As Councilman Tony Madrigal campaigns for a second term in the November election, he is claiming credit for two big wins for downtown: the opening of a hugely popular ice rink and the effort to bring UC Merced to Modesto.
Here’s how Madrigal spelled out his accomplishments in a campaign questionnaire he filled out for The Bee: “Led effort to bring a UC Merced presence to downtown Modesto” and “Led the effort to bring an ice-skating rink to downtown.”
But when asked by The Bee, others involved in these efforts say while Madrgial has been part of the effort in one project and advocated for both, the projects involved the work of many people.
Modesto on Ice opened for its first season in November 2015 and has been a huge attraction for downtown. Downtown Modesto Partnership CEO Josh Bridegroom was the city’s downtown program manager when Jerome and Andrea Murray and their business partner Troy Acor considered opening an ice rink.
Bridegroom helped the Murrays navigate City Hall’s requirements to open the rink. Bridegroom said they were about halfway through that process when he was at a meeting that included Madrigal and Madrigal brought up having an ice rink in downtown.
Bridegroom said he did not tell Madrigal he was working with the Murrays because he wanted the project to be further along before going public. But Bridegroom said he told Madrigal something to the effect that if Madrigal wanted an ice rink he would bring him an ice rink.
“From that point forward,” Bridegroom said, “Tony was a strong supporter, but he was not directly involved in the process.”
Madrgial said he brought up having an ice rink with Bridegroom on multiple occasions before that meeting. Bridegroom said he does not recall that.
Jerome Murray said he and Acor met Madrigal for the first time right around the time Modesto on Ice opened, and Murray said his wife met Madrigal soon after.
The University of California at Merced is in talks with Modesto to bring what is called a venture lab to Modesto Centre Plaza in downtown. The lab will help entrepreneurs and start-ups. The university already operates a venture lab in Merced.
The project comes after the university and city officials established a relationship through a series of meetings. The first took place in 2015 with then City Manager Jim Holgersson and Councilwoman Jenny Kenoyer and Madrigal meeting UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland at the university.
Madrigal said the meeting was his idea. And he has spoken often at council meetings about the need to have a university presence in downtown. But Holgersson said he doesn’t “recall that it was Tony’s idea alone. But he was very enthusiastic and supportive about getting the meeting and tour of the campus set up.”
Madrigal emailed The Bee his project list detailing his efforts to bring a university presence to downtown, and the follow-up he wanted after the UC Merced meeting.
Peter Schuerman —UC Merced’s associate vice chancellor for research and economic development — said James Bates, one of the founders of Modesto-based Data Path, deserves a lot of the credit for the effort to bring a lab to Modesto.
Schuerman said Bates set up a meeting between Merced Venture Lab and Modesto officials in 2016. Schuerman also praised Holgersson’s contributions.
There have been subsequent meetings, including university officials taking a walking tour of downtown Modesto in February that included Mayor Ted Brandvold and Councilmen Bill Zoslocki and Mani Grewal. John Dickey, the city’s information technology consultant, has played a key role.
Schuerman said Madrigal’s contributions include helping him understand the needs of Modesto’s entrepreneurs, especially in the Latino community. Holgersson said this has been a team effort. “A lot of people have been involved in this,” Schuerman said. “Something like this you need a lot of people involved.”
When asked why he says he led these projects, Madrigal offered varying explanations.
He said his advocacy matters because it shines a spotlight on important projects and helps staff buy into them. “At what point does my bringing it up, my persistence, my bugging staff, does not have value, does not equal leadership?” Madrigal said. “I’m proud of these projects, and I’m proud of my work and the role I played.”
Madrigal said when he says he led these efforts that does not mean he was the driving force behind the projects. “I”m not the only person involved,” he said, “of course not.”
Madrigal said the word “led” can mean different things and it was a quick way to describe his accomplishments. “I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘led,’ “ he said. “... If I’m guilty of anything, I’m guilty of being concise in describing the work I’ve done.”