antioch Herald website, www.antiochherald.com.