PATTERSON -- Patterson voters should have no trouble this year distinguishing between two candidates for mayor.
Incumbent Luis Molina, 47, is an experienced policy-maker as leader of both the City Council and the Stanislaus County Board of Education. And since his former job was eliminated, he now works for a third government agency, having recently secured a Stanislaus County position that relies on small grants.
Molina has struggled to contain City Council rancor. He drew only one challenger for his first re-election bid to the two-year mayor's seat.
Troy McComak, 27, was senior class president at Patterson High, has worked sporadically since college, lives with his parents and wants to establish a local paintball field. He finished last in a five-way June race for Congress.
Molina expects to spend $10,000 on his campaign. McComak, who had trouble paying debt associated with his earlier race, says he won't spend a dime this time.
McComak notes that he has lived in Patterson longer than Molina. The mayor says the city deserves someone more mature than his opponent.
Both have had brushes with the law.
McComak's frustration at City Hall while seeking permission for a paintball business was a factor in his candidacy, he said. If he had such difficulty with red tape, do other small businesses as well?
He also wants to dump a contract with the Sheriff's Department, saying Patterson would be better served with its own police force.
McComak used to work as a substitute teacher, but credentialing problems arose after his arrest in 2010. He was charged with stalking and sexual assault; the counts were dismissed after a preliminary hearing in April 2011.
McComak, who is single, blames sheriff's deputies for failing to properly investigate the claims of a married woman he had known since childhood, but insists that assessment has not colored his view of the sheriff's contract. He said he was innocent and the experience "prepared me for the future; I learned a heck of a lot."
Molina's time in the public limelight began in 2005 when he was elected to the Stanislaus County Board of Education. The next year, other board members chose him as chairman and he has stayed in that position since.
He was elected mayor two years ago when voters preferred him to Councilwoman Annette Smith, who is defending her seat this year. No love is lost between them, and Molina would like to see her and the other incumbent, Dominic Farinha, ousted.
"If I can work with (Smith), I can work with anybody," Molina said.
Molina was convicted of drunken driving in another county in 1995 and 1997. He took about $500 from a student activities fund when he was student body president of Chabot College in 1994, resigned after he was confronted and paid it back.
The mayor says he is accessible and promotes a sense of "professionalism and civility regardless of disagreements" on the council.
"I respect anybody who puts their name on the ballot," Molina said. "But (McComak) lacks some leadership experience and I'll put my leadership against anybody."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.