October 4, 2009

Two vie to bring voice to Modesto's District 2

If district elections are meant to give a voice to the voiceless, it's District 2 that some say most needs that voice. Residents from the area led the fight for district elections, arguing that Latinos are underrepresented on the City Council.

Now that fight is over, and some say they're disappointed that only two candidates are running — and that only one contender is Latino.

The race to represent south and west Modesto pits federal security police officer Dave Geer, 67, against Navy veteran Al Nava, 35.

Geer said his 22 years of living in the neighborhood give him insight into the area's needs.

Nava said he'll bring fresh ideas and energy to City Hall. He moved to District 2 in May after finishing his Navy service in Pearl Harbor. He was born in Texas and grew up in Ceres.

He said his top priority is improv- ing infrastructure, especially along Crows Landing and Paradise roads. Nava said improving those areas is key to attracting jobs. At a recent candidate forum, Nava said he wants to bring green technology jobs to Modesto. "I'm not talking about McDonald's jobs," he said. Nava also lists gangs and abandoned homes as concerns.

Among his supporters is Nancy Formella, a retired teacher who met Nava when the two volunteered on President Barack Obama's campaign.

Formella doesn't live in District 2, but she's been knocking on doors for Nava. She said she likes Nava's ideas about gang intervention and job creation. Formella also said she believes Nava would connect well with constituents.

"He has the kind of personality that attracts people's attention," she said. "He's affable, he's gregarious, he likes people."

Maggie Mejia of the Latino Community Roundtable agrees that Nava has youthful energy. But she said she's supporting Geer. Both candidates are members of the Latino Community Roundtable; Nava sits on the board of directors. The group's members will vote soon on an endorsement.

Mejia had hoped to run in the District 2 council race. But she had to move out of the district after the house she was renting went into foreclosure.

"They're both qualified, but with his experience and the length of time he's lived in west Modesto, Mr. Geer would be a louder voice," Mejia said. "I've known Mr. Geer for many years and I've seen what he can do in the community."

Geer served four years on the city's Community Qualities Forum, which makes recommendations about quality of life issues such as animal control and street lights. He was a member of the Stanislaus County civil grand jury in 2005, and serves on the Yosemite Community College District Measure E Bond Oversight Committee. Geer served 18 years in the Army before going to work as a security officer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Geer said District 2 has been neglected "on many levels" for years. His top prior- ity is public safety. He wants to reopen the closed police substation on Paradise Road and supports the injunction that limits gang-related behavior in one District 2 neighborhood. But he noted he'd like to see more gang prevention programs, not just suppression efforts.

Geer said he wants to speak for the district at City Hall — and back up those words with dollars. Geer has said that if he wins he'll try to get one-sixth of the city's budget devoted exclusively to District 2.

Some people opposed district elections because they worried that council members would battle each other over slices of the city budget pie. Geer said he's talked about steering more money to District 2 because that's what voters expect.

"It's just a logical attempt at enhancing the inequities that have existed for so long," he said. "I know it's a pie-in-the-sky thing. I'm not looking to be in charge of a fiefdom."

Geer describes himself as a fiscal conservative, but said he would support a sales tax increase to prevent police layoffs.

Council races are nonpartisan, but some party rhetoric has slipped into the District 2 campaign. On his Facebook page, Nava advocates for health care reform and legalizing marijuana. He criticizes Geer for his ties to conservative organizations, calling him a "tea-bagger," a reference to the right-leaning tea party protests that have sprouted across the country this year.

Geer once was a member of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee. As a member of United We Stand America, he supported third-party presidential candidate Ross Perot. Geer claims Nava is a "left-wing radical" who's out of step with the mainstream.

Nava told The Bee in August that he got into politics after a period when he was "spiritually lost." Court records show Nava had two run-ins with the law in his mid-20s.

In 1998, he was arrested by Modesto police on suspicion of receiving stolen property. The case was dismissed.

When he was 25, he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a dangerous weapon, brass knuckles. He successfully completed three years of informal probation. His record was expunged in 2003. The following year, Nava worked as an intern for state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced.

Nava would not comment to The Bee about the charges.

One of his campaign volunteers, Mike Garcia, spoke on Nava's behalf.

"It was when he was young," Garcia said. "People make mistakes. He paid his dues, he went into the military and he's an outstanding member of society now."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at Twitter.com/BeeReporter.

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