Councilman Tony Madrigal faces two challengers – a community organizer and a Yosemite Community College District trustee – in the Nov. 7 election to represent District 2 on the Modesto City Council.
The district encompasses downtown and south and west Modesto, is heavily Latino and is home to many low-income residents. District residents’ top priorities include public safety and jobs that support families. But it also is a low-voter turnout district. Madrigal needed just 804 votes to win in 2013 to serve a city with more than 200,000 residents.
Homero Mejia, a former Congregations Building Community executive director, and Jon Rodriguez, a board member for the Yosemite Community College District, are challenging Madrigal. Rodriguez would have to give up his YCCD seat if elected to the council.
Madrigal running on his record
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Madrigal, 44, served on the Santa Cruz City Council from 2004 to 2012 before moving to Modesto. He was born and raised in Turlock and attended Modesto Junior College before attending the University of California at Santa Cruz.
“I have four years experience on the Modesto City Council as a strong pro-economic development and community advocate and years of experience in public and community service,” Madrigal wrote in a candidate questionnaire submitted to the newspaper. He wrote that public safety also is a priority.
He has held several jobs while on the council and in August said he had just started working for his cousin’s farm labor services company and also planned on working as a substitute teacher.
Madrigal can be persistent and pushy, even to the point of irritating colleagues during council meetings. He also can pester city staff.
He also is a prolific user of social media. His Facebook page is a chronicle of Madrigal at community events, fundraisers, ribbon cuttings and council meetings as well as his promotion of local businesses and projects he advocated for his district, such as the repainting of crosswalks or removing trash from alleys.
But as in Santa Cruz, Madrigal has had controversies in Modesto.
For instance, he can stretch the bounds of self-promotion. He has claimed that he led the efforts behind two big wins for Modesto: bringing an ice rink and UC Merced to downtown. Those involved in the projects say that Madrigal had no direct involvement with Modesto on Ice and that he was one of the many people involved in bringing a UC Merced presence here, but others have played much bigger roles.
Madrigal pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving in 2010 while serving on the Santa Cruz City Council. A CHP officer spotted Madrigal driving erratically as he texted on his cell phone and used his laptop while driving, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel. And in 2007 Madrigal issued a public apology after a police officer reported Madrigal had made lewd comments about a woman during a ride-along.
Mejia counting on grass-roots support
Mejia, 38, has spent most of his life in west Modesto. He said community members and District 2 residents asked him to run based on his work in the community. Mejia said the people helping him in his campaign include Ceres Unified School District board President Teresa Guerrero, Datapath co-founder James Bates and Joe Duran, executive vice president with Self-Help Federal Credit Union.
“This is definitely a grass-roots attempt to get Homero elected to the City Council,” Duran said. “Homero was raised in that community, knows it inside and out, and has been a community organizer for as long as I’ve known him. He is incredibly well-liked and well-respected, and he knows the issues better than anyone else.”
Mejia has been a community organizer for a dozen years, the last 10 with Congregations Building Communities, which recently changed its name to Faith in the Valley.
Mejia said he stepped down as Faith in the Valley’s Stanislaus chapter director in August and started teaching at Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy in Empire. He said he did that to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest because of Faith in the Valley’s advocacy work with local officials and governments.
Mejia said the top issues he is hearing from voters are public safety and the need for permanent, well-paying jobs.
And Mejia said he is running to allay the fear in his district with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. “The election really hit the community hard and what it means for Latinos,” he said. “A lot of folks are feeling a lot of uncertainty. This is a way to support them right in this moment. It’s scary.”
Mejia and his wife and children moved back to Modesto a few months ago from Ceres, but he said the move was prompted for family reasons. Madrigal has rented a room in duplex in west Modesto but recently started renting the entire unit. Madrigal said his wife and 3-year-old son continue to live in Southern California.
Rodriguez, now on YCCD board, takes another shot
Rodriguez, 30, is a farmer and was elected to the YCCD board less than a year ago. When asked whether running for council is a disservice to the YCCD voters who elected him to a four-year term, Rodriguez said his run for council should not be a surprise and his ambition always has been to be on the council. He ran against Madrigal in 2013 and finished second among three candidates.
Rodriguez said he wants to be of service, whether on the college board or the council.
He said voters are telling him they want better response times from police, more patrols and less crime. Some also want better streets and other infrastructure. Rodriguez said the city cannot create jobs but it can work much more closely with the Chamber of Commerce and similar organizations.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316