The candidate who wins Modesto's District 4 City Council seat will represent an area that spans Modesto's extremes. The district covers the La Loma area, where some of Modesto's most expensive houses are, and the airport neighborhood, which struggles with poverty and crime.
The three contenders roughly mirror that spectrum. Running for the seat are commercial real estate consultant Joe Muratore, 31, a board member of the La Loma Neighborhood Association; Jeff Perine, 29, a teacher at a Stockton youth correctional facility and fourth-generation Modestan; and community activist Robert Stanford, 43, who sees himself as an advocate for the city's downtrodden, especially in the airport neighborhood.
Unless one candidate wins 50 percent plus one of the vote, the top two vote getters will advance to a runoff in December.
Each has staked out a distinct platform. For Perine, it's supporting law enforcement and fighting crime; for Muratore, it's economic development; and for Stanford, it's the little guy.
But unless Stanford can convince voters north of Yosemite Boulevard to join his crusade, the race likely will turn into a two-way struggle between Muratore and Perine.
Both are young and ambitious. Perine ran for council in 2003 when he was just 24. Since then, he's managed campaigns for Stanislaus County Superintendent of Schools Tom Changnon and Yosemite Community College District Trustee Mike Riley.
Muratore won a Bee contest when he was 25 that introduced him to entrepreneur Dan Costa and landed him a job at Costa's 5.11 Tactical company. Now Muratore is co-owner of Sentinel Rock Trust, a commercial real estate asset management firm.
He has raised the most money in the campaign, garnering $25,879 this year. Perine has raised $6,904 and Stanford $1,139.
But another of Muratore's key assets is his link to the La Loma Neighborhood Association, whose newsletter goes to 2,100 homes. The well- organized and vocal group uses political muscle to push for quality-of-life issues such as a ban on Dumpster diving and putting surveillance cameras in parks. When crime and vandalism plagued Dry Creek Park, the group successfully lobbied the Police Department to increase patrols, Mur-atore said.
He says he's worked side-by-side with his neighbors on several projects and expects strong support from them at the ballot box.
Muratore said he sees the La Loma neighborhood group as a model that can be replicated elsewhere in the city, even in less affluent areas. "This ownership model is something that can be taken from one neighborhood to another," he said.
Stanford criticizes Muratore as a "shill" for development and real estate interests who's part of a pro-development "machine" that's destroyed Modesto. Muratore denies that charge. "I work in jobs creating development," Muratore said. "I'm not some guy out developing new housing on the fringes of the city; my focus is on in-fill projects that attract employers."
All three candidates list public safety as their top priority. The issue is likely to resonate with District 4 voters. In July, a 10-year-old boy was killed in a shooting on La Loma's Santa Barbara Avenue. Perine won the police union's backing and comes from a law enforcement family. His father and uncle are Modesto police officers. Muratore claims endorsements from the city firefighter union and Sheriff Adam Christianson.
Perine says his experience working at a juvenile justice facility in Stockton has taught him what happens when cities give up on public safety. He has said that if he's elected and the city faces another tough budget year, police and fire are the last places he would make cuts.
"Gangs are fighting hard for our streets," Perine said at a recent candidates forum. "Are we going to give up, or are we going to fight harder than they do?"
Perine also lists Modesto's vacant homes, which he sees as havens for crime and drugs, as a concern. "The new challenge is to go into these vacant homes," he said. "We have to have police and fire work together to meet these new challenges."
Stanford, a 2007 City Council candidate, spent years criticizing local law enforcement, but now considers himself a friend and advocate for the police. He's a regular at council meetings, where he often speaks up for public safety and against cutbacks that would affect working people. He was a frequent participant in the 2008 public meetings that resulted in the boundaries for this year's council districts.
Stanford filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 1996. He also had run-ins with the law in his late teens and early 20s when he said he abused drugs after a sister died in a car accident. He says his checkered past earns him credibility when he works with families in the airport neighborhood. Stanford volunteers as a sort of freelance social worker there, referring families to various services.
Stanford freely admits that many of those he considers his political base, working-class immigrant families in the airport area, don't vote. He says he's running for the council because he wants to bridge the gap between City Hall and residents who feel disconnected from the process.
If he wins, Stanford says, "People won't think it's a waste of time to go to the City Council anymore because they'll know there's one guy up there who's just like them: poor, desperate and looking for answers."
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2378. Follow her at Twitter.com/BeeReporter.