As in typical council and mayoral races, candidates in Oxnard are trying to reach voters any way they can. Some are going door to door, others are advertising, yet all have been participating in forum discussions.
But unlike any other area race, two of the three incumbents are under investigation by the district attorney and possibly facing indictments.
The homes of Mayor Tom Holden and Councilman Andres Herrera were raided by DA investigators and have been instructed to remain mum about the DA’s probe into the potential misappropriation of public money, conflicts of interest and contract irregularities.
Though Holden has been more reserved about commenting on the investigation, Herrera hasn’t been particularly shy about conveying his thoughts on the matter during recent candidate forums.
“Everything is completely speculation,” said Herrera during the Oxnard Inter-Neighborhood Council Forum on Oct. 6.
“Everybody assumes that when there is smoke, there is fire. Everybody is going on a different tangent. Everybody is creating their own universe of their own truths and realities when they don’t know a darn thing about what is going on, and we don’t either.”
The speculation has placed voters in what may be an uneasy situation come Nov. 2. If the DA investigation is still pending, voters will likely take to the ballot a cloud of irresolution.
“Until the DA comes out with something, you still have people that will still vote for Tom [Holden] and Andres [Herrera],” suggested Vince Dehrens, a lifelong Oxnard resident. “The whole thing is weird and twisted, but you have to think that the DA will come out with something big after spending all this time and resources.”
But even as the investigation lingers, the race for the mayoral position and council seats presses onward.
Challenging Holden’s bid for a fourth term as mayor is Robert Sumpter, 62, a retired service and parts manager for a Volvo dealership. This is the fourth time Sumpter has run against Holden. Though he has never received more than 5 percent of the vote, he has vowed not to accept any campaign donations and is calling for an open and transparent administration.
“To make change, we must change the people we choose to govern,” said Sumpter at a recent candidate forum. “I have said that I do not have the knowledge to run a city, but I have no idea what it is like to be served a search warrant by the federal and local government.”
Holden, 56, who has served on the council since 1993, has only raised about $2,125 and is counting on his long-standing relationship with voters to carry him into his fourth term as mayor.
“Tom [Holden] is in a commanding popular position, so in order to return to office, he doesn’t have to campaign the way an unpopular challenger would,” said Jonathan Wilcox, the mayor’s spokesman. “There is a pretty high level of support for a veteran incumbent.”
Tim Flynn and Carmen Ramirez are challenging incumbents Herrera and Dean Maulhardt for the two seats on the City Council. Flynn, a high school teacher and former councilman, has been showcasing his experience with city government in candidate forums. Flynn, the son of former county Supervisor John Flynn, has proposed to decrease Oxnard unemployment by offering tax incentives in bringing high-tech and bio-tech companies to Oxnard.
Flynn said he is not taking campaign contributions from “special interests like large engineering firms and other entities that have business pending with the city.” He has been skeptical about Herrera’s city interests since Herrera has taken campaign contributions from BLT Enterprises and contractor Kennedy/Jenks. Both companies have contracts with the city, and the offices of both have been searched during the DA’s investigation. Flynn has also said that, if elected, he would renegotiate the city manager’s salary of $266,014, which he said is much too high for a public servant.
Ramirez, 62, came within 38 votes of winning a council seat in 2008. Ramirez, a public interest attorney, has gained more than 300 donors in her campaign fundraising efforts. She has been endorsed by Congresswoman Lois Capps, state Sen. Fran Pavley, former mayor of Oxnard Manuel Lopez, Ventura County Democratic Party and SEIU, Local 721, among others.
“We need to have people follow the rules and not do things that invite the attention of the FBI and DA,” Ramirez said. “Everyone is entitled to the assumption of innocence, but there is something wrong with how the city is doing business with these companies.”
Herrera, 62, an Oxnard native, has served on the council for the past eight years. He has been aggressive in recent forums, batting aside the DA’s probe and defending his accomplishments in the council, citing a lowered crime rate, improved street maintenance and keeping a balanced budget.
Maulhardt, 60, has been a councilman since 1994. He is known on the council as a fiscal conservative, and many believe he is largely responsible for Oxnard’s balanced budget. In the recent council forums, Maulhardt has said there is indeed a transparency issue concerning city government, and that he hopes the city will learn from the DA’s expansive probe.
“We have work to do. There is a problem. There is a trust issue out there,” Maulhardt said during a forum debate. “When the report comes out, if there is a report, there will be some things in there, and we’ll take that as an opportunity to make further changes. Nobody is above learning here. We’re all trying to make a difference in Oxnard.”