Thursday, Aug. 15, marks the first Ventura City Council candidate debate of the 2013 election season.
According to the city clerk, three incumbents — Mayor Mike Tracy, Jim Monahan and Neal Andrews — and seven challengers are expected to square off this election season and, as any city politico knows, it will take a hat trick to get elected.
First, file the paperwork, then run a bold campaign, and finally, convince residents to vote in November.
In Ventura, nothing is more difficult than the last step.
In the two previous City Council elections —2009 and 2011— fewer than 28 percent of registered voters cast ballots. That’s less than 19,000 votes in a population of about 107,000.
But incumbent Jim Monahan has found a recipe for success. The Ventura High graduate and Korean War veteran has held a seat on the council for the past 36 years, and sees no reason why it shouldn’t be four more.
“People have asked me to [run again],” said Monahan. “I have a lot of unfinished business.”
Monahan was perhaps the most vocal in calling for previous City Manager Rick Cole’s resignation and said a main reason for wanting to keep his council seat is to work with the new city manager, Mark Watkins.
“We have to rebuild public trust in the city of Ventura,” Monahan said. “It’s been in terrible shape for the past few years. We have a new city manager and we have to give him all the support we can.”
Challenger Erik Nasarenko, 43, wants to invigorate the City Council with new energy and perspectives, a “new generation of leadership,” as he called it.
“Ventura is a great city and we can make it better by tending to our streets, parks, libraries, reducing the number of massage parlors in the city and by completing Ventura Community Park,” said Nasarenko.
The married father of two kids, Nasarenko, a deputy district attorney who prosecutes domestic violence and child abuse crimes, hopes his campaign platform will attract the attention of those raising kids in Ventura.
“I want to bring to a municipal election a new segment of the electorate,” said Nasarenko. “Parents, families, people who have kids in schools, they typically don’t come out to vote in off-year municipal elections. My goal is to get them to the polls, vote absentee ballots and take part of in important election. So much of what happens on Nov. 5 we see in our daily lives.”
People of color seem to elude capturing enough votes to win a seat on the council, at least that’s been the standard over the last couple of decades.
Ventura native Lorrie Brown hopes to change that. Brown, 39, an African-American, has also thrown her hat into the ring.
“As a woman of color, it’s important to pave a way for other women of color to understand they do have a place and they do have a voice and they should not be afraid [to go] against the politics of business as usual,” said Brown.
Brown works in Oxnard’s Community Development Department and said her background in strategic planning is invaluable.
“Because my profession is in community development, I am a strong proponent for economic development, assisting small businesses and generating sales tax revenue,” Brown said. “But a balance is needed between a need for economic development and the need for affordable housing in respect for the environment.”
Of the challengers, only attorney Richard Francis has previously served on the City Council. He was first elected in 1987 and appointed mayor in 1989. Francis understands what it takes to get elected and said his campaign will be reintroducing the growth management strategies from the visioning process that resulted in the widely-accepted 2005 General Plan.
“I’m hearing there is a lot of disappointment,” said Francis, about the current City Council. “There is a whole new group of council members who were not around for that [visioning] process and have chucked it and are going in a different direction without community input.”
Francis, an advocate against urban sprawl, was the co-author of SOAR (Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources). He has been endorsed by four-term councilman Brian Brennan, who announced last week he would not file papers for another term.
David Swaffar filed papers to run for council because he, like Francis, feels that the current City Council has not been adequately representing its constituents.
“I’m unhappy with council’s efforts to reach current residents before they make decisions and also with their direction,” said Swaffar, 41, a local bar/restaurant owner and artist. “I want to be a voice for the people born and raised here.” Swaffar said that voter turnout for City Council has been dismal over the years because, until now, there haven’t been candidates that truly represent Ventura.
“There is a huge portion of people interested, but disinterested when the choices have been what they have been,” he said.
Former candidates Brian Lee Rencher and Melody Joy Baker will also be contending for the four available council seats. Paul Meehan, who couldn’t be reached for comment, is also a contender for City Council. On his Facebook page, he stated: “I’ve always had a desire to make the world a better place. I feel like I’ve done that in a lot of small ways until now. I would like to change that and make a much more substantial contribution. Now that I have two small kids I want to be sure that Ventura is the best city it can be.”
Incumbents Tracy and Andrews could not be reached before deadline.
The Ventura City Council debate will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Aug. 15, at the Community Room of the Bell Arts Factory located at 432 N. Ventura Ave. It will be hosted by the Stonewall Democrats of Ventura County