Supervisor candidates Chiesa, Weidman keep it civil

April 27, 2008 

Vito Chiesa and Les Weidman are pouring tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours walking neighborhoods into their contest to replace outgoing Stanislaus County Supervisor Tom Mayfield.

But they're not trying to tear each other down.

Their supporters are playing nice, too, with people on each side praising both candidates. It's not uncommon to see a Turlock yard sporting signs for Weidman and for Chiesa.

"We are blessed to have two really good candidates," said Turlock City Councilman Kurt Spycher, a Chiesa backer.

"Both will do a good job," said Hughson Mayor Ken Moore, who's in Weidman's camp.

But don't mistake the friendliness for a lack of drive.

Each candidate is making his case by walking precincts and meeting voters in District 2, which covers the southeastern portion of the county, including Turlock and Hughson.

Weidman, a Hickman rancher, contends his years leading the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department prepared him for Mayfield's seat. He brings a reputation for building partnerships that get results, such as his efforts to create multiagency task forces that took aim at methamphetamine producers and identity theft.

"That county government experience just really allows me to see where we've been and where we're going," said Weidman, 60.

Chiesa counters that he's a relentless worker with some government experience of his own. He's a former president of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau who has lobbied for reforms on taxes and immigration.

"My work ethic is second to none," said Chiesa, 43. "I want to get involved."

Weidman entered the race with an advantage in name recognition, having won a contested sheriff's race in 1990 and three subsequent unopposed

bids for re-election. He recently served as Gov. Schwarzenegger's point man for public safety, and he worked with Gov. Davis on antiterrorism planning after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I've always known him to be a very honest person," said Moore, a former county Fire Department deputy chief. Weidman is "very easy to work with and very knowledgeable for the county."

'Both capable and committed'

Weidman and Chiesa are "both capable and committed, and I like them both personally," said Turlock Mayor John Lazar. "But Les' experience in county government, his involvement in state government, give him an advantage."

Weidman also has strong backing from the county's political establishment. Dan Costa, entrepreneur and part owner of 5.11 Tactical, hosted a fund-raiser for Weidman on April 4. Other sponsors included state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, Supervisor Jeff Grover, former Supervisor Ray Simon, PMZ Real Estate and the Curtis & Arata law firm.

Weidman and Costa were involved in a 2005 flap at the county Sheriff's Department when 15 deputies and a sheriff's helicopter were used in a 5.11 Tactical photo shoot. Grover was an unpaid member of the company's board of directors at the time. Costa later reimbursed the county for the deputies' time after an outside attorney determined they were improperly asked to attend the photo shoot. Weidman maintained the deputies were off-duty volunteers.

Chiesa, an almond and walnut grower from Hughson, built deep support in the county's farming community.

His backers include some of the county's most prominent ag representatives, such as Duarte Nursery, members of the Martella farming family, Stanislaus Foods executive Tom Cortopassi and former state Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons.

Chiesa's "been very active in farm issues," said Marie Assali, a county planning commissioner and Hughson farmer. "The farming community in Stanislaus County as a whole would like to see another farmer on the board."

They like what they see in Chiesa, having worked with him over time.

"Vito is an extremely intelligent man," said Spycher, a farmer. "He has real good business sense. I know his character, I know his ethics and his morals. His work ethic is outstanding, too."

Chiesa's work in the county and state farm bureaus has included efforts to repeal special taxes on tractors, attempts to revise the federal estate tax and a push to develop comprehensive immigration reform.

Similar takes on hot-button issues

Weidman and Chiesa generally share similar stances on the hot-button issues that surfaced before the Board of Supervisors over the past year.

They declined to criticize or praise the board's decision to let Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos proceed with plans to develop the former Crows Landing Naval Air Base. Both said they'd focus on making sure the project proceeds in a logical way, providing economic development with as little impact to the West Side as possible.

They favor the county's policy to make developers pay for building on farmland, with clauses. Weidman said he wants to see the county take steps to protect farm production, not just agricultural land, possibly by offering incentives to larger farms. Chiesa said the county must preserve its best soil when it considers how to mitigate for the loss of farmland.

They each support a November ballot measure that asks voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase for road improvements. The candidates said the government agencies backing the measure must make it as transparent as possible so voters know what they're getting.

The candidates also voiced similar goals for District 2, namely building relationships with city councils and municipal advisory committees while helping to ensure success at Turlock's Westside industrial park.

They differed on some of their top priorities.

Chiesa sees tough choices ahead to stabilize financial losses in the county's Health Services Agency. He wants to balance the county's budget while maintaining the agency's ability to help low-income residents.

"We look at all these challenges," Chiesa said. "We've got the housing crisis; we've got all these things that are negative. I try to look at everything and say, 'What are the opportunities here?' "

Weidman is taking aim at the state's allocation of property tax revenue, which gives Stanislaus County a proportionally smaller share than other counties receive. County leaders have been working to correct the imbalance for more than 20 years; Weidman says he can carry the plan because of his previous work building government partnerships.

"Getting our fair share is critically important," he said. "We need to start the process of getting our fair share in Sacramento and in Washington."

Q&A


Les Weidman, candidate for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors District 2, spoke with The Bee about his priorities in his campaign.

Q: What do you need to do to win this race?

A: I've got to get my message so voters can make a decision based on my vision, my experience. I'm invested in this community. I'm pretty excited about the future. If I didn't think I could make a difference, I wouldn't be running.

Q: What's your strategy for approaching growth?

A: We're not going to stop growth. Smart, regional planning is important. It's important we don't see the unplanned, unbridled growth we've seen in the past. We should direct it in the cities, look inside for vacant lots and increased density. County islands are good opportunities to look at for affordable housing. Redevelopment is going to be key.

Q: Where do you stand on the West Park proposal to develop the former Crows Landing Naval Air Base?

A: Clearly, if this developer can't perform, I have no doubt the supervisors will say, "Thanks, but no thanks." That, to me, is all about the creation of economic development, not housing development. I see a great advantage to the entire county, but especially to the West Side. If any area of this community could use good jobs close to home, it's the West Side.

Q: Are you in favor of the November ballot measure that will ask for a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for road improvements?

A: It's got to be sold to the voters because they're the ones who are going to foot the bill. We're not going to win it from the top down. We've got a chance over a 20-year-period to become a self-help county. If we don't, by then we're going to find ourselves in even worse shape.


Vito Chiesa, candidate for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors District 2, spoke with The Bee about his priorities in his campaign.

Q: What do you need to do to win this race?

A: I have to prove to people I'm a viable candidate. We're not leaving anything on the table right now -- resources, money or time. I have the commitment, I have the time and I have the energy.

Q: What's your strategy for approaching growth?

A: I've been very fortunate. I want my kids to have an opportunity to farm in Stanislaus County. I will be a watchdog to make sure growth doesn't occur in the undeveloped areas, to make sure our economic engine of agriculture can survive.

Q: Where do you stand on the West Park proposal to develop the former Crows Landing Naval Air Base?

A: We need jobs. That's the positive part of it. It's how we get from Point A to Point B, and the proof is in the pudding. It would be my job to make sure it's the best project possible, creating the most jobs with the least impact on farmland.

Q: Are you in favor of the November ballot measure that will ask for a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for road improvements?

A: I believe in the road tax and the need for revenues, but I believe in real transparency. We have 1,000 miles of roadway and we are $400 million behind. We're actually falling further behind. Conversely, you can't reward government for not doing its job. Government has to prove itself.


Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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