What do the following have in common: Bill Conrad, Tim Fisher, Bruce Frohman, Balvino Irizarry, Janice Keating, Dick Lang, Peggy Mensinger, Carmen Sabatino, Mike Serpa, Carol Whiteside?
Yes, they all served on the Modesto City Council, but that's not it. During or after their time on the council, each sought higher elected office ... and failed. (Serpa gets an asterisk here -- he left the council in 2001 to unsuccessfully seek election as county tax assessor. In 2005, he was elected to the Modesto Irrigation District's board of directors.)
In the past several decades, only one member of the council has managed to parlay that post into a traditional linear political rise -- Dave Cogdill, who went on to the Assembly and then the state Senate.
That's one of 11, and it's a low enough figure to beg the question: What is it about Modesto politicians that plays poorly to a larger constituency?
You can point to flaws in each candidate or in their respective campaigns, but you could do the same thing with the winners; nobody's perfect. And, aside from the irrelevant fact that all are Caucasian, this is a pretty diverse group.
All had a high recognition factor, and each had proved electable in the past -- sometimes repeatedly, sometimes against long odds. Yet when placed in front of a larger electorate (either countywide or a state election district), they flopped.
A better than 90-percent failure rate pretty much demands an underlying cause, and this one's not that subtle: It's the mere fact of having been on the City Council that's the killer.
There isn't room to list, let alone explain, the seemingly unending series of boneheaded blunders that have attended the governance of Modesto in the past couple of decades. If you don't know about them, you either just moved here or you haven't been paying attention. Suffice to say that being run by the gang that couldn't shoot straight is a tough image for a city and produces a load of baggage for a member of the council to carry around.
A lot has been made about the dearth of serious, qualified candidates for the upcoming city elections, and it does seem that The Usual Suspects are sitting this one out. The problem might be in recruiting -- any bright, politically ambitious potential candidate can read the record and see that a seat on the City Council is a political black hole.
It's where nascent political careers go to die.
In the past, the council has routinely ignored problems that festered under the radar, knowing that when these conditions reached some sort of critical mass, they would likely be gone from the scene. Thus we have, for example, the infrastructure crisis: This council will feel the ire generated by constantly increasing utility fees, even though these are the result of unconscionable neglect by previous councils.
The conclusion here seems inescapable -- a seat on the Modesto City Council is not a springboard to higher office.
It's more like the trapdoor on a gallows.
Flint is a Modesto resident. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.